What Are the Benefits of ‘Floating’?

Floating in a sensory deprivation tank may seem to some people like the stuff of futuristic science fiction – and admittedly, it does seem an out-of-this world experience, this floating in body-temperature, highly salinized water in a darkened, silent space – but it actually has real, scientifically-proven benefits. And it’s hardly the stuff of the future: people have used sensory deprivation tanks for generations. 

The first recognized sensory deprivation tank was designed by John C. Lilly, an American physician and neuroscientist, in 1954, per Healthline. In a sensory deprivation tank, which may be a closed space or may be a pool resting in a room designed for environmental control, you are suspended in water with sigh a high saline content that you effortlessly float atop the water on your back with your head partially submerged and the floatation area is large enough that you do not contact the sides or bottom of the tank. 

The space is dark and sound proofed and the temperature of the water and air are controlled to match your body temperature – or, more often, your skin temperature, which tends to be several degrees cooler than your core temperature. With all of those usual metrics of input cancelled out (sound, sight, and touch, e.g.) you will begin to experience sensory deprivation, also often called “floating.” And you will join a growing number of people who are doing so these days.

Young woman in sensory deprivation tank
(Getty)

Floating is seeing a resurgence in popularity for an entirely logical reason: our senses have never before been bombarded with so much stimulation, so it makes perfect sense that people today would turn to a respite from all the input. From the omnipresent screens of our phones, computers, and TVs to the noise of traffic or the train to tight deadlines and packed schedules to ads everywhere you look and on it goes, our world has become a very busy, jumbled, and overstimulating place.

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So of course people are today more interested in ever from taking a break from it all, whether that break comes from a forest bathing walk in nature, a peaceful meditation session in our quiet bedroom, or a long float in a sensory deprivation tank.

The Effects of Floating on the Mind

human brain model with red and green lights
(Photo by Natasha Connell on Unsplash)

If you are familiar with the benefits of meditation, then you are already familiar with the benefits of floating. First and foremost, a floating session can be deeply relaxing, and not in the same way as kicking back on a couch to watch a show is a “relaxing” activity.

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Sensory deprivation can genuinely calm the mind, allowing the brain to flush out stress hormones and clear clutter from the synapses, leaving you in a more stable, happier, and clear-headed state of mind after the float.

And the effects last well after the float as well, with many partakers relating that they feel enhanced creativity, better athletic and general physical performance, reduced stress and anxiety, and a better overall mood after a session. In short, floating can be a therapeutic experience with mental and emotional benefits that last well after your hour or so in the tank is up.

The Physiological Effects of Floating on the Body

smiling woman's face her eyes are not seen
(Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash)

When people think about a sensory deprivation session, all too often they think only of the effects on the mind, but in fact floating has marked effects on the body, as well, and they are markedly beneficial. While you are floating, your heart rate will drop to many beats fewer per minute even than when you are in a resting but alert state, taking much pressure off your cardiac muscles.

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In most cases, your blood pressure will drop by many points, a wonderful break for your vascular system. Breathing will slow, which in turn helps the entire central nervous system slow, which helps the brain settle more deeply into that calming, meditative, and deeply restorative state.

Floating takes pressure of muscles, bones, and joints, helping ease tension and soothe aches and pains. It can also be such a restorative experience that you exit the float tank not feeling deeply relaxed, but instead feeling energized and revived, with a clearer mind and body refilled with vigor.

Are There Any Drawbacks to Sensory Deprivation Tanks?

Young womans hand floating in Spa bath or swimming pool, she is very relaxed
(Getty)

There are no major physical or mental health issues associated with floating that are so common or so significant as to be a grave concern for anyone of decently sound mind and body. It is worth noting that some people do experience hallucinations while in sensory deprivation tanks, however, and these experiences of visions and sounds (or both) can be quite unnerving, though they rarely have much effect after the float.

If you are already prone to issues of psychosis, then sensory deprivation may not be the best idea for you. Likewise anyone with claustrophobia or aquaphobia should also not subject themselves to the environment found in a float room or float tank. Also, if you have any open wounds, blisters, or rashes on the skin, it’s best not to enter a float tank until these skin issues have healed as you may create or worsen an infection or invite bacteria into the body.

And then there is one other simple potential problem to consider with floating: logistics. Many people simply might not have the time for the hour or so it takes to reap the benefits of floating in a sensory deprivation tank or pool, and that’s not to mention traveling to the facility, getting ready for the float, and drying off and changing and heading back out afterward. It can also be price prohibitive for some people, as well as simply not an option where sensory deprivation facilities don’t exist for others.

If you’re interested in sensory deprivation floating despite concerns such as these and others, consider trying it once at a reputable business and truly analyzing your experience later. Was it worth the cost and the time commitment? If so, work to make it a part of your life now and then. Might meditation provide much of the same benefit? Then practice meditation more often – that costs nothing, can be done almost any time and anywhere, and doesn’t even require you getting wet.

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