‘Floating’ is done in a tank of water and Epsom salts and it is meant to reduce or deprive you of all sensory stimuli, helping to reduce stress, bringing deep relaxation and calming the nervous system(1) . The Epsom salts makes it easy to float in the tank. Inside, you can’t see, hear or smell anything that might stimulate a stress response, allowing you to float in a deeply relaxed state for the duration of your therapy session. Many people who use floating report relief from pain, insomnia, headaches, depression and even addictions. Sensory deprivation tanks have been around since the 1950s, but there’s been a revival recently with float tank centres popping up all over Australia, mainly in the bigger cities. Most one to two-hour sessions cost from $30 to $150, depending on the type of facility you choose.
What Is a Sensory Deprivation Tank?
Float tanks used for bringing about sensory deprivation have about 25 cm of water in them - that is close to the body temperature of the person floating - along with high amounts of Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate). The salts allow you to remain floating on the surface of the water in total silence and stillness and induces feelings of lightness and peace, without needing any effort to stay afloat. Floating doesn't usually cause adverse physical side effects, but if enclosed, dark places make you feel anxious perhaps floating isn’t your thing.
What Does Floating in a Deprivation Tank Do?
People who use float tanks often say the experience is something you can’t get anywhere else, and even that it makes you feel like an astronaut floating in space(2). Many use float tanks to reach a state of spiritual awareness, emotional breakthroughs and clarity of the mind. The Journal of Complementary & Behavioral Medicine ran an article on recent research showing that sensory deprivation may work by lessening the stress response in people, easing the mind’s self-talk and bringing a deep state of relaxation(3). By reducing stress, it follows that floating therapy may be useful in treating stress-related illnesses and pain non-invasively. In the tank, you don’t hear music or guided meditation, and you hear only your own breathing. It’s also dark inside the tank, and because the water is the same temperature as your skin, you don’t even feel it. The aim is to calm the mind, allowing a peaceful state, melting away all the stress.
Sensory deprivation tanks may induce a deep state of relaxation by switching off or lowering the body’s fight or flight stress response. Floating may be useful in treating symptoms of stress, and to decrease levels of cortisol - this is the hormone that is released when the body is stressed, readying it for fight or flight, nature's built-in alarm system. But having the alarm system constantly on high alert is not good for your health. Floating aims to balance the hormonal and immune systems and help lower the heart rate, normalise blood pressure, respiratory frequency, and digestive functions. What you can expect if you try a floating session:
The tanks are large enough for a human to lay down flat, but there’s not much room to move about - most are the size of a big coffin, which can leave some people feeling a bit uneasy. If you’re claustrophobic, you can always have the lid opened at any time.
Tanks can hold about 25 cm of water and about 500 kilos of dissolved Epsom salts which is what allows you to float on top.
Most people choose sessions of 45 minutes to two hours, but some diehards can float for eight hours as they sleep. You can leave the tank early if you feel the need. However, it’s recommended that you stay to receive the benefits that might arise.
Floating in a tank isn’t at all bad for your skin, and you don’t go wrinkly or get cold. Many floaters report that their hair and skin feels soft afterwards.
Many people use float tanks for pain and stress relief, and other health problems. Although there’s still much to learn concerning the physiological effects of float tank sensory deprivation, research shows(4) it may help ease many kinds of stress-related difficulties such as:
Symptoms of depression or anxiety
Burnout and employee absenteeism
Fatigue and low energy
Restlessness, lack of focus, brain-fag
Muscle tension and chronic pain, often associated with high stress levels
Insomnia, sleep disorders
Precautions Regarding Sensory Deprivation Tank Use
Although most who try sensory deprivation tanks report it as an enjoyable experience, that’s not the case for every floater. Some float tank facilities may lack proper sanitation, and there have been reports of mouldy tanks, nasty odours and dirty water. Depending on how well you cope with being enclosed in a small space, you might even feel more anxious or restless in the tank, which defeats the purpose.
Before you book for your float session do some research, read reviews and choose a top quality service so you don't end up with a fungal or bacterial infection, or a virus. Check out the facilities’ hygiene policies and cleanliness. Make sure you take a shower after your session and wash all the clothing you wore while in the tank. Never stop taking any medications or try to self-treat any physical or mental problem without first discussing this with your doctor and following the advice.
Alex Morrison has worked with a range of businesses giving him an in depth understanding of many different industries including home improvement, financial support and health care. He has used his knowledge and experience to work for clients as diverse as Acacia Pest Control, Cosh Living and Me Bank to help them reach their business goals.