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What Happens in a Sauna?

Woman inside of a sauna admiring a pink Himalayan salt wall.

The spotlight turns on, and two dancers move gracefully, in total synchronicity with each other and the music as they glide across the floor. The onlookers are mesmerized by the performance and the beauty of the movement. The relationship between human physiology and infrared wavelengths is nothing less than a beautiful dance performance between two partners perfectly matched.

So, what is this transformation and what is actually happening inside the body as it responds to the infrared wavelengths during a sauna session?

Behind The Curtain: Light Waves And The Skin

Light waves, like the waves of the ocean, vary significantly from one another depending upon the origin of their source: They differ in shape, depth, height, movement pattern and perceived color. Our skin is receptive to different light waves in varying capacities. For example, the close neighbor of the ultraviolet light, the blue light, will infiltrate the epidermis only slightly (about 2.3 mm) on the far end of the light spectrum. Near, mid and far-infrared light waves penetrate the skin at a much deeper level (ranging from 20-100 mm), moving beyond the epidermis, the dermis, and into the subcutaneous layer and therefore into the soft tissue of the body. This ability to penetrate deep into the body has miraculous effects on the molecular structure of the human form (1).

The infrared waves are energetic and create more movement than the visible light spectrum. The faster pace movement of infrared light is like an electric drill compared to a manual hand drill. Within seconds the electric drill can produce what would take the hand drill hours because of its fast circular movements.

Broad-spectrum infrared move in symbiotic waves to penetrate beyond the initial epidermis membrane, thus creating a cascade of health benefits during and after each sauna session.

The First Five Minutes: Cellular Transformation

Infrared sauna use can help improve blood circulation.
  • ATP Production Increase
  • Oxygenation Of the Blood
  • Improved Circulation

Unveiling the many transformative benefits derived from the relationship between human physiology and infrared wavelengths begins the moment you step into the light bath of an infrared sauna session. Immediate exposure to the near, mid and far-infrared wavelengths ignites a long train of responses.

Here is how it happens: As you sit comfortably bathing in the warm, richly textured infrared light, you will not begin to sweat immediately, though, just below the surface of your skin many biochemical changes occur.

The conscious experience within the first five minutes of saturating yourself in the infrared sauna feels relaxing and anticipation rises as you watch your pours in expectation of the bubbling sweat to emerge.

The human physical body is comprised of 50 trillion cells, and each cell in the body has what could be considered an ‘energy plant’: the mitochondria, where ATP (Adenosine Tri-Phosphate) occurs. The mitochondria are very sensitive to all light and are particularly sensitive to deeply penetrating rays of infrared. As soon as the body is exposed to infrared light, ATP production is exponentially stimulated (2).

As ATP production occurs in response to the infrared light exposure, nitric acid is released, hyper-oxygenating the hemoglobin. The freshly oxygenated blood cells begin to flow throughout the body like a fast-moving river (3).

Inflammation in the body occurs due to a lack of oxygen in the injured area. Within minutes of entering into your sauna, ATP production increases the oxygen in the blood, creating a better and faster flowing circulation of the blood throughout the body, reducing inflammation in injured areas (4).

Relaxation and a sense of wellbeing are the primary perceived experiences of increased ATP production resulting from exposure to infrared light waves in your body.

5-17 Minutes: The Heat Dance Begins

Neurons in the human body being effected by the use of an infrared sauna
  • Detoxification
  • Caloric Burn
  • Human Growth Hormones Increase Production
  • Neurogenesis
  • Augmented Collagen Production
  • Circulation Improves
  • Cardiovascular System Engages
  • Endorphins Release
  • Serotonin Levels Normalize

Infusion of infrared light into the body’s network is just the beginning; as the temperature increases in the enclosed cabin structure of an infrared sauna, a myriad of physiological responses to the heat begin to unfold. The body’s response mechanism to controlled augmented external heat is the source of many health benefits.
Increased exposure to heat induces vasodilation, the expansion of blood capillaries that powerfully augments blood flow. As blood flow increases, it causes the cardiovascular system to engage, and the heart rate rises to keep up with vasodilation. At this stage of your infrared sauna session, the body begins to harvest all of the benefits of vigorous exercise as you passively sit in relaxation (5).

Calories are burned quickly and easily after ten minutes in the sauna. Extending the length of your infrared sauna to as much as fifty minutes a session will encourage further caloric burning to upwards of 600-1000 calories a session depending on the individual (6). (Please note, that it takes several sessions to build heat tolerance in the body, it is not advised to sit in the sauna for as long as 50 minutes until after several weeks of an adjustment period to heat exposure).

Stimulation of the secretion of Human Growth Hormone begins after around twelve minutes of infrared sauna use, depending on the individual. Human Growth Hormone is an anabolic hormone that simultaneously increases lean muscle mass and decreases fatty tissue in the body (7).

Augment neurogenesis (the manufacturing of new brain cells) during your infrared sauna therapy session. Exposure to heat stress or heat shock in a controlled environment will increase neurotrophic factors to create an effect that provokes the brain stem cells to produce new neurons. The interaction of increased heat with the brain directly causes an increase in brain cell production during the sauna session (8).

Enhance collagen production and rejuvenate your skin. Collagen production in the body responds specifically to the introduction of near-infrared light. Without doing anything, collagen is produced at exponentially higher rates generating a youthful full-bodied glow to the skin (9).

Activation of the sweat glands occurs at different times for different individuals during an infrared sauna session. Generally, one can expect to begin sweating somewhere between five and ten minutes into the sauna. The rising external temperatures of the sauna induce perspiration in an effort to stabilize the internal heat of the body. As perspiration rises up out of the sweat glands to release water on to the skin’s surface, a multitude of substances are carried inside the water and are released from the body. Many of the substances released through perspiration include toxins that negatively affect the body (10).

Increased heart rate, improved circulation, and copious sweating will also stimulate an endorphin release similar to what is experienced during vigorous exercise. With the release of endorphins, a sense of calm and wellbeing is experienced in the emotional body (11).

Enhanced mood will occur before the 15-minute mark in your sauna as the brain’s natural mood stabilizer, serotonin, finds balance with exposure to near, mid and far-infrared light waves (12).

As little as 15-minutes is all the time that is needed for the body’s physiology to undergo a massive transformation. The response to both infrared wavelengths and thermal therapy encourages the body to optimize its natural mechanisms.

The human form is a miraculous organic machine; the encouragement received from time in an infrared sauna will create a cascade of physiological changes that have an effect on all parts of the human experience: Infrared light therapy is a holistic and inclusive experience that orchestrates a multitude of positive physiological changes.

17-50 minutes: Assimilation Of Transformation

Infrared sauna use brings a relaxation of the human body comparable to meditation
  • Transference from sympathetic dominance to parasympathetic dominance
  • Detoxification
  • Enhanced Circulation
  • Cardiovascular Engagement
  • Continued Physiological Transformation

Basking in the warmth of an infrared sauna session beyond the 15-minute mark will coax the body into profound states of deep relaxation. Heat therapy works directly with the autonomic nervous system: Broad-spectrum infrared sessions provide a gateway to easily slip out of sympathetic dominance (fight or flight) into parasympathetic dominance (states of relaxation) where healing and rejuvenation occur. The transference out of sympathetic dominance is vital for adrenal gland health, which is responsible for the excretion of cortisol during stressful states. Longer exposure to thermal therapy enables the body to remain in a relaxed state for longer periods after emerging from the sauna.

Spending too much time in fight or flight can cause serious health disorders by overtaxing the adrenal glands, as well as other portions of the endocrine system. Once a person is in sympathetic dominance, the transference out can be difficult. Infrared sauna sessions invite the body out of these states of survival back to relaxation where the adrenal glands do not have to work to excrete cortisol and adrenaline. Longer sauna sessions will solidify the body into states of relaxation, releasing exhausted adrenal glands from duty (13). Remaining in the sauna for longer than 15-minutes, provided the individual is acclimatized to heat exposure, saturates the body in all of the magnificent benefits of relaxation.

Longer exposure to the infrared wavelengths continues to increase ATP production, therefore, further oxygenating the bloodstream and accelerating human growth hormone production.

Naturally, collagen production is heightened with longer exposure to the near-infrared waves, as is wound healing and clarification of the skin’s appearance.

The decision to stay longer in an infrared sauna session expounds the physiological benefits and transformative effects. Consult with your health care professional to ensure that it is safe for you to participate in longer sessions.

Sources:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5653719/
  2. https://europepmc.org/article/med/21874297
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6462613/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2718593/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2718593/
  6. https://www.chiroeco.com/health-benefits-of-infrared-saunas/
  7. https://master-athlete.com/coaching/sitting-in-a-sauna-can-raise-human-growth-hormone-hgh/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3418130/
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3926176/
  10. https://www.theriversource.org/infrared-sauna-detox/
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4935255/
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4935433/
  13. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response

If you found reading these articles helpful and would like to know more about a specific topic, or had any questions for the author, please feel free to contact our Neosauna Team Author, Katarina Delacruz. She will be happy to help answer your questions or point you toward further resources.

You can reach her by email kat@neosauna.com or via our website chat.