How to Use a Sauna
How to Use a Sauna: Your Easy Guide to Safe and Effective Sauna Use
Saunas have potential benefits if you know how to use them safely and effectively. Saunas have become an increasingly popular way to relax, de-stress, and obtain health benefits. From their origins in Finland, the heat and steam of saunas are now enjoyed worldwide by many. With various types, including traditional Finnish, infrared, steam, and more, saunas cater to different preferences.
This guide will explore how to use a sauna, outlining recommended durations, step-by-step advice, safety precautions, appropriate attire, and more. You'll also learn about regular sauna sessions' potential physical and mental health benefits.
What is a sauna?
A sauna is a small room designed as a place to experience dry or wet heat sessions, which can vary in temperature from about 70°C (158°F) to over 100°C (212°F). The heat in a sauna is generated by a stove, either electric or wood-burning, that heats a pile of rocks. You can pour water over these hot stones to create steam and increase humidity, making you sweat more.
Saunas are traditionally used for relaxation and potential health benefits, such as improving circulation, easing muscle pain, and promoting well-being.
Originating from Finland, saunas have become popular worldwide and can be found in various settings, including homes, health clubs, and luxury resorts.
What are The Types of Saunas
Saunas come in various types, each offering a unique experience. The most common types are:
Traditional Finnish Saunas
Traditional saunas are the classic type, characterized by a high-temperature, low-humidity environment. A traditional sauna uses a wood stove or electric heater to heat rocks, and steam is created by throwing water on the rocks.
Unlike traditional saunas that heat the air, infrared saunas utilize infrared heaters to emit infrared light experienced as radiant heat. The infrared heat is absorbed directly by the skin. An infrared sauna operates at a lower temperature than traditional saunas, making it an excellent option for those who prefer less intense heat.
Steam Rooms (Turkish Saunas)
Steam rooms are not technically saunas but are often categorized as such. They offer a high-humidity, low-heat environment, with temperatures typically around 40–50 degrees Celsius. Steam rooms are 100% humid, which can create intense heat.
Smoke Saunas (Savusauna)
A smoke sauna is an ancient Finnish sauna. These do not have a chimney. Wood is burned in a particularly large stove, and the room fills with smoke. Once the smoke clears, the residual heat provides a unique sauna experience.
Electrically Heated Saunas
These use an electric heater, often attached to the floor, to heat the sauna room. They are popular in homes and apartments, as they are easy to install and maintain.
Wood Burning Saunas
These saunas use a wood stove to heat the sauna room and stones. They are often found in rural areas and are appreciated for their traditional feel and woodsy aroma.
How long can you sit in a sauna?
The duration for which one can safely sit in a sauna depends on the type of sauna, individual health and tolerance to heat, and the temperature inside the sauna. Here are some general guidelines to consider:
For Beginners: If you are new to using a sauna, it's recommended to start with shorter sessions of about 5–10 minutes and only allow a gradual increase in temperature. This allows your body to adjust to the hot air and helps you gauge your tolerance.
Experienced Users: Those who are accustomed to saunas might stay in for about 15-20 minutes per session. Some might stay longer during their first sauna round, but it's essential to listen to your body's signals.
High-Temperature Saunas: Traditional Finnish saunas can reach temperatures between 70 and 100 degrees Celsius (158 and 212 degrees Fahrenheit). High temperatures require shorter sessions.
Infrared Saunas: These operate at lower temperatures (around 40–60 degrees Celsius or 104–140 degrees Fahrenheit), allowing for potentially longer sessions, sometimes up to 30 minutes. However, it's still important to be cautious and monitor your body's response.
Cool Down and Hydration: After a sauna round, it's important to cool down and rehydrate. Taking a break, sitting or lying down for a few minutes, and drinking water are essential steps.
Health Considerations: People with certain health conditions, such as heart problems, low blood pressure, or pregnancy, should consult a doctor before using a sauna. For these individuals, sauna use may require additional precautions or be advised against altogether.
The National Health Service (NHS) has cautioned that using saunas while pregnant can pose health risks to both the mother and the unborn baby due to dangerous overheating. Pregnant women are more susceptible to becoming overheated in hot environments like saunas and steam rooms. The NHS advises pregnant women to avoid saunas and steam rooms to prevent putting themselves and their developing babies in danger from heat exposure.
Tolerance to heat varies. Listen to your body, and get out of the sauna if you feel dizzy or lightheaded. Regular breaks and staying hydrated are key to a safe and enjoyable sauna bath.
How To Use a Sauna Properly: Your Step-By-Step Guide
Saunas can be incredibly relaxing and beneficial when done properly. Here’s a step-by-step guide to ensure a safe and enjoyable sauna session:
Begin your hot sauna session by staying well-hydrated to prevent dehydration during your session. If you're hungry, eat a light snack, but avoid heavy meals, as they can make your sauna experience uncomfortable. A warm shower before entering the sauna cleanses your skin and kickstarts your body’s natural heating process. This makes the transition into the sauna's heat smoother.
Entering the Sauna
Once you're ready to enter the sauna, make sure you are dry, as dry skin sweats more effectively. Always bring a towel to lie on or sit on for both hygiene and comfort. If the sauna is tiered, starting on a lower bench is a good idea for beginners since the heat rises and the upper benches are hotter.
During the Sauna Session
Inside the sauna, the focus should be on relaxation. Deep breaths and a calm mind enhance the experience. Beginners should limit their first session to 5–10 minutes. If you need to hydrate, going for a water break is perfectly fine.
Exiting the sauna should be done slowly to prevent dizziness due to the sudden temperature change. After stepping out, you need to slowly cool down. This can be achieved with a cool shower or by stepping into the fresh air. This step is also the perfect time to hydrate and rest for about 10–15 minutes before considering another sauna session.
Repeat If Desired
If you're feeling up to it, you can return to the sauna for another session. However, it's important to always take breaks between sessions and listen to your body's signals. Never push yourself to endure more heat or time than what feels comfortable.
After completing your sauna session, a final shower helps to wash off the sweat and cool down your body. Follow this with sufficient hydration and a snack or meal, depending on how hungry you feel. It's also important to give your body time to rest and rejuvenate after your sauna experience.
When using a public sauna, follow sauna etiquette and be respectful of others. Do not drink alcohol before or immediately after a sauna session, as it increases the risk of dehydration and hypotension. If you have health conditions, consult a healthcare provider before enjoying a sauna session.
The Health Benefits of Sauna Use
Adding saunas to your wellness routine has potential health benefits. After a long, stressful week, leaning back against the warm, wooden sauna walls may let the heat soothe your muscles and clear your mind.
Let's explore more potential benefits in more detail:
- Sauna use may enhance cardiovascular health by improving circulation and lowering blood pressure.
- Sauna use can aid in detoxification through increased sweating, helping to eliminate toxins from your body.
- Promotes muscle relaxation and reduces joint pain, which may benefit conditions like arthritis.
- Supports immune system function by elevating body temperature, which helps fight infections.
- It increases your metabolism and burns calories, resulting in weight loss.
- Improves your skin's health by opening pores and cleansing the skin, leading to a clearer complexion.
- Reduces stress and promotes relaxation, contributing to better mental health and well-being.
- It increases the quality of sleep by relaxing your mind and body.
- Provides relief from respiratory conditions by improving breathing and clearing congestion.
- It boosts endurance performance by enhancing heat tolerance and improving blood flow to muscles
Numerous scientific studies and expert opinions support these health benefits, making saunas a valuable tool for maintaining overall well-being. However, consult with your doctor before starting a proper sauna routine, especially if you have underlying medical conditions.
Preparing for Your Sauna Session
Before entering a sauna, you must consider safety precautions and choose appropriate attire to sweat and cool safely. Being prepared and listening to your body during your sauna session allows for relaxation and maximum health benefits.
Before entering a sauna, it's important to prioritize safety:
- Ensure the sauna's temperature is within your comfort range.
- Avoid alcohol, drugs, or heavy meals before or during your session, as these can lead to dehydration or other health risks in the heat.
- Stay hydrated by drinking water before and after, but avoid excessive intake during your session to prevent electrolyte imbalance.
- Listen to your body and exit if you feel overheated, dizzy, or unwell. Seek medical help if symptoms persist.
- Saunas are not recommended for children under 6 years old, pregnant women, the elderly, or those with health conditions affected by heat.
- Be cautious when entering or exiting the sauna due to possible wet floors. Hold onto the handles for balance.
Choosing Appropriate Clothing
Selecting the right attire for your sauna session is essential:
- Use only a towel, swimwear, or a lightweight, absorbent sauna robe as your clothing inside the sauna.
- Choose fabrics that allow for comfortable movement, quick drying, and easy temperature regulation.
- You may keep your swimsuit on if it is made of breathable material. Remove accessories or jewelry to prevent injury.
- Sit on your towel if the benches are made of wood, which can get hot. Place a towel behind you if you are leaning back against the wall.
- Always shower before entering the sauna, and dry off before going in to maximize sweating.
Saunas are accessible and can be a highly rewarding form of self-care, with extensive research demonstrating their potential benefits to help improve health and boost overall well-being. By following the proper use and safety tips outlined here, you can begin incorporating sauna sessions into your routine. Just be sure to stay hydrated, listen to your body’s signals, and consult a doctor if you have any medical conditions before getting started. When used correctly, saunas are safe, relaxing, and could be a hugely beneficial addition to a healthy lifestyle.