Mayans had the Temazcal – which roughly translates as sweat lodge – while the Japanese have the mushi-buro, Russians have the Banya, and Finns have the sauna. Heat has long been used therapeutically in many cultures, and for good reason.
Since posting about the science-backed health benefits of sauna bathing and a review of the sauna I chose, I’ve received a lot of questions about how to get the most out of sauna sessions.
Below are my top tips, plus answers to other frequently asked questions about sauna bathing for kids, while breastfeeding, and more.
As always, this is not medical advice and you should always talk to your healthcare provider about any questions you have. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s dive in.
Tip #1 – Make Sure You Have The Essentials
At the beginning of every sauna session you’re going to want to have a couple of essentials on hand:
- Water or an electrolyte drink
- Cotton towel
I also usually have a book with me, and these cotton wristbands that keep me from sweating all over it. Sometimes I also add a few drops of essential oil to a washcloth and bring it in with me to add an aromatherapy component.
Water Vs. Electrolyte Drinks
As I mentioned earlier, sweating helps our bodies eliminate heavy metals, PCB’s, BPA and other toxins. However, it also depletes our bodies of water and minerals, so we need to replenish both.
I already consume a lot of electrolytes daily through food and liquid minerals, so in general during a sauna session I usually just sip on a big glass jar of water during a sauna session. However, sometimes I add a pinch of unrefined sea salt or make one of these electrolyte drink recipes if I do an intense workout before my sauna session. There’s a pretty good pre-made powdered option available, too.
Other ways to replenish electrolytes include adding kale to a smoothie (it’s rich in calcium and magnesium) that also contains avocado for potassium, phosphorus and additional magnesium.
Bottom line: Drink a lot, but stick to water and make sure you’ve got a strategy for replenishing electrolytes. I love Dry Farm Wines, but saunas and alcohol should never mix. (1)
Tip #2 – Take It Slow
Most sources recommend starting with a 10-15 minute session, increasing the time spent as you feel comfortable. The suggested session time for the infrared sauna I use is between 20-45 minutes.
Some types of saunas run hotter or cooler, so always check with your manufacturer for recommended session times.
Tip #3 – Wear Cotton
Breathable, washable natural fibers like cotton shirts/shorts are ideal for sauna bathing.
I also place cotton towels on the bench and the floor to keep the sauna clean. Once I finish a session, I toss everything in my laundry hamper so that all the stuff I sweated out can be washed away.
Tip #4 – Don’t Eat A Large Meal Before A Session
Saunas increase the flow of nutrients (glucose, amino acids, fatty acids, and oxygen) via the circulatory system. While it may seem like the perfect time to add in some more nutrients with a healthy meal, the reality is that the digestive process gets put on the back burner while the circulatory system focuses on nutrient delivery to the muscles and skin.
For that reason, it’s best not to eat a large meal right before stepping into a sauna. If I’m really hungry I opt for a light snack, then eat when my session is over.
Tip #5 – Listen To Your Body
If you feel lightheaded, dizzy, nauseous, queasy or off in any way, end your session.
Tip #6 – Red Light At Night
If you’re using a sauna that has a chromotherapy (light therapy) mode, stick with using just red light at night. Blue light (and possibly other wavelengths on the spectrum) can disrupt your circadian rhythm and make it difficult to fall asleep.
Tip #7 – Rinse And Repeat
Take a warm or cold shower after your session to rinse away any toxins eliminated via sweat. By now you should be feeling amazing and looking forward to your next session, so go ahead decide when that will be.
Safety Info & Frequently Asked Questions
Individuals who are:
- Taking Medications
- Under 12 years old
. . . . or who have:
- Cardiovascular Conditions*
- Chronic Conditions
. . . should talk to a doctor before starting sauna therapy. Also, we’ve already touched on a few of these, but here are some general guidelines to follow:
- Avoid sauna therapy if you have hemophiila
- Don’t fall asleep in the sauna
- Don’t get in a sauna if you have a fever
- Don’t use the sauna if you’re under the influence of alcohol or any other substance
- Stay hydrated
- Leave the sauna if you begin to feel dizzy, nauseous, or ill.
* According to this study, contraindications for sauna use “include unstable angina pectoris, recent myocardial infarction, and severe aortic stenosis. Sauna bathing is safe, however, for most people with coronary heart disease with stable angina pectoris or old myocardial infarction.”
Is sauna bathing safe for kids?
When my husband spent time in Finland, he found that children in most families sauna regularly. Plus, as mentioned above, this study says that sauna bathing “is well tolerated by most healthy adults and children.”
However, there are no formally established guidelines regarding the use of saunas with children, and it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider before starting sauna therapy and educate yourself on safe practices.
Here’s why: This study found that Finnish parents are “guided by an empirically acquired parental understanding” of safety based on a long history of use in their culture.
Those of us who are fairly new to sauna therapy don’t have the same knowledge level, so we need to take extra care.
Here are some potential guidelines to discuss with your healthcare provider:
- Children should ALWAYS be supervised. (They are in Finland, and this study published in the Journal Pediatrics also recommends supervision.)
- Children should spend less time than adults in a sauna, and the sauna should be set to lower temps (90º-110ºF). That’s because children can’t regulate their core body temperature as efficiently as adults, which means it rises faster. Regarding the “right” amount of time, many sources say the maximum amount should be 15 minutes. Others say that a general rule of thumb is one minute of sauna use per year of age for the child.
- Pay attention to hydration. This is just as important with kids as adults.
Is sauna bathing safe for breastfeeding women?
For breastfeeding, this study concluded that “Far-infrared sauna use is safe and effective for increasing lactation in breastfeeding mothers.”
On the flipside, some practitioners recommend avoiding saunas entirely during breastfeeding due to concerns about toxins being excreted via breast milk.
Recently I asked a practitioner who recommends avoiding saunas during pregnancy/breastfeeding if he would make the same recommendation for a mama who had been living a healthy lifestyle for awhile (eating clean, avoiding toxic household cleaners, etc.) as a mama who was just starting her wellness journey.
His reply was that he’d be comfortable with the mama living a holistic lifestyle using a sauna, but felt it would be too intense for a mama who was just starting out and therefore had a higher toxic burden.
Please always talk to your healthcare practitioner when deciding what is right for you.
Is sauna bathing safe for pregnant women?
The short answer here is that unless you get the go-ahead from your doctor, I recommend against sauna bathing while pregnant.
The elevation of a woman’s core temperature, especially during the first trimester, “may lead to birth defects or decreased oxygen and nutrition to the baby.” (2)
The American College of Gynecologists says that women might “reasonably be advised to remain in saunas for no more than 15 minutes and in hot tubs for no more than 10 minutes” to avoid increasing one’s core temperature too high, but that advice doesn’t necessarily take into account the fact that some saunas get hotter than others. (2) Most doctors recommend against using them completely.
How To Get Special Pricing On The Sauna I Use
Here’s the sauna I use now. Find out why I chose it in this post along with how to get hundreds of dollars off your order, plus a free ergonomic backrest and aromatherapy cup.
Also, because a several of you have asked:
- They do offer an option that allow you to spread payments over 12 months. There’s no interest, and you can pay it off early if you want with no penalty.
- We got the Sanctuary 2. It’s perfect for two people and comes with a sound system and ergonomic bench that is super comfy.
Got a question?
Leave it in the comments below!
- Ylikahri, R et. al. (1988) The Sauna And Alcohol.
- CNN (2010) Is it OK to sauna, steam if I’m pregnant?