On my path of search for better sleep I’ve experimented with a ton of supplements and methods. Living in the Northern European climate one would find it impossible to avoid sauna. Used for centuries as a social and health promoting activity saunas are touted as one of the best ways to detox and relax. Naturally, I had to ask: will a sauna help me sleep better or make things much worse because of my adrenal fatigue?
As experience showed it will all depend on a variety of factors.
First: why would a sauna be a problem in the first place? Answer is one and only: heat. Heat means stress for your body. It also means a massive dehydration. We all know much too well that any type of stress on our organs will exacerbate insomnia and fatigue so why even bother? Well, it looks like the right amount of heat will relax our nervous system and sweat will remove many toxins that stress our body in the first place.
Second: Your experience with a sauna will largely depend on the stage of your adrenal fatigue. If you are advanced where you crash easily from supplements or any illness then you would be smart to forget about saunas entirely and enjoy warm baths instead. When I was at my worst I couldn’t even think about sauna: it was way too taxing and way too depleting. However, if your state of health is a bit more stable then read on.
The following advice is all about managing heat and dehydration so that you can make sauna the healing experience that you wish it to be.
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Best Sauna Type: Regular vs. Infrared
There’s a lot of debate out there about the benefits/drawbacks about both types of saunas but as far as I’m concerned: infrared sauna is way less stressful on the body because it’s not nearly as hot as a regular sauna. In fact, I found it kind of boring to sit there in 30 degrees (c) but it was also very relaxing and easy. No heart palpitations, no urgency to burst out of that hot hell of regular sauna.
My main advice on the regular sauna: take it easy with the temperatures. Don’t go if the temps are higher than 50c (120 fahr.). Many people around my climate zone enjoy saunas at 80c (176 fahr.) and some take pride in tolerating 100c (212 Fahr.) followed by skinny dipping into a frozen lake or a pile of snow. Well, what can I say, those Viking genes serve them well but I would not survive it. 50c is the max that I can handle, and that is provided that I do everything correctly.
Go on Empty Stomach
Do not eat before going to sauna and eat only a light meal, preferably no meat. Most red meat is heating, chicken is neutral but it still more difficult to digest. Digestion requires a lot of energy and you do not want to strain your body on two fronts. Go on empty stomach and you’ll have a much more relaxing experience.
Cool Your Heart Prior
Heat will stress your heart as it will have to pump blood faster in order to cool the body. Since the heart has a very tight connection with adrenals (you stress one, the other one is stressed right away) we need to cool the heart and blood in order to take the stress from those systems.
Of the best ways to do it is to use herbs like Salvia miltiorrhiza (red sage or Dan Shen) or motherwort. Both have cooling and tonic effects on the heart. I notice that if I take it around 30-60 before sauna I have a much more pleasant experience and avoid major heart palps.
Wear a Sauna Hat
As you know, there are a lot of blood vessels that run along the top of your scalp and this is where you lose a lot of heat in the winter or absorb a lot of heat in the summer. Wool sauna hats prevent you from overheating prematurely. Alternatively, just put a stylish towel on your head.
Two Sessions is Less Stressful Than One
Something that the big sauna connoisseurs will advise you is to do two or three shorter sessions instead of one long one. This is certainly true. I noticed that I tolerate two fifteen minute sessions much better than one long one. You can do ten and ten. I usually do fifteen minutes on the first go, then rest for ten and then jump back in for another ten.
Heating, resting and then heating has a much more synergistic effect. Key thing is to wipe all of your sweat after the first go, put a robe on and relax. Your body will keep sweating even if you are not in the sauna. Same thing after the second go: wait and rest before jumping into a shower to wash up to cool off and close all your skin pores.
Re-hydrate with Electrolytes
It is best not to drink anything during your sauna session. If you have to then drink very little and only warm liquids. Needless to say don’t even think about alcohol. There are some really stupid people that manage to turn saunas into a frat party but many pay for it dearly. What you need to do after a sauna is hydrate. Sweat dumps a lot of electrolytes like potassium, magnesium and calcium. This is the best moment to drink an electrolyte beverage, herbal tea and eat a nutrient rich dinner, generous with things like cucumbers, Himalayan salt, potatoes and so on.
If you follow this advice you should have a pleasant sauna experience, relax your nervous system and sleep much better the following night. However, if you misjudge your state of fatigue and push too hard inside the sauna you might have the complete opposite and make your sleep much worse due to dehydration and crashed adrenals. Take it easy, start slow and listen to your body.
Thanks for sharing. I have found hot sun bathing to be beneficial in my own journey back to better health. I always feel better after a good sweat. During my worst years, I probably went 2 + years without significantly sweating. I have also used a nir sauna.
What beverage would you recommend after a sauna session? Can it be made at home?
Anything that will replenish electrolytes.
I have been noticing I can’t sleep after being in my infrared sauna and wondered if it could be raising my cortisol. I’m guessing after reading this article that it is. Which is very discouraging. It seems no matter what I do to get better it backfires on me. Any suggestions?
Hi Julie, this could be due to several reasons – loss of electrolytes, stressing the adrenals or possibly EMF sensitivity. What are your symptoms when you are wide awake – cold, hot, anxious?
I am on the hot side. I can’t turn my mind off. It is the feeling you get when you have pushed your adrenals too hard and you can’t really relax.
I’m convinced that I damaged my adrenals by using infrared sauna therapy regularly.
Hi Aaron, technically you shouldn’t have because there’s hardly any stress from the heat but you probably did not replenish your electrolytes in time and that is what hurt your adrenals. Do you think this could have been the case?