Excessive heat to the brain isn’t good in most situations, and if you throw dehydration into the mix, you’ll have yourself a recipe for disaster.
Counter-intuitively, in safe conditions infrared saunas mental health benefits have been shown to be beneficial to the neurological pathways of your brain and some studies suggest it can even help prevent dementia.
Interestingly, the heat from different saunas, be it infrared, traditional, or steam rooms, all have a different effect on the brain due to the technology, and below we are going to take a look at some scientific evidence to find out why.
How does sauna heat affect the brain
Recent studies have been carried out on extremely high sauna temperatures and their effect on brain health. What’s evident from these studies is that your brain is the ‘weakest link’ in the chain of increasing your core body temperature.
Core body temperature is the temperature that is measured at your torso and is roughly 37°C for people resting. Your head is the bodily area that "gives up" first when increasing core body temperature and it uses your mind to signal to the rest of the body that your temperature is increasing.
This is signal by that uncomfortable feeling you have when you begin to get hot.
Overheating your head leads to symptoms such as weakness, dizziness, lethargy, disorientation, and nausea.
In this instance, directly overheating your brain is a bad thing, and you'll want to avoid this as much as possible.
Increasing the core body temperature to 38.5°C, however, allowed participants in the study to counter their clinical depression. Although a difference of 1.5°C doesn't sound like a lot, it's actually the difference between being healthy and having a fever response.
The key to being able to reach a body temperature of 38.5°C was to prevent the brain from being heated in the first place.
In the study setup, the core body extremities of the participants were treated with very high temperatures of infrared heat. The participant's head, however, was continually cooled down by cold and wet towels, so the brain temperature stayed low.
The study used the Clearlight Dome Sauna, which has the 'nifty' feature of remaining the head outside of the infrared heaters.
If you're using a Clearlight Sauna, you can still cool the head by using towels that have been submerged in cold/icy waters to place on your head mid sauna session.
Why infrared sauna heat is different to traditional sauna heat
Different saunas use different ways to heat up your body. Finnish saunas, for instance, can reach maximum temperatures of up to 110-120°C.
Full-spectrum and far infrared saunas, however, only reach maximum temperatures of 50-60°C.
Now, the heating mechanism of both of these sauna types is also very different. Traditional saunas like Finnish saunas and steam rooms heat up the air or increase humidity to make the environment feel very warm to your body.
Different types of infrared saunas, on the other hand, use different types of infrared light for heating. Rather than heating up the air, infrared heat is emitted by different types of panels - such as ceramic and carbon heaters.
Instead of heating up the air around you, that infrared light enters your body and heats you directly. That light is then taken up into your cells, bloodstream, and other tissues.
Infrared light thus heats up your body from the inside out. Traditional saunas heat up your skin instead, and that heat is transferred from your skin into deeper tissues of your body.
A well-designed infrared sauna doesn’t directly heat your head and therefore brain. On the contrary, at Clearlight Saunas we’ve specifically designed our saunas so that only your core and extremities are targeted, not your head.
The end result is that you’re not directly heating up your brain with an infrared sauna. With a traditional sauna, however, the temperature is spread through the entire cabin and therefore heats up your head.
Another key difference between an infrared sauna and a traditional sauna is the temperatures. Because infrared heats the body directly, the overall temperature of the cabin can be less, while the core temperature of the user can still reach the optimal temperature.
In fact, infrared saunas are superior for maximally increasing your core body temperature up to a whopping 43°C. That threshold is reached despite the fact that the air temperature stays relatively low inside an infrared sauna.
The benefit of that lower air temperature is that you’ll get a very gentle experience. The experience is gentle because you’re not exposing your skin to potentially painful air temperatures.
And, also, to reiterate, well-designed infrared saunas don’t target your brain, maximising the health benefit potential while minimising side-effects such as feeling tired.
The solution to avoid heating the brain
So, what do these facts about heating up the skull and brain imply? Well, there are two solutions to this problem...
The first solution is to use The Dome Sauna if you want to maximise the core body temperature while minimising the heating of your head. The second solution entails using red light therapy - which provides your brain with both red and near-infrared light that is non-heating.
A better way to sauna
The studies I referenced on using an infrared sauna for countering depression specifically used a Dome Sauna, which uses infrared heat, for its setup.
The benefit of that the Dome Sauna is that your head is never exposed to any infrared heat. As a consequence, you can heat up your core and extremities to very high temperatures, thereby achieving the necessary increase in core body temperature that has the depression-countering effect.
Again, these studies imply that additional depression-countering benefits exist by increasing your core body temperature to very high levels.
You can learn more about the study in this article here.
Red light therapy with the Clearlight® RLT Tower
So, you now know that infrared saunas use infrared light, which heats the body up from the inside out.
Red light therapy has many different benefits, such as improving your energy levels, helping you sleep deeper, improving skin tone, enhancing cognition, aiding recovery and athletic performance, and much more.
Our Clearlight® RLT Tower is the only product on the market right now that can be placed inside a sauna.
That way, you can combine the therapeutic benefits of an infrared sauna with those of red light therapy without ever running into the overheating problem.
The benefits of infrared saunas and red light therapy arise from different biological mechanisms.
Hence, you’re combining two very effective therapies that have tons of science backing them together, doubling the health benefits you get.
In a way, by using red light therapy you’re getting the “near-infrared sauna brain benefits” in a different way - except by not using a sauna.
If you're interested in an infrared sauna cabin for home, click here to view our range of full-spectrum saunas, far-infrared saunas, and outdoor saunas.