Using Infrared Sauna Therapy for Depression

Depression is one of the most destructive diseases afflicting the modern world. Depression unravels relationships, undermines goals, and diminishes our outlook on life. After all, one of depression’s defining traits is the inability to derive pleasure. How’s that for a disease?

One of the issues of treating depression is that depression often strains social relationships, reducing the social support network that may prove critical to receiving treatment. Unlike other diseases, depression doesn’t open social doorways to family or friends; it slams them shut. Depression is also an incredibly difficult disease to diagnose and treat.

So, what does all this have to do with infrared sauna therapy? Depression — while not an entirely understood disease — has a number of symptoms that can be treated with regular infrared sauna use. Before diving into how infrared saunas can help with depression and the neurochemicals that are responsible for causing this disease, it may be beneficial to define depression itself.

What is (and is Not) Depression?

We’ve all had bouts of “feeling down,” such as being dumped by a girlfriend/boyfriend, the loss of a family member or friend, or job difficulties. In most of these instances, there is a drop in our enjoyment of life, but we typically bounce back. This is not depression. Because depression is essentially a neurotransmitter disorder that affects norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin, it can be present even during overwhelmingly positive life events, such as a job promotion, meeting a new partner, or the birth of a child.

The main symptoms of depression include:

  • Lack of Pleasure — “Anhedonia” (lacking the ability to feel pleasure) is the primary, most noticeable trait of depression. In someone with depression, positive events and achievements may not illicit a sense of joy.
  • Sense of Hopelessness — Many individuals with depression will experience feelings of hopelessness, loss, or sorrow without a specific cause.
  • Sluggishness — Depressed persons may find even basic tasks, such as self-care (bathing, dental care, etc.) to be exhausting. Medically this is known as “psychomotor retardation” and is the result of low dopamine. While dopamine is often characterized as the brain’s “reward” chemical, it’s actually the chemical that gives us the feeling of hope and drives us to achieve our goals.
  • Self-Harm — A person with depression may exhibit some forms of self-harm. In the psychological sense, someone with depression may blame themselves for events outside their control, even blaming themselves for having the disease. Physically, depressed individuals may resort to “cutting” or other forms of self-mutilation.

Using an Infrared Sauna to Reduce Depression

Depression affects people from all walks of life, regardless of social standing, race, nationality, education level, and every other socioeconomic factor. Depression is a disease that is difficult to diagnose let alone treat. In the 1960s, the first types of antidepressant therapies arrived on the market. Scientists mistakenly believed that norepinephrine was to blame for depression, so they designed medications which limited the production of norepinephrine. Of course, we now know that norepinephrine is important in preventing depression, so the result of these early therapies was — you guessed it — more depression.

Today, we have a better understanding of depression and have identified dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin as the neurochemicals that give us a sense of contentment, optimism, and the ability to experience happiness. Infrared saunas have been shown to optimize the production and reception of these natural antidepressants. Using an infrared sauna to reduce depression works in the following ways:

  • Boost in “Happy” Brain Chemicals — The infrared light produced by an infrared sauna actually penetrates several inches below the surface of the skin. This warming effect encourages the production of serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. As mentioned previously, these are all neurochemicals that are found to be lacking in individuals with depression.
  • Reduced Stress — Saunas are well-known for their amazing ability to melt away stress. Persons with depression often experience elevated stress hormones (glucocorticoids and adrenaline). These stress hormones are significantly reduced after spending some time in an infrared sauna.
  • Relaxation — During periods of depression, individuals will often experience nervous tension and persistent agitation, making it difficult to truly experience a relaxed, Zen-like state. Infrared saunas stimulate endorphin and oxytocin release. These are the chemicals we most often associate with peace and contentment.

A Case Study of Using Infrared Sauna Therapy for Depression

A 2005 study out of Psychosomatic Medicine (2005 67 (4): 643-47.) examined a group of 28 mildly depressed patients with appetite loss and subjective symptoms. Half of the patients were treated with infrared sauna therapy once a day for four weeks, while the other half were given bed rest for four weeks. The group that received infrared sauna therapy for depression showed statistically significant improvements in somatic complaints, hunger, and relaxation in comparison to the control group.

Infrared Saunas as a Science-Backed Treatment for Depression

Athletes are very familiar with endorphins because this neurotransmitter is what gives the body a natural “high” following intense physical exercise. These endorphins are carried throughout via the blood stream, where they remain for hours, elevating our mood and alleviating symptoms of depression.

Some of the latest studies on far infrared sauna depression therapy have shown great benefits to patients suffering from depression as well as mood imbalances. Far infrared sauna therapy for depression has shown to boost the body’s endorphins in a similar way as exercise. Furthermore, during an infrared sauna session, the body’s muscles and tissues release stored up tension and stress, lifting your mood and leaving you in a positive, relaxed state.