I have a few friends who swear by flotation therapy. I have always been a bit skeptical of getting into a small chamber filled with water for an hour (I’m not great with small spaces). But I keep hearing about the wonderful experiences people have in float tanks, so I decided to delve into the research and see if floating really has health benefits. And after doing so, I am actually inspired to look up a local float center to try it for myself.
What is flotation therapy?
Flotation therapy is also called sensory deprivation therapy, because the goal is to get rid of as many sensory stimuli as possible. During a session, you get into a tank (called a sensory deprivation chamber or float tank) filled with highly concentrated salt water, which allows you to lie on your back and float easily. The chamber is dark and void of sound, and the water is made to be skin temperature. This minimizes all sensory input.[1,2]
Floating induces relaxation
A major goal of float therapy in a sensory deprivation chamber is to elicit the relaxation response. The relaxation response is the opposite of the “fight or flight” reaction in the body. It refers to a state where sympathetic nervous system activity is reduced, which is accompanied by slower metabolism and lowered heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate. Calming your body into this state is important for preventing health problems.
Many people have a hard time successfully inducing the relaxation response by using relaxation exercises on their own, but flotation therapy can be a very effective way get yourself into a truly relaxed state. This is because successfully eliciting the relaxation response requires reduced sensory input and reduced movement, both factors that occur during flotation therapy.
Some descriptions of what it feels like to be in a float tank include, “my body feels wonderful, “dream-like alteration of time and space perspective,” and “feeling of intense peace.”
Does floating really benefit your health?
These are some of the many benefits of using float tanks:
- Reducing pain. Studies show that using a float tank can help to increase your pain tolerance, reducing pain levels. People with chronic pain who used flotation therapy had significantly lower levels of “worst pain” after treatment. Stress-related muscle pain can also benefit tremendously from floating.
- Getting rid of stress. One of the major benefits of floating is in reducing stress levels, as evidenced by numerous studies.[1,4]
- Fighting anxiety and depression. After float treatment, people experience reduced levels of anxiety and depression. In addition, people tend to feel more optimistic after treatment.[1,4]
- Improving sleep. Sleep quality can increase after flotation therapy.[1,4]
- Helping recover from exercise. One study found that flotation helped to improve blood lactic acid levels and reduce levels of perceived pain in muscles after exercise.
Using float therapy
Although some people purchase float tanks to use in their own home, they can be quite expensive and inconvenient to keep. The best option is to find a float tank center near your home and pay per visit. Sessions typically last about an hour. Most people report that it takes a few sessions to get used to being in the tank and to begin fully experiencing the benefits.
Ever tried it? Did you like it? Did you find it benefited your health in any way? Share your experience with floating in the comments section below.
To read about the benefits of other relaxation techniques, try these blogs:
- 5 Relaxation Techniques for Fibromyalgia Pain Management
- 3 Surprising Immune System Boosters: Meditation, Mindfulness, and Yoga
- Breathing Exercises for Natural Stress Relief
Originally published in January 2016 and updated.