The science behind floating acting as a solution for sleep
Poor and insufficient sleep are a major public health problem, with more 1 in 3 adults not getting the high-quality rest they need to meet their sleep needs. Sleep deprivation contributes to chronic disease, accident and injury risks, compromised cognitive performance, social and emotional dysfunction, reduced mortality, and a lower quality of life. Improving sleep can have nothing short of transformational, life-altering, life-extending effects, and float therapy can serve as a solution for sleep issues.
Sleep problems—including restless, unrefreshing sleep and insomnia—develop for any number of reasons. Psychological stress, anxiety and depression, physical pain and inflammation, stimulation from the constantly buzzing, brightly-lit world we occupy—these and other factors all contribute to today’s widespread problems with sleep.
Scientific evidence going back decades shows the benefits that float therapy has in addressing sleep problems. Research shows that regular float sessions lead to improvements in symptoms of insomnia, and a shortening of the time it takes to fall asleep, and improves both sleep amounts and sleep quality. Some fascinating recent research indicates that float therapy alters brain activity to look more like the lighter stages of sleep itself, when we’re in a deeply relaxed, mixed state of consciousness. One of the most promising scientific findings about floatation REST and sleep? Many studies show that the benefits for sleep that come from floating can last for several weeks or months, and even longer when a regular floating routine is maintained as a long-term practice.
What’s behind these benefits? Floating triggers a series of bio-chemical and neurological changes that directly support healthy, sound sleep. Those same floatation-induced changes also improve physiological and psychological health—and those improvements in turn help serve as a solution for sleep.
Let’s take a closer look.
Floating’s sleep-promoting pathways
Floating lowers cortisol. Cortisol is intricately connected to both stress and sleep. A stimulating, alerting hormone, cortisol—like the body’s other hormones—runs on a 24-hour bio clock in the body. Cortisol levels rise to their peak first thing in the morning, and fall to their lowest levels in the middle of the night. High cortisol levels typically go hand in hand with diminished levels of melatonin, a hormone that is essential for paving our way to sleep each night. Elevated cortisol levels can interfere with sleep and in turn, a lack of sleep can aggravate cortisol levels outside of a healthy range. Too-high cortisol throws the body’s bio clock—it’s 24-hour circadian timekeeper—off course, which causes sleep problems and increases risks for disease. There’s a strong and growing body of research that shows significant reductions to cortisol from floating.
Floating reduces stress. Unfortunately, many people live in a state of hyperarousal, with chronic stress that interferes with sleep, disrupts circadian rhythms, and strains the body’s immune system. The lack of external stimuli in the float environment has the effect of all but eliminating the body’s stress response, breaking the hold of mental and physical hyperarousal and hypervigilance. Spikes in cortisol are one major component of that response. Floating appears to take us out of “flight or fight and moves us into “rest and recover.”
There’s a growing body of research showing that beyond lowering cortisol, floating can lead to reductions in other key physiological and psychological signs of stress and anxiety. Float therapy has been shown to: lower blood pressure, reduce stress related muscle pain and tension, improve fatigue and lower anxiety levels, while increasing positive mood, energy, and relaxation.
Floating boosts slow, sleep-like brain waves. Several studies demonstrate how floatation therapy can move people into different, more relaxed states of consciousness, including the kind of deep relaxation where time perception is altered and creativity is enhanced. Recent analysis shows that the mind’s consciousness during floating may take on characteristics of Stages 1 and 2 sleep. And other studies have shown that floating increases the presence of low frequency delta and theta brain waves, which are also present during sleep.
These changes are similar to what happens in the brain during meditation. Meditation also alters brain activity, decreasing high-frequency beta waves and increasing low-frequency theta wave activity in different parts of the brain. A waking brain that’s populated with theta waves is likely to be in a state of flow—that wandering, daydreaming, internally focused state of consciousness that is linked to creativity and to mental rejuvenation, as well as to the onset of sleep. The universal benefits of floating like these make it a great solution for sleep problems for every demographic.
Floating provides exposure to magnesium. Magnesium is a macro-mineral we all need in large amounts. It keeps our muscles and nerves functioning properly, regulates our mood and facilitates all sorts of enzyme-related biochemical reactions that keep our bodies functioning as they should. Magnesium also stabilizes sleep-wake cycles regulated by circadian rhythms and helps us sleep more soundly. Our bodies don’t produce magnesium—we must take it in from outside sources. Magnesium deficiency is common; estimates suggest that most men and women in the United States aren’t getting enough magnesium.
I’ve written about how magnesium benefits sleep, and why it’s so important to maintain healthy magnesium levels for sleep and health. When we’re lacking in magnesium, we’re likely to be fatigued, stressed, tired and low in energy, all of which can make it even harder to sleep well. Scientists continue to investigate and debate about how effectively magnesium can be absorbed into the body through the skin. Though it’s not yet clear whether floating can deliver magnesium as a nutrient to the body, magnesium found in float water is likely to contribute to the deep physical relaxation of the experience.
The psychological benefits of floating for sleep
Anxiety and depression are major sleep-disruptors. When these conditions improve, so does sleep. Anxiety and depression often occur together, and one or both are present in a significant majority of individuals with sleep problems. Some of the most promising recent research investigating float therapy involves its impact on anxiety and depression, and other mental health conditions that co-occur with them.
Research shows that a series of regular float sessions can significantly reduce symptoms anxiety and depression, and improve our ability to regulate emotions. As one 2018 study demonstrates, even a single float session can work quickly to provide short term relief for both anxiety and depression.
Alongside reductions to the psychological symptoms of anxiety, floating also can ease anxiety’s physical symptoms, including muscle tension and elevated blood pressure. Scientists have documented the increase in the degree of interoceptive awareness that comes from floating. Interoceptive awareness is an awareness of the self, of body, mind, and feelings. Enhanced interoceptive awareness is one of the hallmarks of a mindful, meditative state—and it’s one essential part of what makes meditation and mindfulness so effective in helping us sleep better, as well as treating emotional dysregulation, stress, physical pain and psychological conditions including post-traumatic stress disorder.
The physiological benefits of floating for sleep
Just as psychological stress creeps in to our daily lives and takes its toll on sleep and well being, physical pain also creates an ongoing, sleep-disruptive presence in our lives, often without our full awareness. Stress and pain frequently occur together, reinforcing one another in a cycle that’s especially challenging for sleep. That debilitating cycle of poor sleep, stress, and pain can also lead people to seek help from prescription sleep and pain medications, or to self-medication with alcohol, caffeine and other drugs.
A possible solution for sleep could be reducing your overall pain. Pain relief is one of the most prominent benefits of floatation REST therapy, according to research. Studies have documented how floating can help a range of pain-related conditions, including:
- Muscle tension and stress-related pain. Our “fight or flight” stress response—with the excitatory hormones and inflammation surges that come with it—is a primary trigger for pain. Floatation therapy is effective in reducing muscle pain and the physical pain connected to psychological stress, including headache, neck and back pain. Finding relief for chronic and intermittent physical pain ant the psychological frustration that goes with it can remove major impediments for many adults who struggle to get the sleep they need.
- Fibromyalgia. Sleep troubles are a core symptom of fibromyalgia. Float therapy can help people with fibromyalgia floatation therapy on fibromyalgia reduce pain sensitivity and pain intensity, reduce muscle tension and improve ease of movement, and lower anxiety.
- Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis is almost always accompanied by sleep problems. Float therapy has been shown to benefit two of the most common types of arthritis. Studies show that floatation rest is effective in treating pain, increasing strength and range of motion in people with rheumatoid arthritis, and improving pain and function in osteoarthritis, while also addressing the stress and anxiety that accompanies the condition.
- Exercise recovery. The practice of floating can help the body heal and recover after exercise, according to recent research. This 2013 study found that a one-hour float session after vigorous exercise resulted in significant reductions to pain sensitivity as well as significantly lower levels of blood lactate, a compound produced by the body during intense exertion. Exercise and sleep reinforce one another. Less pain means better rest, which translates to a more consistent exercise routine, and even better sleep.
Float therapy can be an amazing experience that can act as a solution for sleep issues. If you would like to learn more, please visit our information page, which includes more information on what makes float therapy so special. You can also look at our available locations to schedule your float and find your solution for sleep today!