Sensory Deprivation Tanks: What They Are and the Health Benefits

Amber Murphy
Amber Murphy

Sensory deprivation tanks, what are they? If this is your starting point, you’re in the right place. Sensory deprivation tanks are often referred to or known as isolation tanks as well. But what is it used for? How is it beneficial for healing, calming, and other purposes? Is a deprivation tank safe for you to submerge yourself into? What are the other benefits of sensory deprivation tanks?

We’ll detail the answer to those questions, and go through the basics of sensory deprivation tanks below, to help you get a better understanding of the what, why, and hows, behind these systems.

What is a Sensory Deprivation Tank?

Let’s start at the beginning. What is a sensory deprivation tank? A sensory deprivation tank is often referred to as an isolation or floating tank. It’s utilized for REST Therapy:

  • Restricted
  • Environmental
  • Stimulation
  • Therapy

Basically, the sensory deprivation tank is a dark, isolated, and soundproof tank. It is filled with one foot of saltwater (or less). The name “floating” tank comes from the simple fact that salt is known to make you float (i.e., you’re floating in an isolated, soundproof tank). There is enough Epsom salt in these tanks to create high buoyancy levels, which is why such little water is needed to create a stable state for floating in the tank.

John C. Lilly, an American physician, and neuroscientist designed the first sensory deprivation tank. The purpose of his creation was to study the consciousness of origins (humans), by cutting off external noise and stimuli. This is the reason why the tank is dark and soundproof. It was intended to discover how people react, and how their bodies are capable of recovery, in a specific, isolated, dark, quiet space.

The creation and use of commercial sensory deprivation tanks made their way to the forefront of medicine and therapeutic use in the 1970s. Today, you can go virtually anywhere in the world and find floating pools (which are filled with saltwater) or spas which offer the use of these tanks for their healing purposes. These spas are highly popular and regularly frequented by people seeking out the healing benefits of salt, for the mind, body, and spirit.

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Scientific evidence has contributed to the growth in the popularity of these tanks for medicinal and healing purposes. Studies indicate that people who spend time in sensory deprivation tanks can experience multiple benefits including:

  • Muscle relaxation
  • Soreness relief
  • Tension relief
  • Improved sleep
  • Pain relief/decrease in pain
  • Relief from anxiety

Although the results are going to vary from user to user, there are many benefits which sensory deprivation tanks can deliver, if they are properly utilized, if the individual is in the right state (under proper conditions, soundproof and dark conditions), and if they are in the right mindset. The healing and cleansing benefits of salt alone provide sufficient evidence to support finding that sensory deprivation tanks can aid those suffering from injuries, tension, or anxiety, in minimizing these feelings or pain, under the right conditions.

What do Sensory Deprivation Tanks do?

Relaxing in a sensory deprivation tank

If you’re looking to get away from social media, news, and the internet, sensory deprivation tanks are just about as far away as you can go. As the name implies, you’re alone, in a tank, with darkness, your own thoughts (and some saltwater). This can lead to

  • sense of calming
  • By removing yourself from distraction and clutter around you, you learn how to move to a stable state and clear-mindedness
  • Provides revitalizing energy to the body
  • Salt is known for its healing capabilities, it helps with wound healing, reduces inflammation, and can help reduce irritation
  • A body which is tired, or is experiencing different levels of pain/discomfort, can significantly benefit from sitting in a salt bath
  • Increase focus
  • Being in an empty tank, alone, with nothing but your thoughts, forces you to eliminate your mind of clutter and negativity
  • Sensory deprivation tanks can help revitalize your mind, reduce clutter, and eliminate fog from daily stress/routines
  • Provides therapeutic benefits
  • Salt is frequently used by trainers, professional athletes, amateur athletes, and in physical therapy sessions
  • It helps reduce pain, swelling, irritation, redness, bruising, and other bodily discomforts
  • Provides healing benefits of magnesium
  • In such high concentrations of salt, the body readily absorbs the magnesium which is present
  • Magnesium heals, exfoliates, and improves circulation

Okay, so you’re in a state of deprivation, quiet, and calm. You relieve your mind of the clutter that you see and hear every day. And, you’re floating in a small pool of water. Sensory deprivation tanks work wonders on your psyche as well.

Treating neurological disorders

Sensory deprivation tanks are highly beneficial in treating neurological disorders as well. Flotation treatment and therapy afford patients a sense of calming relief. They don’t experience other environments. The calm, dark, tranquil setting, provides a serene setting, to help patients who suffer from

  1. PTSD
  2. Mental disorders
  3. Anxiety

During treatment, the sensory deprivation tanks are set at a slightly cooler temperature than the body’s natural temperature (set at about 95 degrees F). The soundproof, lightproof, and temperature-controlled treatment has significant healing benefits for those who utilize it. Sensory deprivation tanks put you in a state of relaxation. They take you away from the wired, internet-driven world you live in for one hour at a time. When people are disconnected from the world around them, it brings a sense of healing and relief, which other forms of treatment can produce. It has a biological effect on the brain, signaling it to “calm down and relax.”

This form of treatment is beneficial for mind, body, and spirit. The simple fact that it takes you away from a world full of noise and distraction, and places you in an environment of peace, calm, and tranquility, allows you to breath, step away, and clear your mental frame of mind.

When properly utilized, in the right setting/environment, sensory deprivation tanks have many benefits, for virtually anyone who is looking to remove their body of toxins, eliminate the noise, and improve their general sense of wellness, well-being, and mindfulness.

How do Sensory Deprivation Tanks work?

Girl in sensory deprivation tank

Now that you know some of the primary benefits and reasons to step into sensory deprivation tanks, how do they work? Well, it varies from spa to spa or treatment centers you choose to visit. Furthermore, if the sensory deprivation tanks are in a controlled environment, such as a physical therapist or doctor’s office, there are obviously rules in place. People are watching over to ensure patients are safe and in a stable state.

For the most part, the tanks are going to operate similarly, regardless of where you go in for treatment. Sensory deprivation tanks/spas work.

  1. Patients (visitors) show up at the facility/treatment center/spa a few minutes before their designated scheduled time
  2. Arriving early allows time for preparation
  3. They’ll go over the basic rules, what to expect in the tank
  4. Visitors/patients are informed of what to do if they become anxious, short of breath, or feel like they need to get out of the tank
  5. You’ll remove all clothing and jewelry before entering the tank
  6. The primary reason is that the high concentration of salt can damage metals/jewelry
  7. Some spas will require it, others will leave it up to the visitor, and warn them of dangers of keeping jewelry on
  8. Before entering the tank, you’re going to shower to rid the body of toxins and to enter in the cleanest state possible

What to expect when you’re in the sensory deprivation tank

Entering feet first

Once you’re ready, you’ll enter the sensory deprivation tank. The doctor, therapist (spa director), will close the lid or door so that you’re in complete darkness and silence in the tank. You’re instructed to lie on your back. The high sodium concentration in the water will naturally result in your body rising to the top. High buoyancy levels help the body float naturally. However, clearing your mind, and eliminating external thoughts while in the tank, will also help increase these levels naturally, to make your body feel “lighter” than it may be.

Some spas or floating centers will play music for the first 5 to 10 minutes while you’re in the sensory deprivation tanks. This is done to help individuals relax, especially if it is their first time, and they’re nervous. Some locations (especially doctors or therapists) will give patients a choice to have music/no music during their float session. The entire session typically lasts for one hour. Individuals remain in the closed tank, in complete darkness, and in a quiet setting.

Similarly to the first 5 to 10 minutes, in some spas or float centers, they might turn the music back on during the last 5 minutes of the float session. This helps patients wake up if they’ve fallen asleep, and alerts them the session is coming to an end. Once the hour is complete, the sensory deprivation tanks are opened, you step out, dry off, and shower to remove the high salt concentrations off your back/body, and hair.

Every float center, spa, doctor’s office, physical therapist, or treatment center has its own rules. So, this basic outline might differ a bit in order or execution. However, most treatments are one hour in duration and typically follow this (or a very similar) pattern during treatment.

The benefits of sensory deprivation

Here’s a short 5-minute video that quickly goes through the benefits of sensory deprivation as well as how those benefits relate to using a float tank.

Sensory deprivation tanks, what are they? If this is your starting point, you're in the right place. Sensory deprivation tanks are often referred to or known as isolation tanks as well. But what is it used for? How is it beneficial for healing, calming, and other purposes? Is a deprivation tank safe

How do I use a Sensory Deprivation Tank?

Girl entering a tank

Okay, so how do you use a sensory deprivation tank? Well, that really depends on the benefits you seek to obtain. Although the benefits of floating will last beyond 24 hours, it’s possible to utilize the healing power of sensory deprivation tanks safely daily. How you choose to use the floating session will differ from practitioner to practitioner. It can also vary from patient/visitor to patient/visitor.

Some of the most common ways in which to use a sensory deprivation tank are as follows.

Healing

You will heal your body in sensory deprivation tanks. Wound healing, minimizing the size/appearance of bruises, open sores, and other injuries, are likely to be healed with magnesium’s power. In these float tanks, the concentration of salt is so high, that this benefit is greatly magnified for the one-hour session that you are laying in the tank.

Relaxation

Relax and unwind. We’re in a world where we’re always moving and on the go. It’s hard to step back and relax. In the sensory deprivation tank, you have no other choice. You’re encapsulated in a soundproof, lightproof, temperature-controlled pod. Nothing comes in, and nothing goes out. You’re left alone with your thoughts. Meaning, it’s a great way to unwind and relax the body and mind and provide it with a well-deserved break.

Meditation

Many people have a hard time meditating in an outside environment, even if it’s quiet or dark. You can easily meditate in sensory deprivation tanks, as there’s absolutely nothing coming in. First, you’re in the tank by yourself, and you know that nobody is coming in or leaving. You have one-hour with your mind and the quiet. It’s the perfect environment to meditate in and practice your favorite type of meditation.

If you’re not sure what kind of practice to do in an isolation tank, try a simple mindfulness practice. Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Notice the thoughts and feelings that come and go through the mind while maintaining an open awareness on the breath. Every so often, your mind may wander. When it does, bring it back to the breath.

You’ll notice while meditating in a deprivation tank, your thoughts and feelings will be vastly different (and even more intense) than when you meditate regularly. The deprivation of all other senses can enhance the thoughts and feelings that come and go through your mind. Notice it without judgement and then bring your attention back to the breath.

Skin/body (exfoliate)

Although it might not be the primary reason you’re seeking the floating treatment, your skin and hair will thank you for the salt bath you’re giving. There’s no need to exfoliate with a scrub or product after the shower. The high concentration of salt in the sensory deprivation tank does the exfoliating for you. It will cleanse the body and skin and naturally enhance the brilliance.

Pain relief

We’ve highlighted how salt is used by athletes, physical therapists, and doctors alike. It has healing powers that medication, ointments, and rubs don’t. Magnesium controls blood pressure and blood level contraction. It also helps provide oxygen to areas that are lacking. Magnesium is also used by athletes to help increase energy and endurance levels. As you can see, the benefits are plentiful.

Improved sleep

The calming effects are going to linger with you, well beyond the one-hour that you’re in the sensory deprivation tanks. You’ll experience improved sleep, a calming sensation, and extreme levels of relaxation. All of this will help you fall and stay asleep at night. This form of treatment is excellent for those who suffer from insomnia or other sleep disorders. Floats can naturally calm the body, mind, and spirit through the therapeutic benefits.

There are many benefits you’ll realize from the healing power of salt. Now, imagine emerging yourself into a bath, inside sensory deprivation tanks for one hour, in a quiet, controlled setting. You can easily see the benefits this will pose on overall health, wellness, and well-being. If you’ve ever wondered what sensory deprivation tanks were, why to use them, or how they’d benefit your life, these are a few answers.

Where to find a Sensory Deprivation Tank?

Searching Google for “sensory deprivation tank near me” will yield many results, and that’s usually the best place to start. Looking through their reviews on Google, Yelp, as well as their Facebook page, will be your best bet.

Don’t be afraid to email or call the spa or location with questions ahead of time. Especially if it’s your first time using a tank. Remember that as more and more start to learn about sensory deprivation tanks, businesses come to expect questions and are usually very accommodating and welcoming to newcomers.

Your turn

Sensory deprivation tanks are a health trend that looks to continue to become more popular as more mainstream science and research begins to understand the benefits. Plus, we can’t discount the anecdotal benefits and effects reported by longtime users.

Do you have experience with these tanks that you’d like to share? Do you have a question about using them? Leave a comment below.

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