The mental health benefits of sauna bathing

We go to the sauna for many different reasons. Some of us sauna bathe to boost recovery after exercise or to nourish the skin or even to have better quality sleep. Many of us, of course, go to the sauna because it relaxes us, both physically and mentally. Whilst scientific research has firmly demonstrated sauna’s benefits to our physical health, what does it say about how sauna can help our mental health? Read on to find out more.

Enforces a break from digital technology

Scientific research has shown that the more time we spend connected via digital technology, the more likely we are to experience mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety. Moreover, digital technology can be addictive, and this addiction is rising, particularly among younger generations.

Studies show regular ‘detoxes’ from digital technology can result in an improved work-life balance, improved interpersonal relationships and, overall, better mental health.

It’s not recommended to take any electronic devices with you into a traditional sauna, as the heat and humidity of the sauna can damage these devices. Because of this, sauna enforces a break from digital technology and promotes both physical and mental relaxation.

Free from the distractions and/or stresses caused by digital technology use, you can fully relax within the sauna space. The calm, quiet environment of the sauna can help you calm your mind and allow for mental, as well as physical, relaxation.

Sources: Cash et al., 2012; Hollis et al., 2020; Lebni et al., 2020; Mirbabaie et al., 2020; Khoshakhlagh et al., 2012; Murali et al., 2010; Sevelko et al, 2018; Thomée et al., 2007

people conversating in sauna

Encourages connection with others

When we go to the sauna, we can’t take any electronic devices with us, such as mobile phones. This, apart from forcing a digital ‘detox’, also means we can give our full attention to others in the sauna.

Scientific research demonstrates social connections with others is associated with decreased risk of depression and anxiety and increased positive mood and higher self-esteem. Moreover, in-person interactions have been shown to benefit our mental health more than virtual interactions.

Globally, saunas are social places. Companies may offer sauna meetings, where colleagues can relax, talk and get to know each other in the sauna. Friends may choose to meet up for a shared sauna session instead of meeting for drinks.

The uninterrupted, peaceful environment of sauna offers the opportunity to connect in a meaningful way with others. As such, going to sauna with others can improve our mental wellbeing.  

Sources: Newman et al., 2020; Rouxel et al., 2023; Santini et al., 2020; Skałacka et al., 2021; Small et al., 2011

woman relaxing after sauna

Promotes better sleep

Poor sleep is associated with numerous negative outcomes, including obesity, diabetes, depression and anxiety.

Not getting enough sleep, having interrupted and/or poor-quality sleep, apart from making us feel exhausted, can contribute to us taking less exercise and experiencing low mood and inability to concentrate.  

Sauna boosts sleep quality in various ways. Firstly, the heat in a sauna relaxes tight and sore muscles that cause pain. By resolving this pain, sauna allows us to have better quality sleep, uninterrupted by discomfort. This improved sleep can also have a benefit for pain; higher sleep quality is linked to a higher pain threshold. So, you’re less likely to experience pain in between sauna sessions as well.

By sleeping better, we’re more likely to feel positive during the day, and participate in activities that boost our mental wellbeing, such as taking exercise and socialising with others.

Sources: Duraccio et al., 2020; Fatima et al., 2016; Gangwisch et al., 2007; Haack et al., 2020; Hakki et al., 2005; O’Leary et al., 2016; Paunio et al., 2015; Rahe et al., 2015

Why do we go to sauna?

In Summer 2023, we posted a poll on Harvia’s Instagram channel asking voters why they go to sauna.

64% of voters said they sauna bathe for improved mental health versus 36% who said they sauna bathe for improved physical health.

Sauna is a growing wellness activity around the world, as more and more people adopt sauna bathing as a regular practice. Harvia offers several different sauna options, including bathroom and outdoor saunas, to suit all needs. You can view the full range of Harvia products via this link.

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