How Long Should you Spend in the Sauna?

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I have been plagued by intense tension headaches for a number of years, so I set out to discover how saunas might benefit me in easing my neck pain/tension headaches. I also have some other muscular pain that I was hoping to ease. So, I wanted to know exactly how long I should stay in the sauna to get some relief from my muscle pain, and also what the generally safe practices are regarding saunas.

So how long should you stay in the sauna? The best amount of time is to stay in the sauna depends on your health condition, and desired health results. A good general guidelines is for 10-30 minutes;  A study on tension headache relief, had subjects spend 20 minutes in a sauna, where another study on endurance, had subjects use the suana for 30 minutes. 

Of course, there are always caveats to health information (there seem to be about 20 opinions for any one health question, so read on for more details on the length, as well as how frequently you will want to use the sauna, and some general best practices for using saunas.

How long should you sit in a sauna for?

In researching this question, it was difficult to find a well-accepted, scientifically backed answer to just how long someone should stay in a sauna. Part of the problem is that the “why” of the question is important. Do you want to know how long it is for someone to stay in the sauna for blood pressure, reducing back pain, reducing head aches, etc. These are all different questions, which could have different answers, and would need multiple studies to explore each one.

One study had this to said that more research was needed to determine what the best frequency and duration was for different types of sauna bathing, depend on the desired health effects, and based on the type of people that would be using it.

A more reasonable question is what is a good amount of time to stay in the suana, which won’t be dangerous. I attempt to answer that question below.

20 minutes

When I conducted my research, I was also looking specifically at the recommendations for relieving tension headaches. Narrowing down the desired health benefit, made this search much easier. I found a very useful scientific study, which directed participants go in a saunas for 20 minutes. The study did show that the sauna treatments did help with reducing tension headaches. 

If you have a specific health concern, you may want to research more in depth (or ask your Doctor), but to me it seems likely that if 20 minutes is a good recommendation for relaxing neck muscles, which contribute to tension headaches, that it would likely be a good measure for other types of muscular pain, and perhaps for other desired health benefits as well. 

Other Common Thoughts on Length of  Time

As mentioned, with health questions, there is always going to be many opinions and answers. Here are some other recommendations that I came across: 

  1. Do not stay in a sauna for more than 15 minutes
  2. Max 30 minutes
  3. Some people can acclimatize themselves for staying in a sauna up to an hour.
  4. At least 8 minutes
  5. The first session should be 8-10 minutes, then working up to 10-15 minutes.
  6. 15-20 minutes
  7. 10-30 minutes

A smaller amount of time, such as 15 minutes might be a better time for you, especially if you aren’t used to saunas. When you go into the sauna, pay attention to your body to see how you are feeling. If after 15 minutes, you feel like you want to get out, then get out.

Something that you may want to try is to gradually increase the amount of time that you spend in the sauna. The first time you go in there, you may want to leave after only 5 minutes. Then, the next time, try for a little longer.

How Long is Too Long in the Sauna?

How long it is safe to stay in the sauna will vary by individual. Pay attention to your body, and respond to it; for example, leave the sauna and cool down if you start to feel ill, dizzy , or develop a headache.To decrease the chances of having any ill-effects from the sauna, you should keep yourself hydrated. Generally, most healthy people will tolerate 10 minutes without issues. Again, you may want to build up your resistance.  

Do not use a sauna if you:

  • have heart problems
  • have high blood pressure
  • are pregnant

How Often Should you go in the Sauna?

To see results for tensions headaches, you should use a sauna for 2 times a week for 8 weeks. I suspect that this would also be a similar for other types of pain, such as back pain. Here are some other suggested times that I came across:

  • 2-3 times a week
  • 3-4 times a week
  • 4-7 times a week
  • Daily

You may want to consider easing yourself into the frequency in which you go to the sauna as well, especially if you are not used to using a sauna. It may be best to start at once a week, or even every other week, and then increase your frequency.

Also, be aware that sauna use will dry out your skin. Be sure to keep yourself hydrated.

What to Wear into a Sauna?

There are a few answers to this question, depending on who you ask. A very common option is to wrap a towel around your lower waist (for men), and above your bust (for women). Most gyms supply these through a towel service, but you can also bring one from home. Many people go topless, or in the nude.

If you choose to go topless or nude, be aware that you may make others uncomfortable. This is largely dependent on the culture of the country or region that you are in; however, it is best to do whatever makes YOU comfortable. Some saunas do have rules on what attire is acceptable, so you may want to check and see what the gym’s policy is before heading out. If you choose to go nude, for sanitary reasons, it is a good idea to have a towel to sit on.

Some other options to wear are a cotton robe, cotton t-shirt, or a swimsuit made out of natural fibres.

What NOT to Wear in a Sauna

What you do NOT want to do is wear clothing that doesn’t breath (like a synthetic swimsuit).

Some people will say that you should not wear shoes in a sauna. Some places may even have a policy that disallows shoes, depending on where you go). Shoes could be disallowed because dirt is being tracked into the sauna, which could damage the sauna. Another reason not to wear shoes is because there is a lot of heat and moisture in a saunas. The hot and moist environments creates an ideal breeding ground for fungus, like athletes foot. If you wear shoes, the bacteria will breed in your shoes, which could cause problems for you, like athlete’s foot; however, if you wear no shoes, then your feet will be exposed to any bacteria that may be on the surface of the sauna.

Footwear and the Sauna

If the rules of the gym allow, a good option is to wear flip flops. The benefit of flip flops are that they:

  1.  Protect your feet from any bacteria that may be on the ground
  2. Allow your foot to breath and avoids creating a perfect breeding ground for bacteria, as a close toed shoe would do.

If no shoes are allowed, you may want to talk to someone and ask if it is possible to wear in flip flops, if they are indoor use only. If you aren’t going to be getting dirt or mud into the 

After the sauna, it is a good idea to shower. Make sure to pay special attention to cleaning your feet. If you do wear flip flops, make sure that they are just for the sauna. You definitely don’t want to track in outside dirt. You can pick a cheap pair of flip flops at the Dollar store for a few dollars, which you can then use exclusively as your sauna footwear.

Should you bring your phone in the sauna?

The short answer if “No”. It is not a good idea to bring your phone into a dry or steam sauna. If you’d like more information, we’ve got an article here.

Medical Disclaimer

This information is meant to be helpful, and is not intended as medical advice. If you have an questions or concerns about using a sauna, you should consult your Doctor.

Conclusion

Aside from reducing pain, saunas have a host of other benefits. To reap the many benefits of using a sauna,  you will want to use a sauna on a regular basis.

It might be hard to start going 2 times a week or for 20 minutes at a time. For this reasons, like all changes, it is best to slowly introduce the habit into your routine. If you have never used a sauna before, start with going just once. Your can stay in for 20 minutes, or until you get uncomfortable.  

I recommend following this mantra by Arthur Ashe: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can”.

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