How Long to Stay in a Sauna: Safe Times for Health and Relaxation

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Saunas, a tradition spanning thousands of years, are much more than just a bathing ritual. They are deeply linked to enhancing relaxation and improving health, offering a variety of benefits. From the traditional steam saunas to the modern infrared ones, they have become a quintessentially relaxing method for melting away stress and jumpstarting muscle recovery after a tough workout. However, with these benefits come certain risks. It’s important to understand how much time to spend in a sauna and how often to go. The therapeutic experience can quickly turn unsafe if one is not careful about overheating and other potential risks.

This article aims to explain the safe way to enjoy a sauna. Whether it’s a part of your way of life, a means to unwind after a workout, or just a casual visit, knowing the right duration to sit in a sauna is crucial. In my experience, staying hydrated is key. Both traditional and infrared saunas require different approaches. A traditional sauna typically demands shorter sessions, while an infrared one can be used for a bit longer. However, irrespective of the type, it is vital to avoid pushing your body to extreme conditions. Unfortunately, the risks are not always strictly positive; they can create life-threatening conditions if not managed properly. Hence, it’s important to listen to your body and maintain an appropriate length for each session for safety reasons. This approach ensures you can enjoy the benefits of a sauna without putting yourself at risk.

How Long Should I Stay in a Sauna?

Understanding Sauna Duration for Beginners

If you’ve never used a sauna before, it’s crucial to start with the basics. Sources like the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Sauna Society provide valuable insights. As an expert in sauna use, I align with experienced bathers who generally agree on one key principle: start small. For first-timers, a short session of 5-10 minutes is ideal. This approach allows your body to adjust and gauge its response to the heat, ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience.

For Beginners

For beginners venturing into the sauna, where temperatures range between 110 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s essential to acclimate your body. Start small and build up. The time you spend in a sauna should initially be brief. Dr. Masi and other experts recommend beginning with 5 to 10 minutes per session. This allows you to get accustomed to the high temperatures in a safe manner. Focusing on hydration is a general rule. Remember, never stay longer than you’re comfortable with; if it feels like too much, it’s time to step out.

After Exercising

After exercising, it’s recommended to wait at least 10 minutes before entering a sauna. Dr. Masi and other experienced bathers suggest this waiting period to allow your body to cool down and start recovery. A workout can yield sport-specific benefits when followed by sauna bathing. For instance, a 2015 study in SpringerPlus2 found that traditional Finnish and far infrared saunas had a positive effect on the neuromuscular system, enhancing recovery and maximal endurance performance. 2023 research in Biology of Sport3 corroborated these findings with male basketball players who participated in a post-exercise sauna regimen, noting improvements in explosive performance, diminished muscle soreness, and inflammation. Additionally, mental health benefits like improved mood, increased morale, and preparedness were observed.

For those after exercise, a sauna session of 15 to 20 minutes is often welcome. However, it’s crucial to drink plenty of water beforehand to minimize the risk of adverse effects. This practice ensures that once you get in there, the chances of further sweating causing dehydration are minimal.

For experienced sauna users, especially in Finland, where it’s often a social event, it’s easy to overdo it. A general rule for sauna time, even for the experienced, is to cap it at 15 to 20 minutes. The Finnish word ‘sauna’ comes with a simpler suggestion: relaxing without ticking minutes. Leave when you feel hot enough. Keep reading for more specifics on frequent use.

Harvey Fierstein, an advocate for sauna use, notes that it’s safe to use a sauna every day, but each single session should be within limits. Healthy people, once acclimated, can extend their time up to 30 minutes, according to Dr. Ascher. However, first-time users should start slow, with just 5 to 10 minutes, and increase the duration as their bodies adjust.

For those wondering about sauna use before and after a workout, it’s largely a matter of personal preference. Mikhael, a sauna specialist, suggests that being well-hydrated is key. Experts recommend to listen to your body and take breaks if you feel uncomfortable. For folks new to the sauna, starting with a slow and short session is crucial. If you’ve just finished a workout, wait a bit before hopping in. Avoid frequent breaks to safely stay for up to 45 minutes. This duration can vary between individuals, with some preferring longer or shorter breaks, depending on their health factors.

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Different Types Of Saunas: Knowing Your Options

There are different types of saunas. Each one gives a unique sauna experience. If you are looking at saunas in gyms, spas, or to buy for home use, it’s good to know what each kind offers. The traditional sauna makes dry heat. It uses hot stones on a wood-burning stove or an electric heater. Here, temperatures go from 160 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

Then there’s the steam room. It’s different from a sauna. It has lower temperatures, about 110 to 120 degrees, but the air is almost all humidity. This means the air is very moist. It’s good for your skin and feels like a traditional sauna in some ways.

The infrared sauna is newer. It started just a few decades ago. This one has low humidity but doesn’t heat the air. It uses infrared rays to warm your body. This way of heating is revolutionary. The infrared sauna has a temperature of about 120 to 140 degrees. It’s a different kind of sauna.

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Factors Affecting Sauna Duration

Several factors can influence how long you should stay in a sauna, including:

Sauna Type

The different types of saunas have varying temperature and humidity levels. These factors greatly influence how long you should stay in a sauna. In a Traditional Finnish sauna, either an electric or wood-burning heater is used to generate dry heat. The temperature here can be 160 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit with 10-20% humidity. Because of the high temperature and low humidity, sessions are usually shorter, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Infrared saunas work differently. They use infrared light to heat the body directly, without heating the surrounding air. Their temperature is lower, around 120 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, allowing for longer sessions, typically 20 to 45 minutes.

Then there’s the Steam room. It creates a hot, humid environment with 110 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit and nearly 100% humidity. High humidity levels can sometimes cause drowsiness, fatigue, muscle cramps, or headaches, as reported by NBC News. That’s why time in a steam room is often shorter than in a dry sauna, ranging from 10 to 15 minutes.

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Age

Age significantly affects how often and how long you can safely use a sauna. As we age, our body composition changes. There’s a decrease in muscle mass and bodily fluid, and an increase in body fat. The Cleveland Clinic explains that these changes can decrease thirst sensation and the body’s ability to conserve water, raising the risk of dehydration. Older adults should spend less time in the sauna and opt for lower temperatures to avoid overheating and mitigate risks.

Children, on the other hand, struggle to regulate body temperature. A sauna session makes them sweat more due to their higher surface area to body weight ratio and smaller fluid reserves, which can rapidly become depleted. Young children, including infants and toddlers, can’t communicate thirst effectively. It’s recommended that young ones use the sauna with caution, limiting sessions to 10 to 15 minutes. This is generally enough to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for them.

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Health Conditions

Your overall health and any pre-existing medical conditions play a vital role in how long you should stay in a sauna. Research indicates that individuals with health issues like coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, respiratory issues, or certain skin conditions should either limit their sessions or avoid using a sauna altogether. It’s important to consult a healthcare professional before using a sauna if you have these conditions, as you might experience adverse reactions.

This professional advice can guide you on the appropriate duration of your sauna use and what precautions to take. Planning your sweat session with these factors in mind ensures a safer sauna experience.

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Comfort Level

Ultimately, your personal preferences and comfort level decide how long you stay in a sauna. Some individuals prefer shorter sessions, around 10-15 minutes, especially if it’s part of a workout regimen. Others enjoy longer sessions of 20-30 minutes to unwind and relax. It’s important to listen to your body. The benefits of a sauna are best experienced when you’re comfortable.

For those new to sauna use, it’s a good idea to start with a duration of preferably 15-20 minutes and gradually increase it as your body acclimates to the heat.

Why Is Spending the Right Amount of Time in a Sauna Important?

Saunas have been used for years to improve physical and mental health. In recent times, the concept of sauna bathing has received widespread recognition as a part of important healthy living. Saunas can help with cardiovascular health, boost energy levels, and promote weight loss. But the time spent in a sauna can significantly affect the desired outcome. For instance, if the time is too short, you might not quickly avail the full benefits of the sauna experience.

Poor detoxification benefits: Sauna bathing is known for its detoxification process through sweat. A short session may not effectively remove toxins from your body.

Limited respiratory benefits: For those suffering from chronic respiratory problems like asthma or allergies, saunas help in clearing mucus and improving lung function. Too little time may limit these benefits.

Reduced relaxation: Research shows that sauna use lowers cortisol, the stress hormone, and helps release endorphins. As stated by the Cleveland Clinic, it aids in deep relaxation, easing stress, anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain. A rushed session might spare you the chance to unwind fully.

Excessive time in a sauna can lead to being pruney and languid, as explained by Boston University. Extreme heat exposure has its side effects:

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  • Dehydration: Sweating profusely means your body loses water, minerals, and electrolytes. Mayo Clinic warns of dizziness, fatigue, and muscle cramps.
  • Hyperthermia: It can dangerously raise body temperature to levels causing heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
  • Skin Problems: Overexposure can cause dry skin, itchiness, irritation, and premature aging. It might also increase sensitivity or lead to acne breakouts, worsen existing conditions like eczema or psoriasis.
  • Cardiovascular Issues: Your heart works twice as hard to maintain core temperature. Temple Health & Vascular Institute notes increased heart activity can lead to palpitations and arrhythmias, potentially dangerous for those with existing heart conditions.
  • Sauna Duration for Specific Health Goals
  • If you enjoy using a sauna and wonder how long to stay to reap the most health benefits, the answer depends on what you’re aiming Whether you want to shed pounds, improve cardiovascular health, fight illness, or just relax, there’s a sweet spot for each session. Here are some examples of how long to stay in a sauna based on different health goals.
  • Remember, these durations are just guidelines. Always listen to your body and adjust as needed.
    Health GoalSauna Duration
    Relaxation, stress reduction15 to 20 minutes
    Muscle recovery20 to 30 minutes
    Detoxification30 to 45 minutes
    Heart health20 minutes, 4-7 times a week
    Respiratory healthLess than 20 minutes
    Weight loss15 to 20 minutes, 2-3 times a week

Risks Of Using A Sauna

Using a sauna can have risks if not done correctly. The biggest risks include dehydration and overheating. According to Fierstein, intense heat in a sauna can cause blood pressure fluctuations. You can lose up to one pint of water just by sweating in a single session. This can be problematic for those who have just worked out or for patients on certain medications, like diuretics, as noted by Dr. Ascher. Staying too long in a sauna can stress the body, leading to dizziness, lightheadedness, fatigue, or nausea.

While saunas are beneficial for overall health and wellness, the risks of electrolyte imbalance and other adverse effects from overuse or irresponsible use can lead to life-threatening conditions. These risks can be properly managed by staying hydrated. Dr. Masi advises to Drink water before, during, and after your sauna session to prevent dehydration. Drinking electrolyte drinks can also be helpful, as well as fueling with electrolyte-rich foods like bananas, avocados, watermelon, and spinach or greens.

An inordinately lengthy session can result in heat stroke, a condition categorized by feelings of dizziness and nausea. It’s important to limit your session duration to what feels comfortable.

Temporarily reduces fertility in men: Studies have shown that high temperatures in a sauna can reduce sperm count. For those trying to conceive, it’s advised to pause sauna sessions to protect fertility. Limiting sauna visits to 2-3 times a week and staying inside for a shorter duration are considered safe.

Hygiene tips: Use an extra towel in the sauna room to lay underneath your body. This acts as a buffer between your skin and the hot wood, making it more hygienic than sitting directly on the wood. Also, remember that the upper benches are hotter than the ground level, so sit on the middle or lower bench to prevent overheating.

Tips for Safe Sauna Use

Using a sauna safely involves several tips. Here’s a table summarizing them for better understanding:

TipExplanation
Consult a doctorIf you have pre-existing health conditions like high blood pressure, heart problems, or asthma.
Drink waterTo maintain fluid levels. Avoid alcohol before or during your session.
Wearing appropriate clothingChoose loose-fitting clothing or a towel for etiquette, air circulation, and hygiene.
Limit sessions to 15-20 minutesEspecially for first-time users. Shorter at first, then gradually increase duration.
Keep temperature at 150 to 195 degrees FahrenheitTo avoid overheating. If you feel dizzy, leave immediately and rest in a cooler area.
Use essential oils for sauna aromatherapyDilute and use them sparingly to avoid skin irritation or respiratory issues.
Cool gradually after leavingBy sitting or taking a lukewarm shower to prevent shock to the body.

Following these tips ensures a safe and enjoyable sauna experience. Remember, if you feel nauseous or lightheaded at any point, it’s important to leave the sauna and rest.

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Who Shouldn’t Use A Sauna

Certain people should avoid using a sauna, as explained by experts like Fierstein and Dr. Ascher. These include:

  • Individuals under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Patients with uncontrolled hypertension or severe heart disease, including those who have experienced heart attacks, heart failure, or heart surgeries.
  • Anyone who is sick or infected, particularly with a fever or acute infections.
  • People with open wounds, kidney disease, or specific skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis.
  • Those suffering from autonomic dysfunction, which can cause difficulty in regulating heart rates and blood pressure.
  • Individuals with seizure disorders or chronic respiratory disease.
  • Pregnant women and children under the age of 6 should also be cautious.
  • However, people who suffer from joint pain or depression but do not have pre-existing heart problems may enjoy spending a limited time in a sauna as part of their wellness routine.

It’s crucial to understand these restrictions to ensure sauna use is safe and beneficial for everyone.

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Final Thoughts

The reason for spending time in a sauna is deeply ingrained in the culture of Finland, its birthplace. Sitting and sweating in a sauna yields health benefits, but it’s crucial not to overdo the amount of time spent. The experience of using saunas varies from person to person.

  • For Beginners, it’s wise to err on the side of caution and limit the duration of a session to just 5 or 10 minutes.
  • Seasoned bathers, on the other hand, might extend their sessions to approximately 15 to 20 minutes.

Once you’re ready to start enjoying the benefits of sauna bathing, remember to grab a towel, set a timer, and unlock a new world of wellness and relaxation.

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FAQ’s

How Long Do You Have To Sit In A Sauna To Detox Your Body?

Sweat can contain concentrations of toxins and heavy metals. The volume and duration of sauna use affect detoxification. A study found that 20-minute sessions can be beneficial, but these are just conclusions from limited research.

Is It OK To Sauna Every Day?

Dr. Masi says it’s OK to use a sauna daily, but you should limit sessions to an appropriate length and stay hydrated. Always discuss risk factors with your doctor, especially if sauna use is medically contraindicated. If all is clear, it’s safe to enjoy regularly.

Is It OK To Be In The Sauna For 30 Minutes?

Generally, 15 to 20 minutes is an adequate session length. Some studies have subjected participants to 30-minute sessions without noting adverse effects, but this depends on personal tolerance to high temperatures. It’s best to start your routine gradually.

Is 1 Hour Sauna Too Long?

In 2013, UFC fighter Ronda Rousey made headlines for shedding 17 pounds in a day by staying in a sauna for five hours. This highlights the risk of dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and heat stroke. While some persevere, the consequence can be dire. One hour is generally not recommended as it puts health in jeopardy. Limiting sessions to be effective, short, and sweet maximizes benefits without undue risk.

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