I will discuss what my data shows, how easy or difficult I found this strategy to implement, and what previous research says. These three factors will be combined for an overall score and grade on how effective float sessions can be in improving sleep.
HOW COULD FLOAT TANKS IMPROVE SLEEP QUALITY?
Float tanks are a bit of a new health craze. My sister and her partner first bought me a float as a gift voucher for Christmas in 2015, which I used at the Elevation float centre in Hawthorn East in March 2016. Based on this first experience, I found it quite weird but also very relaxing, although I’m not sure if everyone with claustrophobia would agree with me.
On the elevation website, they state that floats can create relaxation, reduce pain, improve mood, increase focus and creativity, lower blood pressure, reduce stress and improve sleep. This may be due to the magnesium absorption from all the Epsom salts, or it could be the calming effect.
With how busy most people are these days, and how connected people are to the world with technology, taking an hour out to give the senses a rest and not be contactable by anyone could be a nice escape. I think if a float session does successfully reduce someone’s arousal levels, they could sleep better that night. What I’m not sure of is if these benefits can last beyond a day. I’m interested to find out.
For the first week, I did no active intervention for my sleep and did not have any float sessions.
For the second week, I had two floats during the day. One on Sunday and one on Wednesday.
Let’s see if the two floats any impact on my sleep for the week…
Comparison: No float vs Float
Based on my sleep diary data, the findings were as follows:
- The number of awakenings:
- Float – 1.14 per night
- No float – 1.43 per night
- less is better
- Time in bed:
- No float – 7 hours 29 minutes
- Float – 7 hours 07 minutes
- 8 hours is ideal for me
- Time to bed:
- No float – 11:00 pm
- No treatment – 9:39 pm
- 11:30pm is ideal for me
- Total sleep time:
- No float – 6 hours 50 minutes
- Float – 6 hours 26 minutes
- 7 hours 30 minutes is ideal for me
- Sleep onset latency:
- Float – 12.86 minutes
- No float – 14.29 minutes
- quicker is better
- Wake after sleep onset:
- No float – 24.29 minutes
- Float – 28.57 minutes
- less is better
- Rise time:
- No float – 6:29 am
- Float – 4:46 am
- 7:30am is ideal for me
- Sleep quality:
- Float – 3.86/5
- No float – 3.71/5
- more is better
- Sleep efficiency:
- No float – 91.41%
- Float – 90.30%
- higher is better
AND THE WINNER IS…
With a count of 6 points to 3 points, the no treatment week was a generally better week of sleep than the week after I had two floats.
Similar to the massage experiment that I did, a float session seemed to help me feel more relaxed and sleep better than I otherwise would have that night. However, the improvements did not seem to carry over too much to the rest of the week.
A possible or likely confounding variable was that I flew to the USA on the Saturday morning of the second week and was more stressed trying to get everything ready for this trip. Just because the floats lost this time, does not mean that I think they are harmful to peoples sleep.
IS GETTING REGULAR SENSORY DEPRIVATION FLOATS A GOOD SLEEP STRATEGY?
IS IT EFFECTIVE?
Not really. I definitely slept better on the night after my first float, and fell asleep earlier than usual, obtained 7 hours and 45 minutes of sleep and didn’t wake up at all. My next two nights weren’t good at all though, so unless you can afford to and want to book in floats very regularly, it’s not a very effective long-term strategy for improving your sleep.
I, therefore, give the effectiveness of this strategy a 12/25.
CAN IT BE APPLIED?
It can, but it would be expensive and not very practical. It also wouldn’t be great for people that don’t like confined spaces. I don’t even know if it healthy to be exposed to that much Epsom salts on a regular basis either, but if you are doing it occasionally I think it’s okay.
I, therefore, give the applicability of this strategy an 8/25.
IS IT SCIENTIFIC?
In 1994, Schulz and Kaspar found that a 60-minute float didn’t change hormonal concentrations, but it did increase subjective levels of euphoria and relaxation in comparison to 60-minutes of lying on a bed.
I couldn’t find anything on sleep in particular, but a 2018 study by Feinstein and colleagues found that a 60-minute float-REST session produced significant reductions from before the session to after it in anxiety, stress, pain, muscle tension and depression in 50 participants with diagnosed anxiety (46 who also had depression). They also found increases in feelings of relaxation, serenity, happiness and overall well-being. However, these symptoms were not reassessed again later in the day, before bed, or on subsequent days, indicating that the improvements may only be transitory (Feinstein et al., 2018).
I, therefore, give the science of this strategy a 25/50.
Overall, getting regular sensory deprivation floats as a way to consistently improve your sleep gets a score of 12/25 + 8/25 + 25/50 =
WHAT I RECOMMEND
If you want to try a few float sessions, go for it. The amount of things that it can potentially help with means that they are worth a try. I didn’t notice any long-term benefits, but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be any for you.
If it is summer and you want to float, head down to the beach. If you can do this in the morning and with friends, you get the benefits of vitamin D, the salt from the ocean and the benefits of disconnecting from technology and socialising with your friends. It’s also more physically active than a float tank, which is good for your health too.
If you are low in magnesium, health foods provide magnesium sprays and tablets, and you could even run your own bath with some Epsom salts in it.
If you need to cut down your screen time, try the mobile app ‘Moment’ or the computer plug-in ‘Freedom’.
If you want to learn how to switch off and calm your mind, learn some various strategies to wind down and relax, from meditation to deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. Writing down your thoughts and plans can also help.
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