Infrared Sauna: Exploring the Benefits of Heat and Light

There’s a moment we all know and love—when we step into the sunshine after a gloomy, gray day or long cold stretch. It’s the reason we enjoy basking on the beach and warming next to a fire. Approximately 55% of sunlight consists of beneficial infrared wavelengths.

The enjoyable experience of it, combined with robust scientific findings underscoring the myriad benefits of infrared saunas, has propelled them to become sought-after tools for holistic well-being. In this article, we explain the nature of infrared, its interaction with our physiology and the promising benefits it offers to foster longevity and vitality.

Infrared Sauna: The Basics

Infrared saunas combine the 2,000-year tradition of sauna bathing of ancient cultures with modern technology that replicates a specific spectrum of light waves from nature to create a new healing experience. We tend to think of light in terms of what our eyes can see. Sir William Herschel was the first to discover infrared in 1800, and connect its qualities of light and heat: he felt warmth next to the red light visible through a prism, at rainbow’s end (“infra” = “below” red light).

Traditional saunas heat the air to extreme high temperatures (170-210F) that create a heat stress response in 5 to 20-minute exposures. Infrared saunas use heaters that emit wavelengths that penetrate and are absorbed by the body, heating it from within, and delivering light energy to cells. This allows the cabins to be effective at lower temperatures (110-150F) and offer longer 30 to 40-minute exposures.

The Science of Infrared Heat and Light

Infrared is unique because it is both heat and light. As heat, it resonates within our bodies to safely raise core temperature, triggering a thermoregulatory response. As part of the light spectrum, it energizes chromophores (light-absorbing cells), to initiate vital cellular activities essential for overall function. This is why infrared saunas both relax and energize. Your body isn’t fighting with the extreme heat.

Infrared is a spectrum within a spectrum, and includes near, mid and far infrared. Far infrared (FIR) is the foundational infrared wavelength found in all infrared saunas and provides the primary health benefits of detoxification, heart health, immune strength, relaxation, and anti-inflammation. Mid infrared (MIR) provides heat and helps with muscle recovery and pain relief. Near infrared (NIR) is next to red light and is the hottest wavelength. It can be added to elevate temperature in an infrared sauna for a hotter experience, or delivered through LEDs that remove the heat and deliver only light to aid in muscle recovery, pain relief and skin health.

How Infrared Interacts with Our Physiology

Our bodies are like solar panels designed to absorb light and turn it into energy. Two primary cells in our bodies are designed to absorb infrared light: water and mitochondria. Our bodies are 60% water and 10% mitochondria, so infrared can help fuel 70% of our body. 

An adult body contains 10 million billion mitochondria. ATP cannot be stored, so the mitochondria must stay in good working order to continuously create energy. Mitochondria create more than 90% of the energy needed to sustain life, support organ and cellular function. Extensive published research shows infrared and red light positively impact mitochondria and cell health. Water cells also absorb infrared light. It’s important to consider the whole spectrum of light for maximum impact. The energy of infrared light creates an action at the cellular level and starts a biochemical cascade that helps all 11 systems in the body function better.

Benefits of Infrared Sauna for Longevity & Vitality

Because the body absorbs infrared light and heat systemically, it creates a biochemical cascade of benefits that you’ll see are integrated and intertwined. It’s a true holistic wellness tool that can help counteract and slow the effects of aging:

1. Improved Cardiovascular Health

Cardiovascular health is a significant concern, with research showing increasing risks of heart disease and related issues. Infrared sauna therapy, supported by over 30 years of research, offers multifaceted benefits for cardiovascular health. It improves artery health, dilates blood vessels, increases circulation, reduces inflammation, enhances exercise ability, stimulates nitric oxide, and has been associated with reduced risks of heart disease, stroke, and hypertension. Infrared therapy is the standard treatment for chronic heart disease in Japan.

2. Support Detoxification

Environmental toxins and heavy metals contribute to health issues. Detoxification is one of infrared sauna’s most touted health benefits, and one minimized by the conventional medical community. A 2012 Blood, Urine and Sweat study offers valid evidence that sweat does more than regulate temperature and expels some heavy metals  and other toxicants that burden the body.

3. Reduce Inflammation

Research has found that infrared heat prevents inflammation of the blood vessels by inducing a gene known as heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1)6. This gene sets off an anti-inflammatory effect within the body, helping to regulate inflammation. This process remains steady with regular exposure to infrared heat. When blood vessels are healthy, they maintain optimal function – which includes delivering oxygen and nutrients to organs and tissues throughout the body and being able to successfully remove tissue waste from the blood. 

4. Improve Metabolic Health

Metabolic health provides key markers for longevity. While further research is needed, preliminary evidence suggests that it may potentially improve metabolic health through several mechanisms: increased heart and metabolic rate similar to exercise, enhanced insulin sensitivity, regulating stress hormones, improved vasodilation and blood flow that enhances nutrient delivery to tissues and improves metabolic processes, reducing waist circumference, facilitating and supporting detoxification to lighten the burden on metabolic organs.

5. Strengthen the Immune System

Aging weakens the immune system, leading to slower responses to antigens, increased susceptibility to infections, and decreased ability to fight illnesses. Infrared saunas bolster immune function by increasing white blood cell production, enhancing natural killer cell activity, promoting detoxification, improving circulation, stimulating heat shock protein production, managing stress, and raising core body temperature, mimicking fever to mobilize immune cells.

6. Reduce Stress, Increase Mental Well-being

Chronic stress, anxiety and depression adversely affects physical and mental health, contributing to conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, and cognitive impairments. Infrared saunas inducing a deep sweat and reducing cortisol levels, promote relaxation and cardiovascular health. Ongoing research suggests infrared sauna therapy may also hold promise as a complementary treatment for depression, offering a potentially accessible and enjoyable alternative to traditional methods.

Infrared light enhances cerebral blood flow, improves mitochondrial function, increases levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), reduces inflammation, and improves sleep quality. These effects may help protect against age-related cognitive decline and neurological conditions.

7. Improve Sleep

Poor quality sleep accelerates aging, impacts cognitive decline, and leads to various health issues including inflammation, weight gain, and impaired immune function. Infrared saunas may help improve sleep by promoting sleep drive through increased circulation, resetting circadian rhythm to aid signals to produce melatonin, decreasing cortisol levels and inducing relaxation.

8. Faster Muscle Recovery, Relieve Pain

Studies have found that infrared improves neuromuscular performance during intensive training in power athletes, can help increase muscle mass, decrease inflammation and oxidative stress, can decrease some types of pain and increase flexibility.

Find the Right Infrared Sauna for Your Longevity & Vitality with Sunlighten

There are many options of infrared saunas to choose from, and it can be overwhelming to know where to start. We highly recommend Sunlighten’s  infrared sauna collections

Sunlighten is a true innovator in the infrared sauna industry. They have applied science and research to avoid unhealthy heat stress responses that traditional saunas create with their extreme air temperatures. From design to delivery, you are assured of the quality with their patented infrared technology, precise wavelengths, 95-99% absorption, and beautiful construction. 

Dr. Axe

Ready to transform your health? Click HERE and use code AXE for up to $600 off your Sunlighten infrared sauna. Have questions?

Sunlighten offers infrared sauna consultants committed to listening to your health goals and helping you find the best sauna for your needs.

The Health Institute

The Health Institute was founded by Dr. Josh Axe to teach the ancient principles of health to the modern world. Our mission is to empower every individual to transform their mind and body through time-tested practices and protocols that have helped people heal for thousands of years.