There is a lot information about the benefits of sensory deprivation. After floating people claim they are less stressed, sleep better, are more efficient at making decisions, more creative and just all around feel better physically + mentally.
And sure, some of these benefits are real. However, when you start to take care of yourself in a way that you haven’t before, you feel better all-around. For example, if you get a new gym membership you may start eating healthier, sleeping better, feeling more confident. Some of these benefits are actual results from the gym, but some of these are rollover effects because you started putting energy into taking care of yourself.
In that sense, floating also has a lot of cumulative effects but what are the real benefits?
There is a lot of research on the benefits of meditation, and we have always considered floating to be meditation on steroids. So there should be some crossover, right? The scientific benefits of meditation include decreased anxiety + depression, increased compassion + emotional intelligence, helps with emotion regulation, improves focus, memory + attention, etc (Seppala).
To see what crossover between meditation + floating, and to start uncovering the real benefits of floating, we first turned to Dr. Feinstein.
Dr. Feinstein is a clinical neuropsychologist and lab director at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research (http://www.laureateinstitute.org/justin-feinstein.html). His lab is dedicated to understanding how floating can help connect the body and the brain and reduce levels of depression, anxiety and anorexia, by using wireless and waterproof machinery to scan the body and brain during floats.
We had the chance to meet with Dr. Feinstein and his lab partners at the 2016 Float Conference, and listen to them speak at the 2017 Float Conference. They have tremendous amounts of research done on fear, anxiety, emotional awareness, memory and are continuously working to understand the biological and physical benefits floating has.
After looking at Dr. Feinstein’s research and other studies done on floating, we have compiled a list of the “scientific” benefits of floating:
Boosts Creativity - In a study done by Norlander et al, two groups of people — floaters and non-floaters — were tested in visual logical puzzles, freeform brainstorming and standardized questions. At the end of the test it was found that the float group performed 50% more original in freeform brainstorming, but 30% slower in solving visual logical puzzles.
This suggests that floating may not improve one’s ability to think logically or problem solve, but the reduction in sensory stimulation can boost creativity by allowing your brain to full think freely. (Norlander et al)
Reduces Anxiety - Our bodies get an “anxious” feeling in response to our fight or flight signals. When needed, fight or flight helps us become alert, aware and on guard ready to protect ourselves from an outside threat. However, our world today has created a scenario in which many people’s fight or flight response is constantly running and people experience heightened levels of anxiety, panic and fear.
The Amygdala is a portion of your brain that responsible for controlling your fight or flight and your stress, fear and panic responses. Dr. Feinstein has done extensive research on floating affects the amygdala and found that, flotation and some anxiety medication have the same effect on the brain (Schumann).
Likewise, Psychiatrist Martin Paulus, president and scientific director also at the Laureate Institute, says “The amygdala is very reactive to things coming in from the outside—somebody looks at you funny, or you hear a sound that’s scary,” Paulus says. “That kind of stress is good when the guy looking at you is about to steal your wallet, but elsewhere it’s counterproductive” (Vigneron). This is partially a cause of anxiety and Paulus theorizes that floating reduces the reactivity of the amygdala.
Minimizes Pain - Floatation therapy has been studied alongside with fibromyalgia and chronic whiplash. Patients suffering from fibromyalgia, self-reported decreased pain for days up to weeks after one float tank session. Likewise, other people living with chronic pain disorders similarly self-reported reduced muscle tension and pain after a session in a float tank (Kjellgren, Anette, et al). To read more about fibromyalgia and floating, click here:
Patients suffering from chronic whiplash disorder tested out a sensory deprivation tank to treat pain, and it was found to be a meaningful and substantial tool for pain reduction (Edebol, Hanna, et al).
Less stress - Not only does sensory deprivation therapy reduce the reactivity of the amygdala, it also lowers cortisol levels. Cortisol is the hormone produced by humans when they are under stress. However, many people experience adrenal exhaustion and cortisol is constantly being produced leaving one feeling constantly stressed, overwhelmed and anxious.
It was found that blood-cortisol levels were significantly and temporarily reduced after float tank therapy, producing a state of deep relaxation (Turner and Fine).
Because of lowered of cortisol levels, many people feel associated benefits to stress reduction as well, such as improved sleep quality and lowered blood pressure.
Improves Athletic Performance - With many great athletes using sensory deprivation — Stephen Curry, Aly Raisman and JJ Watts — it is no wonder that floating has become a popular form of training and recovering for many other athletes as well. And good news, there is scientific evidence showing how floating can improve athletic performance.
One study found that based off judges opinions, athletes that floated performed better than those who didn’t amongst college basketball players (Wagaman, et al).
Mentioned earlier, Dr. Paulus believes this is because athletes that float have a less reactive amygdala allowing them to think clearer and stay more composed during high-intensity activity as compared to their peers that don’t float (Vigneron).
With all of the above mentioned benefits, that are real, what do you need more of in your life?
Looking to improve your own athletic performance? Want to reduce stress and anxiety? Still searching for the best method of pain management?
Why don’t you try hopping in a float tank and see how it can change your life.
Click here to find a floatation location near you
Edebol, Hanna, et al. “Chronic Whiplash-Associated Disorders and Their Treatment Using Flotation-REST (Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique).” Qualitative Health Research, vol. 18, no. 4, Apr. 2008, pp. 480–488
Kjellgren, Anette, et al. Effects of Flotation-REST on Muscle Tension Pain. Karlstad University, Sweden, Nov. 2000.
Norlander, Torsten, et al. “Treating Stress-Related Pain with the Flotation Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique: Are There Differences between Women and Men?”Pain Research & Management : The Journal of the Canadian Pain Society, Pulsus Group Inc, 2009.
Norlander, Torsten, et al. “Effects of Flotation REST on Creative Problem Solving and Originality.” Research Gate, Dec. 1998.
Schumann, John Henning. “Floating Away Your Anxiety And Stress.” NPR, NPR, 16 Oct. 2017.
Seppala, Emma. “20 Scientific Reasons to Start Meditating Today.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 11 Sept. 2013.
Turner, J W, and Thomas H Fine. “Effects of Relaxation Associated with Brief Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST) on Plasma Cortisol, ACTH, and LH.”Research Gate, Apr. 1983.
Vigneron, Peter. “Steph Curry's Secret to Mental Strength.” Outside Online, 14 Nov. 2016
Vigneron, Peter. “Steph Curry's Secret to Mental Strength.” Outside Online, 14 Nov. 201
Wagaman, Jeffrey D., et al. “Flotation Rest and Imagery in the Improvement of Collegiate Basketball Performance.” Research Gate, Feb. 1991