We decided to put this 101 together as there are so many interpretations of what float therapy is all about. We teamed up with Adrienne Santos-Longhurst, a freelance writer and author in the USA.
A sensory deprivation tank, also called an isolation tank or flotation tank, is used for restricted environmental stimulation therapy (REST). It is a dark, soundproof tank that is filled with 10” of heavily saturated salt water. A tank is referring to the bath part of where the water sits.
The first tank was designed in 1954 by John C. Lilly, an American physician and neuroscientist. He designed the tank to study the origins of consciousness by cutting off all external stimuli.
His research took a controversial turn in the 1960s. That’s when he began experimenting with sensory deprivation while under the effects of LSD, a hallucinogenic, and ketamine, a fast-acting anaesthetic that is known for its ability to sedate and create a trance-like state.
In the 1970s, commercial float tanks were created and began being studied for possible health benefits. NASA also used the tanks for weightlessness acclimatisation for astronauts.
These days, finding a sensory deprivation tank is easy, with float centres and spas offering float therapy all over the world.
Their increase in popularity may be due in part to the scientific evidence. Studies suggest time spent floating in a sensory deprivation tank may have some benefits in healthy people, such as muscle relaxation, better sleep, decrease in pain, and decreased stress and anxiety.
Sensory deprivation effects
The water in a sensory deprivation tank is heated to skin temperature and nearly saturated with Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate), providing buoyancy so you float without effort.
You enter the tank naked, that’s right Birthday Suit notbathing suit, and are cut off from all outside stimulation, including sound, sight, and gravity when the room door is closed. As you float weightless in the silence and darkness, the brain enters a deeply relaxed state.
Sensory deprivation tank therapy is said to produce several effects on the brain, ranging from visualisation (not hallucination) to enhanced creativity.
Do you hallucinate in a sensory deprivation tank?
No, but many people have reported having visualisation in a sensory deprivation tank. Over the years, studies have shown that sensory deprivation does induce psychosis-like experiences. Some people experience memory recall from a very young age, others remembering random people who they haven’t seen for a long, long time, others can’t explain the feelings they had but all were of happy memories. Most explain that it is like watching an old-style VHS movie in fast forward more.
A 2015 study divided 46 people into two groups based on how prone they were to visualisation. Researchers found that sensory deprivation induced similar experiences in both the high- and low-prone groups, and it increased the frequency of visualisation in those in the high-prone group.
Will it make me more creative?
According to an article published in 2014 in the European Journal of Integrative Medicine, floating in a sensory deprivation tank has been found in a handful of studies to increase originality, imagination, and intuition, which can all lead to enhanced creativity. In the USA, many authors, writers, creatives, web designers, graphic designers, artists and others who fall into this bracket, use float therapy regularly to help stimulate and encourage creativity.
Can it improve concentration and focus?
Though most of the research that exists is older, there is evidence that sensory deprivation can improve focus, sharpness of the mind and concentration, and may also lead to clearer and more precise thinking. This has been linked to improved learning and enhanced performance in university, teaching, learning and different career groups. This is believed to be linked to the REM sleep equivalent that floaters get when experiencing sensory deprivation. One hour in a float room equates to approximately 4 hours of REM sleep.
Does it improve athletic performance?
The various effects of sensory deprivation tank therapy on athletic performance are well documented. It has been found effective in speeding up recovery after strenuous physical training by decreasing blood lactate in a study of college students.
A 2016 study of 60 elite athletes also found it improved psychological recovery following intense training and competition. This is further supported by the amount of American football, basketball and baseball teams that have installed float pods for their athletes to use.
Benefits of a sensory deprivation tank
There are several psychological and medical benefits of a sensory deprivation tanks on conditions such as anxiety disorders, stress, and chronic pain.
Does sensory deprivation tank treat anxiety?
Flotation-REST has been found to be effective in reducing anxiety. A 2018 study showed that a single one-hour session in a sensory deprivation tank was capable of a significant reduction in anxiety and improvement in mood in the 50 participants with stress- and anxiety-related disorders.
A 2016 study of 46 people who self-reported generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) found that it reduced GAD symptoms, such as depression, sleep difficulties, irritability, and fatigue.
Can it relieve pain?
The effect of sensory deprivation tank therapy on chronic pain has been confirmed by several studies. It is shown to be effective in treating tension headaches, muscle tension, and pain.
A small study of participants found it effective in treating whiplash-associated disorders, such as neck pain and stiffness and reduced range of motion. It has also been shown to reduce stress-related pain.
Can it improve cardiovascular health?
Flotation-REST therapy may improve your cardiovascular health by inducing deep relaxation that reduces stress levels and improves sleep, according to research. Chronic stress and sleep deprivation have been linked to high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
Will it make me happier?
There are many claims about flotation-REST causing feelings of overwhelming happiness and euphoria. People have reported experiencing mild euphoria, increased well-being, and feeling more optimistic following therapy using a sensory deprivation tank.
Others have reported spiritual experiences, deep inner peace, sudden spiritual insight, and feeling as if they were born anew.
Sensory deprivation tank process
To help you relax and get the most out of your session, it is recommended that you don’t before you float but if you need to eat, then something very light is recommended. It’s also helpful to avoid caffeine for four hours beforehand. Hydrate well before hand
Shaving or waxing before a session is not recommended as the salt in the water can irritate the skin.
Women who are menstruating should reschedule their session for once their period has ended.
When used properly, a sensory deprivation tank may should relieve stress and ease muscle tension and pain. It can also help improve your mood.
Sensory deprivation tanks are generally safe, but it may be a good idea to speak to a doctor before using one if you have any medical conditions or concerns.
For more information about Float Therapy or Wellbeing Programmes, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Original research undertaken by Adrienne Santos-Longhurst, freelance writer, and enhanced with real life experiences, by Nigel Ross.