Understanding Infrared Saunas

The internet contains plenty of information about the benefits of infrared saunas but very little about what “infrared” means and how it works differently than other sources of heat.  Once you understand the basic concepts, you’ll understand why these saunas take so long to heat up and why they are considered better than traditional saunas.

I often tell people that infrared saunas work a lot like microwave ovens.  Microwave ovens use radiation to heat your food, and infrared saunas use radiation to heat your body.  Radiation is just energy that travels through space in the form of waves.  When an object like a frozen burrito or a human body absorbs the waves, heat is transferred to the object.  The only difference between microwaves and infrared is in the wavelength and frequency of the waves.  Radiation can be a scary word because it makes us think of nuclear energy plant disasters or cell destroying cancer treatments, which may explain why sauna advertisers generally don’t use the word radiation.  The truth is that not all types of radiation are harmful to the human body.  Infrared and radio waves for example are completely harmless.

Back to the analogy of the microwave oven.  Microwave ovens use radiation to heat your food “from the inside out”.  There’s no need to pre-heat your microwave before cooking because it doesn’t use hot air to heat the food.  I’m sure you’ve noticed that the air inside your microwave never gets very hot.  Infrared saunas operate the same way.  Infrared radiation heats your body “from the inside out”.  There’s no need to pre-heat the sauna, and the air in the sauna never gets extremely hot, although it will get very warm.  Go ahead and get in the sauna as soon as the air is warm enough to feel comfortable.  Rest assured that the infrared will heat your body, and after several minutes you’ll start to sweat, no matter how warm or cold the air is in the sauna.

Why are infrared saunas considered better than traditional saunas?  Two simple reasons: the heat penetrates your body more deeply, and the air temperature is more tolerable.  The previous two paragraphs explain why that is true.

General benefits of saunas:

  • Relaxation
  • Detoxification
  • Muscle recovery
  • Better sleep
  • Improved circulation
  • Reduced joint pain
  • Weight loss
  • Help with chronic fatigue

General risks of saunas:

  • Overheating
  • Dehydration
  • Interference with certain medications
  • Potential dangers with pregnancy or heart disease

Overheating and dehydration can be avoided by drinking fluids and limiting your time in the sauna (20 to 30 minutes is typically recommended).  If you’re pregnant or have heart disease or other medical conditions, the safe bet is to consult your doctor before using a sauna.

If you have access to an infrared sauna, I recommend giving it a try.  Enjoy!

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