Sensory Deprivation – Why?
Good question! Why do thousands of people around the world spend hours floating in Epsom salt-filled tanks of water in sensory deprivation?
There are many different reasons, possibly as many different reasons as there are people that use sensory deprivation to one end or another. Some of the most common include: stress reduction, health conditions, insomnia, muscle recovery, meditation, and because, well, it feels good!
Sensory Deprivation and Stress
The Helping Guide defines stress as:
Stress is a normal physical response to events that make you feel threatened or upset your balance in some way. When you sense danger—whether it’s real or imagined—the body’s defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight-or-freeze” reaction, or the stress response.
The stress response is the body’s way of protecting you. When working properly, it helps you stay focused, energetic, and alert. In emergency situations, stress can save your life—giving you extra strength to defend yourself, for example, or spurring you to slam on the brakes to avoid an accident.
The stress response also helps you rise to meet challenges. Stress is what keeps you on your toes during a presentation at work, sharpens your concentration when you’re attempting the game-winning free throw, or drives you to study for an exam when you’d rather be watching TV. – Helping Guide
But, as we all know, stress has a downside too. If a person experiences stress for prolonged periods of time, the same bio-chemicals that initiate our fight or flight responses have adverse effects on our bodies. These effects include: Memory problems, an inability to concentrate, poor decision making skills, negative life outlook and mood, anxiety, and persistent worrying. Other effects include: irritability, unhappiness (even Depression), sore muscles and joints, digestive issues, chest pains, elevated heart rate, loss of sex drive, sleep issues, and lack of focus or drive. It’s very easy for the body’s natural, helpful response to quickly turn into the bane of someone’s everyday life.
This infographic from “mastersdegreesonline.org” gives us a better understanding of what stress’ effects are on a national scale:
That’s a whole lot of negative health effects for something like bills waiting to be paid, getting the kids where they need to go on time, and succeeding in your career!
Thankfully, stress has its root in the external stimuli around us. An alternative definition of stress, and one that can help explain why sensory deprivation helps alleviate it, is external stimuli that require an internal reaction of the body in order to meet demands caused by the external stimuli. Simply put, stuff around us makes demands of us – go here at this time, accomplish this task, work to live, etc. – and internally we adjust to meet those needs. If this is difficult to do, the body experiences stress.
When using floatation therapy, however, the sensory deprivation aspect limits those external stimuli that cause the stress response. Again, simply put, if the thing causing you stress is out there, and there’s absolute nothingness (no light, no sound, senses ‘deprived’ of stimuli) inside the tank, then being in the tank provides an opportunity to be free from the stressors around you. At that point, it’s just a matter of letting your mind relax and letting all those stressful thoughts drift away. Be alone in a place all your own for a quick reprieve from everything you need to do. Rejuvenate, recuperate, and watch how much more ready you’ll feel to take on the stressors in your life when you’ve had a little break from them!
Sensory Deprivation and Health Conditions
Though scientific study for floatation therapy (a.k.a. REST, a.k.a. sensory deprivation therapy) is relatively small due to the newness of the commercial floatation industry, a number of sufferers of various conditions have found and will find that sensory deprivation therapy, or “floating”, is a great addition to their management plans for their conditions. One previously discussed on this site is Lupus. Other examples of health conditions that people find are helped by floatation are: Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid arthritis, Multiple sclerosis, Post-Chemo Cancer, Lyme Disease, and Parkinson’s to name a few. Really, any person suffering from a health condition where muscles and joints exhibit pain or soreness, fatigue is a symptom, or where the person suffering from the condition could do with less external pressure on the body could potentially use sensory deprivation as a part of their pain management or care plan. (Each of the above medical conditions will have their own post to further explore the condition, its symptoms, and how floatation therapy may be used to help provide that person with adequate pain and care management.) In the meantime, please follow the links to further information on these conditions.
Sensory Deprivation and Insomnia
Insomnia is a sleep disorder whereby it’s difficult to fall asleep, sleep soundly throughout the night, waking up after too little sleep, and / or waking up and still feeling tired after having slept. It can also be acute and chronic, with many people exhibiting all or some of the symptoms to the point where it has a severely detrimental effect on their lives. Insomnia can either be the cause or a symptom of other conditions. It can be an absolutely maddening thing to deal with. And the causes of insomnia are varied as well; stress, illness, environmental causes (like light, sound, or extreme temperatures), depression, medications, and even shifts in normal sleep patterns can send someone spinning down the hole of insomnia.
Thankfully, sensory deprivation allows some of the causes to not factor in, and provides a warm, safe, silent environment for a person to catch some Z’s. With the floatation tank soundproofed, light-proofed, and temperature controlled, it’s an ideal place for an insomniac to overcome insomnia. It is a place void of all the distractions that get between you and a decent, healthy night’s sleep. In fact, one hour of sensory deprivation while floating enables the mind to drift to operating at the Theta wave frequency – a similar mental pattern to people in deep meditation and people in REM sleep. By controlling the environment in the tank, it’s possible to create the ideal cocoon of solitude for insomniacs!
Sensory Deprivation and Muscle Recovery
Still others float for muscle recovery purposes. Keep in mind, Epsom salt has been used in baths and oils for centuries to soothe sore muscles and joints. Epsom Salt is made of magnesium sulfate, which is able to be absorbed transdermally into the body. As livestrong.com puts it:
Magnesium is a primary component of Epsom salt. It is a mineral that the body needs and, unlike other minerals, is absorbed through the skin as you soak in the bath. The mineral helps relax skeletal muscles by flushing lactic acid buildup in the muscles, which may occur during physical exertion, such as a vigorous workout. Magnesium also plays an important role in the absorption of vitamins in the body. It also helps regulate muscle and nerve function. All of these effects significantly influence muscle soreness, which also affects muscle stiffness.
At its most basic concept, a floatation tank is really just a hyper-saturated solution of Epsom Salt and water – in levels so great that they’d be impossible to recreate in your bathtub at home. Many floatation businesses will use in excess of 300 gallons of water, with over 1100 lbs. of the highest-grade of Epsom Salt dissolved in the water. With those levels of Magnesium, it’s no wonder that sensory deprivation tanks help soothe sore muscles, removing external pressure from them, and allowing more energy and nutrients to go towards recovery from strenuous physical activity.
Sensory Deprivation and Meditation
Now ‘meditation’ is actually a difficult practice to adequately define. There are many different forms and techniques. However, think of meditation as a mental state of “thoughtless awareness”, as freemeditation.com puts it. Normally, meditation is interrupted by distractions – cars passing outside, lights shining, sounds, smells, tactile sensations – almost anything can be enough to throw a person new to meditation off their game. Entering a floatation tank to experience sensory deprivation is a way to cut off all those little distractions and get back to focusing on nothingness! In fact, those who choose to follow guided meditations will find that removing those external nuisances almost amplifies the guided portion of the meditation, allowing greater focus to be utilized, rather than squandered on other, unimportant things. For those looking for a safe haven for meditation, your nearest float tank cannot be beat.
Those are just some of many reasons people choose to float. If you’d like to share your reason, go ahead and post it in the comments!
Also, check out our floatation business of the month, Zen Float Co. – their product, the Zen Float Tent, can bring the solitude of sensory deprivation to the privacy of your own home!