Sensory Deprivation Effects: Should Float Tanks Be Part of Your Routine?

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By: Alex Edelson

Do the pressures of daily life force you into a mad dash to be productive all the time? Do you find yourself thinking things like, “If I can do my 9-5 job and research cryptocurrency to make passive income, I’ll be happy and successful.” 

We rarely have the opportunity to stop, shut out the world and experience the chaotic nature of our minds. Over time, our culture of overstimulation and societal expectations has increased the number of millennials suffering from anxiety, depression and stress-related illness. Luckily, there is an option for open-minded millennials willing to remedy their mental and physical health with alternative methods. 

Introducing sensory deprivation chambers and float therapy treatment.

Sensory deprivation chambers, also known as float tanks, isolation tanks or float pods, were created by neuropsychiatrist, John C. Lilly, in the 1950s to measure the effects of minimal external stimulants on mental and physical functions. Originating as a scientific inquiry to better understand the brain, floating has become an alternative medicine / wellness modality that provides restricted environmental stimulation therapy (REST) for anyone willing to enter the tank.  

Touted by podcast host, Joe Rogan, and basketball superstar, Steph Curry, as a way to deepen focus and enhance performance, sensory deprivation chambers cut you off from sensory inputs, allowing you to relax and reset.

Float tanks became available for commercial use in the United States during the 1970s, but didn’t gain mainstream popularity until celebrities like Joe Rogan endorsed its benefits and shed light on the tool. 

There are an estimated 300+ float centers nationwide.

How Do Sensory Deprivation Tanks Work? 

As a millennial with anxiety and critical thought patterns, I love learning about new ways to understand my mind. As an avid meditator, I’m infatuated with improving my mental aptitude and focus. When I heard about the sensory deprivation tank experience from a friend, I was excited to try it.

He sold it as a way to relax my muscles and deepen my meditation simultaneously.

‘Sign me up!’ I said.

Since then, I’ve been floating every month for the past 6 months, and I tell everyone that the sensory deprivation tank benefits are real.

Sensory deprivation tanks come in various shapes and sizes from fully enclosed pods to open-air pools.

You can even float with a friend or partner! No matter the type, your environment is dark, silent and weightless. The perfect recipe for relaxing and resetting. The tank is filled with roughly 850-1000 pounds of Epsom salt and water heated to body temperature– warm water accelerates the feelings of weightlessness and immersion.  

If you get to a float center (which I hope you can), you can expect to enter the float tank fully nude and lie in the tank for 60 to 90 minutes. To get the most out of your float, set a simple intention before you begin, like, “feel my body and breath.” After allowing your mind to settle, you won’t know where your body stops and the water begins. This is the beautiful experience I feel so lucky to have during my float.

For me and many other millennials, float tanks can serve as a safe space to slow down and recover from the overstimulation of daily life. The closest experience we get to a float tank is sleep, but while sleeping, we are obviously not consciously observing our thoughts. 

Therefore, floating provides a state of heightened conscious awareness which deepens the ability to understand your mind, improve focus and reduce daily anxieties. While I hope you’ll take my word for it about how beneficial sensory deprivation tanks can be, let’s talk about the science behind floating. 

What are the Effects of Sensory Deprivation Tanks?

The amount of clinical research to prove the physical and mental health effects of flotation therapy has not kept up with the explosion in float center popularity. As cutting edge as this complementary therapy may seem, interestingly the majority of the clinical studies about it were done in the 1980s and 1990s.

Overall, they showed positive effects on different stress-related conditions, including: 

  • Hypertension
  • Chronic tension headaches
  • Chronic muscle tension pain 
  • Stress-related pain 

There are only a handful of published studies looking into the effects of sensory deprivation tanks on individuals with anxiety. In a 2016 study, 50 individuals with generalized anxiety disorder floated twelve times for 90 minutes each. Participants reported reduced feelings of anxiety and stress and improved emotional regulation, with effects lasting 6 months after the study. Justin Feinstein, PhD, a clinical neuropsychologist and director of the Float Research Collective, studied the effects of Flotation-REST therapy on the brain. 

His 2018 study showed that beyond the immediate dissipation of anxiety, floating also induced a significant decrease in:

  • Self-reported stress
  • Depression 
  • Negative affect (negative emotions and poor sense of self) 

This study also showed a significant increase in:

  • Serenity
  • Relaxation
  • Happiness
  • Positive affect
  • Overall well-being
  • Energy levels, and  
  • Peacefulness across all participants 

Risks of Sensory Deprivation Tanks

Overall, floating poses relatively low risks to millennials in good health. Hallucinations have been noted by some people in the past but these events are uncommon. If you’re claustrophobic, try floating in an open air pool before you venture into a closed pod.

Additionally, research suggests it’s best to avoid a float tank if you have any of the following ailments:

  • Epilepsy
  • Infectious diseases or contagious skin conditions
  • Open wounds or skin ulcers

If you want to try floating but you have any concerns, speak to your doctor or reach out to your local float center to learn more about getting started.

From Neuroscience to Relaxation

It’s hard to believe but today’s float tanks originated as a neuroscience experiment that transformed into a wonderful tool to help millennials and others relax. Their positive effects far outweigh the negative of sitting with your stressful or overwhelming thoughts in an effort to unravel your busy mind. 

My hope for the future is for the medical community to increase clinical research studies and spread the word about this magic float tool. I truly believe if everyone floated a few times a month, society may be more calm and less likely to cut you off in traffic.    

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To learn more about the types of complementary health that millennials love, visit our Complementary Health page.

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