The better we sleep, the healthier we are. That much is certain. Unfortunately, every third West-European adult struggles with some kind of sleep disorder. What to do? A sauna has a good effect on our sleep. Let’s talk about how the sauna improves our sleep.
Think through your daily sleeping routines
You can try many things to improve your sleep quality – see that your bedroom is quiet and dark, that it is not too hot or too cold for your comfort, and make sure not to do anything that makes you feel anxious before going to bed.
It can be challenging to fall asleep because our body is too warm
Although our workdays may be extended and exhausting, not all of us fall asleep quickly. We tend to roll in bed for hours. One reason this may be so is that our body is too warm.
Core body temperature depends on the circadian rhythms — in the morning, we are cold, and in the evening, we are hot. However, to fall asleep, our core body temperature must cool somewhat. This signals to the brain that it is time to produce melatonin which makes us sleepy.
How taking a hot sauna bath helps us cool down?
As you may know, high temperatures cause the blood to flow from the core to the skin and limbs. This prevents us from overheating. Once we leave the steaming hot sauna, and much of our blood is still concentrated in the dilated vessels close to the surface, our body cools down quickly.
As a result, heating the body, especially the skin, will make us fall asleep faster than average, shortening the time required by nine minutes.
The cooling of our core body temperature after the sauna bath tricks our brains into thinking it is time to hit the sack.
To fall asleep, the body temperature must drop
Interestingly, our core body temperature does not have to be lower than usual when falling asleep. All that matters is the drop. And the drop in the core body temperature must be timed carefully. We should not take a sauna bath three or more hours before bedtime because the drop will happen too early, and we no longer want to sleep when the time comes. It is not advised to go to bed straight from the steam room because our body is still active.
Raising the core body temperature roughly one or two hours before sleep time is best.
An evening sauna has a positive effect on both sleep quality and duration.
We sleep more calmly in the early hours of the night, our muscles are relaxed, and we tend to move less. Most of all, taking a sauna bath increases the quality of slow-wave sleep. But effects on REM sleep are adverse. During a sauna session, the sympathetic nervous system prepares to deal with a stressful situation, and this, as some scientists suggest, lowers the quality and duration of REM sleep.
A sauna also helps you sleep longer in the morning
Some of us wake up from a night’s slumber too early. This is a nuisance, particularly troubling the elderly whose core body temperature drops too low in the early morning hours. This causes the body to wake up. But all is not lost.
An evening sauna session can help with this problem. Even though a hot sauna bath before bed will cool the body and help us fall asleep, it also causes the skin and core body temperature to remain higher throughout the night. A sauna session one or two hours before sleep time will retain the required body temperature for one and a half hours longer, and we can enjoy a whole night’s rest.
Taking sleeping pills may help deal with some sleep disorders. But different side effects often plague sleeping pills, and no pill will ever cause natural sleep with all its benefits. Before taking this road, why not try the sauna? Take a nice warm sauna bath! This is one of the best and most solid pieces of advice one can give regarding how a sauna can improve our lives. Leaving the sauna an hour or two before bedtime helps us fall asleep and extends the time and quality of sleep.
Hõbepappel, Urmas; Hõbepappel, Liisa; Nellis, Silja; Nellis, Siim. Suur sauna raamat. Tartu, (manuscript)