With a lot of talk about mental health and suicide growing rapidly throughout the world and Australia in particular, I thought I would investigate how we can improve mental health? We all know about medications and psychology but surely that’s not all there is out there to help reset the body and mind.
Through my own experiences as a Special Education Teacher and Strength and Conditioning Coach & Recovery Specialist, I’ve found some of the simplest strategies can have a huge impact when it comes to improving your mental health, and through the regular use of Infrared Saunas, there is certainly a lot of research showing that it’s a great adjunct treatment in helping improve your Mental Health.
Infrared Saunas have several holistic and mental health benefits and there are very few contraindications. If you are not sure about infrared (heat therapy), then start out slowly and increase the length of your sessions over time from 15 min @ 60 degrees to 30 to 40 min @ 60 degrees, making sure you drink lots of water before, during and after each session.
Do Infrared Sauna Sessions Improve Mood and Reduce Depression?
Saunas can really help people that battle depression and can help change their mood for the better.
There is a great deal of research to indicate that infrared sauna treatments make you feel euphoric. Furthermore, Infrared saunas are somewhat stressful on the body, so your brain produces and releases more euphoric hormones to deal with them (1 - 3). Furthermore, these changes have been found to be semi-permanent, making regular infrared sauna sessions a part of keeping you consistently feeling relaxed and happy(4).
Studies by Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, MD, found that, by the participants having just one infrared sauna treatment a week, it reduced symptoms by around 50%. In his follow-up study, he discovered that a single infrared sauna session triggered a rapid and intense antidepressant effect, and the benefits continued for six weeks. This study concluded that whole-body hyperthermia is a safe, rapid-acting, antidepressant treatment with a prolonged therapeutic benefit (5-6).
Additional research has investigated the effects of infrared sauna therapy on mildly depressed patients with fatigue, appetite loss, and mental complaints. They found that sauna treatment significantly increased their appetite and reduced their mental complaints (7). Cancer patients have been another area where the researchers found a reduction in depression in cancer patients (8, 9), this is thought to be due to the fact, that sweating increases mental satisfaction and energy (10).
Anxiety and Stress
Is it a surprise that infrared saunas can reduce stress and anxiety after reading what the research states about improving your mood?
Numerous investigations have shown that regular sauna use decreases levels of cortisol in your body which is your body’s main stress hormone (11-14).
In one study, researchers found that using a sauna can reduce both state and trait anxiety (15), and in other research undertaken, they found that sweating increases relaxation, and reduces feelings of frustration and anxiety (16).
Saunas Increase Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF)
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a biologically-occurring protein in the brain that reduces your threat of mental disease and enhances your mood. It does this by safeguarding and repairing your brain cells and enhancing the growth of new brain cells. Numerous researchers consider this to be a natural antidepressant since it can reduce anxiety and depression (17-26). Research suggests that if you struggle with mental illness, you're likely to have reduced levels of BDNF. But luckily, there are ways to boost it by using infrared heat to increase the expression of BDNF (27).
Saunas Increase Norepinephrine Levels and May Help Treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Norepinephrine, also called noradrenaline, is a hormone and neurotransmitter in the brain that can help with focus and attention.
Numerous studies have found that infrared sauna use can significantly increase norepinephrine levels (28-31).
In one analysis, women spent 20 minutes in a sauna, two times each week, and investigators observed an 86% rise in norepinephrine (32).
In another research report, men that remained in a sauna until fatigue, increased their norepinephrine levels by 310% (33-34). Furthermore, the research found that by increasing norepinephrine through heat stress, heat stress also enhances your body’s ability to store norepinephrine for later release (35).
From this research, it is believed that sauna therapy should be considered as an alternative treatment to medications that increase the reuptake of norepinephrine, as these meds are often prescribed to people with ADHD (36).
This blog was written by Troy Lowery.