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Float therapy is a type of therapy that is done in a sensory deprivation tank, which is a dark and soundproof tank or bath-like pool that is filled with saltwater. The tanks are designed to reduce external stimuli in an attempt to improve well-being.
Sensory deprivation tanks were first invented in the 1950s by Dr. Jay Shurley and Dr. John Lilly. Their main goal was to examine human consciousness and the brain’s reaction to a complete lack of external stimuli.
It was thought that being without any sensory input such as sound or light would cause a person to fall into a state of unconsciousness, but that wasn’t the case. The test subjects maintained complete awareness.
Today, flotation therapy tanks are thought to have a positive effect on health conditions that are driven by stress, such as high blood pressure, tension headaches, and muscle pain, as well as mental disorders such as depression and anxiety. Read on to find out more about float therapy and its benefits.
What Are the Benefits of Float Therapy?
While float therapy began as an experiment to study human consciousness, it is now used as a form of physical and mental health therapy. Current research has shown that there are several benefits of float therapy on overall health.
Physical Benefits of Float Therapy
Studies have found that physical health can be positively affected by float therapy. It can lead to an improvement in:
- Chronic pain found in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis
- Tension headaches
- Muscle tension
- Whiplash symptoms such as a stiff neck
- Immune function
- Cardiovascular health, which involves the health of the heart, veins, and blood vessels
- High blood pressure
- Recovery after sports injuries
- Brain function
- Insomnia and other sleep disturbances
Float Therapy and Skin Conditions
Some studies have found that float therapy may improve skin conditions such as psoriasis. However, this may be due to exposure to Epsom salts and not directly related to float therapy.
Mental Health Benefits of Float Therapy
In addition to the many physical health benefits of float therapy, there are many mental health benefits as well. Float therapy has been shown to reduce the symptoms of:
- High stress levels
- Fear-driven phobias
- Substance abuse disorder
How Many Float Sessions Do You Need?
Research is still ongoing surrounding float therapy, its benefits, and how many sessions are best. However, one study found that a single one-hour session in a float therapy tank had the ability to significantly reduce symptoms in participants with anxiety and depression. That same session also fostered a substantial improvement in mood.
Although many of the studies around the effects of float therapy reveal little to no adverse effects, there have been some reports of people experiencing hallucinations while in the tank that could be disturbing in nature.
Who Should Avoid Float Therapy?
Anyone who has an uncontrolled seizure disorder, an infectious disease, open wounds, or a psychological condition that causes them to be extremely fearful of small spaces should not use a float therapy tank.
Additionally, being under the influence of drugs or alcohol can also increase the risk of drowning. And those who are pregnant may want to check with their OB-GYN before trying float therapy.
What to Expect
Experiencing float therapy can be both scary and exciting, depending on the person. While there are benefits, people will respond to it differently. When you arrive, you can expect to remove all clothing and jewelry and shower prior to entering the tank.
Once in the tank, you will close the door or lid, depending on the type. The saltwater should allow your body to float effortlessly so you can lie back comfortably without sinking. You'll then float in the tank for up to an hour before exiting, showering off the salt, and getting dressed. All or most external stimuli such as music or light will be taken away during the float session.
Flotation therapy, although first designed to explore the depths of human consciousness, is now a viable management option for many health conditions such as anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and tension headaches. The tanks have been studied for their benefits and risks, and although some people should avoid them, there seem to be few adverse effects reported in the literature.
A Word From Verywell
Float therapy has been shown to be incredibly beneficial for many people. That being said, the experience could be daunting for others due to the confined space. Whether you have tried float therapy, are thinking about it, or couldn’t dare yourself to do it, there is no denying that people with various health conditions could benefit from regular float therapy sessions.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is float therapy safe for everyone?
While float therapy is generally deemed safe, there are some people who should not participate. People with uncontrolled disorders that may cause them to lose consciousness at any moment could be at risk of drowning in the tank, so they should avoid float therapy. Those with open wounds, an active infection, or infectious disease should also avoid float therapy, as should people with severe mental health conditions that cause great fear in small spaces.
- How often should you do float therapy?
Float therapy can be done every day. However, many people can see the best results with one or two sessions per week. If that seems like too many, people who use float therapy tanks can also experience results with just one or two sessions per month.
- Are there any negative side effects to float therapy?
Although negative side effects following float therapy are rare, some people may experience nausea after their first session. Others may also experience disturbing hallucinations while in the tank that will dissipate once the float session is over.