Article at a Glance
- Sensory deprivation is a type of therapy that involves limiting the number of external stimuli on the brain and body.
- Pain reduction, enhanced creativity, happiness, lower anxiety, reduced stress, and improved athletic performance are all benefits of sensory deprivation.
- Sensory deprivation can be experienced in float tanks, which involves floating in salt water in a dark, soundproof chamber.
Imagine having better sleep, less stress, less pain, less depression, and more happiness – just by floating around doing nothing? These are some of the alleged benefits of a therapeutic tool known as sensory deprivation. Here, we’ll unveil what that is and some of the science-backed benefits it can provide.
What is Sensory Deprivation?
Sensory deprivation, also known as restricted environmental stimulation therapy (REST), is a therapeutic technique that involves being placed in a dark, soundproof place where all senses are temporarily unstimulated [R]. The two most common methods are chamber REST, which involves lying in a bed in a dark, quiet room, and flotation REST, which involves floating in a tank filled with Epsom salt water with no light or sound. The latter is the more widely commercialized in float spas that have been increasing in popularity.
What Happens in a Float Tank?
The water in a sensory deprivation tank is kept at skin temperature and is nearly saturated with Epsom salt, making floating effortless.
When the tank lid closes, all external stimulation is cut off, including light, sound, and gravity. The silence and darkness are meant to induce a state of deep relaxation.
The Effects of Sensory Deprivation
Being enclosed in a sensory deprivation tank is thought to have several effects on the brain, including creativity enhancement and improved concentration. It’s also said to improve athletic performance, reduce pain, treat anxiety, reduce addictive behavior, and even make you happier.
Let’s take a look at some of the research-backed evidence for these claims.
Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
The effects of sensory deprivation on the brain were noted when brain-imaging studies indicated that sensory deprivation seems to regulate the over-activity seen in a part of the brain called the amygdala, which controls feelings of fear and anxiety. These preliminary findings led to the speculation that sensory deprivation can reduce symptoms of anxiety and other stress-related disorders [R].
A recent study observed the effects of sensory deprivation in a group of 50 patients with a range of different anxiety and stress-related disorders. The researchers found that a single hour-long session of flotation led to a substantial reduction in anxiety and a significant improvement in mood [R].
Researchers also found that floatation therapy induces a sense of deep relaxation and significantly reduces stress [R]. One way in which it does so is through the significant reduction in cortisol, the hormone involved in the stress response [R].
Several studies have shown positive effects of floatation tanks on pain reduction. One study found that patients suffering from chronic muscle tension pain experienced a substantial reduction in pain after nine sessions of flotation over a three-week period. In addition, blood levels of noradrenaline, a chemical in the body involved in pain perception, were lower after treatment [R].
Another study found similarly positive results when observing the effects of sensory deprivation on patients diagnosed with stress-related muscle tension pain. After twelve float sessions over a period of seven weeks, there was a significant improvement in pain in the subjects [R].
Yet another study found that pain was substantially reduced in individuals who weren’t chronic pain patients, but had some muscle pain [R].
Improved Athletic Performance
Sensory deprivation is popular among athletes. It’s effective in speeding up recovery after intense physical training by decreasing lactate levels in the blood. Researchers found that one hour in a float tank following strenuous exercise resulted in significantly lower levels of lactate (the substance that’s produced during exercise that causes soreness) and lower perceived pain compared to the group that didn’t receive post-exercise treatment in a flotation tank [R].
The effects of sensory deprivation on sleep are well-documented [R, R, R]. Individuals who underwent a one-hour session in a float tank reported better quality sleep, in addition to deep relaxation and stress reduction [R].
Researchers also found that after four sessions in a float tank, the time it took to fall asleep was significantly improved for at least three months [R]. In addition, one study showed sleep duration significantly improved after twelve float sessions compared to the control group of patients who didn’t receive therapy in a float tank [R].
Sensory deprivation has been found to enhance intuition, imagination, and originality, which can lead to enhanced creativity [R]. In fact, researchers found that individuals who underwent a one-hour long sensory deprivation session had better creativity scores than the control group [R].
Sensory deprivation therapy can also lead to an improvement in perceived happiness levels. Several studies have shown elevated optimism and even euphoric sensations following treatment in a float tank, which were evaluated by questionnaires measuring happiness before and after treatment [R, R, R].
Not everyone is comfortable being enclosed in a tank or chamber and left alone with their thoughts. In fact, researchers had some participants in sensory deprivation studies report high levels of anxiety during the first part of their float session, which disappeared as the session progressed [R].
It was also found that sensory deprivation led to an increase in psychosis-like experiences, including hallucinations [R].
The ability for sensory deprivation to induce deep relaxation, pain relief, and a more relaxed state makes it a great tool for increased overall well being [R].
There are many centers that offer this therapy. Scroll through our directory of health and longevity clinics to find the right place for you.
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