In this age of high-speed living, relentless distractions, and worldwide political turmoil, it’s no wonder that 77% of Americans experience stress that affects their physical health.
There are plenty of natural, healthy ways to combat stress, like practicing mindfulness, eating a healthy and balanced diet, hydrating, socializing, and exercising—even just walking is shown to release endorphins and improve mood.
Everyone knows that doing these things helps.
But in the thralls of stress, when it seems like the world is too big and it’s all we can do to keep things together, putting on a pair of running shoes or practicing mindfulness can feel like a far-off, impossible ideal.
The good news is there’s a much easier way to de-stress, boost your mood, and shift your perspective without all the added obstacles.
That’s where infrared light therapy comes in.
In this article
- What is infrared light therapy?
- Does infrared light therapy reduce stress?
- 5 bonus benefits of infrared light therapy
- How to prepare for an infrared light sauna
What Is Infrared Light Therapy
Infrared light is invisible to the human eye. So instead of seeing it, we experience it as heat. That’s why most establishments deliver this form of therapy via sauna.
Traditional saunas and infrared saunas work in similar ways—by heating up the body—but there are a few very important distinctions that make infrared a more effective stress-fighting option.
For starters, traditional saunas run super hot (150°F–195°F), while infrared saunas operate at around 100°F–150°F. The more bearable temperature makes it easier to stay in for long treatment sessions and reap more benefits.
The other, more important difference is in how the two heat your body.
Infrared saunas don’t raise your body temperature by heating the air around you. Instead, it heats you directly.
According to physical therapist Vivian Eisenstadt, MAPT, CPT, MASP, and infrared saunas work by “heating up your body before heating up the air.”
Of the heat that infrared panels emit, your body absorbs up to 80% of it while the remaining 20% heats the air around you, according to the manufacturers.
While your typical hot rock or steam sauna only heats the surface layer of the skin, infrared light penetrates three inches into your skin and buries itself deep inside your muscle tissue, activating your sweat glands and providing a more intense sweat at a much lower temperature.
This drastic increase of heat in your muscle tissues produces a sweat 7x more detoxifying than a traditional sauna.
Sound better than going for a run yet?
Let’s dive into the relationship between infrared light and stress.
Does Infrared Light Therapy Reduce Stress?
In modern times, most of us don’t have to worry about surviving a particularly nasty winter or being invaded by neighboring tribes.
But before we humans insulated ourselves from most natural hazards, those were the sorts of things that sent our stress hormones through the roof.
These days, our bodies produce the same quantity of these chemicals – like cortisol, ACTH, and salivary amylase – in response to work drama and monthly bills.
While such things are certainly demanding, they pale in comparison to the existential threat of primal vulnerability (i.e encountering a hungry tiger).
Thus, we experience a lot of unnecessary stress.
Finding healthy ways to calm your nerves is critical since the prolonged release of stress hormones has devastating effects on your body.
One such way to reduce stress comes in the form of infrared light.
A study testing the effects of infrared light therapy on the plantar region (feet) found that after just 15 minutes of exposure, the “experiments revealed increased body temperature, decreased levels of blood pressure and [decreased] stress markers.”
Another study aimed to see if infrared light therapy could reduce stress hormones such that blood glucose levels also decreased, which would provide a starting point for effectively treating individuals with type 2 diabetes.
It found that “In response to this therapy, ACTH and cortisol levels decreased significantly.”
When you compare it to other “easy” solutions for treating stress, like prescription drugs and sedatives, infrared light therapy is a no-brainer.
It’s non-invasive, takes minimal effort (none if you don’t count relaxing in a sauna for an hour as “effort”), and is 100% natural.
Plus, you start feeling the results after just 10 minutes of exposure, and the benefits continue to intensify the longer you stay.
With all the supporting evidence, it’s safe to say that infrared light therapy is among the most effective ways to combat stress when you take into account the amount of work required to get the results.
5 Bonus Benefits of Infrared Light Therapy
With such rave reviews as a stress reliever, it shouldn’t be too hard to believe that infrared light offers an even wider array of upsides.
Have a look at this list of bonus benefits:
- Better sleep
- Pain relief (joints, sore muscles)
- Clear, glowing skin
- Improved circulation
When your body sweats, it releases toxins like fat-soluble toxins, toxic heavy metals, sulfuric acid, sodium, ammonia, and uric acid from the body, according to manufacturers.
Basically, since infrared light penetrates deep beyond your skin, activating sweat glands via muscle tissue, your body releases significantly more toxins (up to 7x) during an infrared sauna session than during a traditional one.
Similar to the effect of a traditional sauna, infrared light therapy has a tremendous impact on sleep.
Why is that?
During a session in an infrared sauna, your internal body temperature rises, and when you get out it cools rapidly. The same happens after a session in a regular sauna.
But unlike regular ones, infrared saunas also cause your body to release infrared radiation as it cools, adding a layer of rejuvenation.
What happens as the body cools is your entire muscular system relaxes, which is a natural precursor to sleep.
Essentially, spending time in an infrared sauna primes your brain for sleep. Meaning once you get home from the spa, you’ll be able to easily slip right into sleep.
Pain Relief (Sore Joints and Muscles)
For people living active lifestyles, recovery is often the most difficult part to get right. Letting up on the gas long enough for the body to heal itself can feel like a waste of time, and in many cases, it’s just not feasible.
Infrared light therapy solves that problem by speeding up the body’s recovery time after intense exercise.
Deep penetration of infrared light into human participants of a 2015 study was shown to enable “the neuromuscular system to recover from maximal endurance performance.”
Clear, Glowing Skin
Time after time, users of infrared light therapy report tighter, clearer, more glowing skin after treatment sessions. But don’t take their word for it.
In yet another study, researchers found that after a single treatment, “the treated subjects experienced significantly improved skin complexion and skin feeling.”
Furthermore, after the trial, the “evaluation of photographs confirmed significant improvement in the intervention groups compared with the control.”
Through a process called vasodilation, infrared light therapy opens your blood vessels and increases blood flow, effectively boosting your body’s natural healing processes.
Check out a few of the benefits of having good circulation:
- Heals wounds faster
- Improves cognitive functions
- Promotes excellent heart health
- And makes your skin glow
How to Prepare For an Infrared Sauna
Before heading into your first infrared light treatment session, there are a few things to keep in mind so you get the most out of your experience.
- Hydrate: The massive benefits you get from an infrared sauna are due to the buckets of sweat your body releases. Having a large glass of water before your session will make sure your body has enough to perform its functions while it cleanses your system.
- Bring the right clothing: Whether you want to go in a bathing suit or your birthday suit, the decision is up to you. The idea is to make yourself as comfortable as possible.
- Think about what temperature is right for you: Are you looking for something super mellow or something a little hotter and even more relaxing? While you’ll likely discuss temperature options with the folks running the establishment, it’s good to think about what you want before heading in. For reference, infrared saunas run from 100˚F to 150˚F.
- Decide how long of a session you’d like: If this is your first time doing something like this, consider opting for a shorter duration – something like 10-15 minutes. Once you’re accustomed to it and want more out of the experience, you can start bumping those numbers up.
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