how long should you sit in a sauna

How Long Should You Sit In a Sauna? Stay In or Get Out?

“How long should you sit in a sauna” is a question I get asked a lot. Determining how long should YOU sit in a sauna isn’t a simple task due to something called “heat acclimation” that makes it more of a personal question.

How long you should sit in a sauna may be very different than how long I should stay in the sauna because I’ve been using sauna therapy for months now.

You see, your body and even you brain adapt to heat stress as it becomes a normal part of your life. Those that deal with extreme sauna-like heat regularly can sit in a sauna much longer before becoming uncomfortable compared to most people.

How long should I stay in the sauna?

The answer here is all about working your way up. If you're not heat acclimated then you must start slowly.

Staying in the sauna too long your first time is exhausting and can be dangerous if you pass out. You should sit in a sauna until you feel mildly uncomfortable for your first go. About 10 to 15 minutes in a sauna over 150 degrees fahrenheit will get you there.

From your first sauna session onward you should sit in for only 1 to 2 minutes more with each visit. This way you can progressively build until you can sit in the sauna for 30 minutes and reap all the awesome benefits of that kind of heat exposure (like a 2 fold increase in muscle building IGF-1!).

Getting there won’t be easy, and it will take a good 5 visits to the sauna for that 30 minute max until you feel you’ve mastered that level.

The more you stick to your sauna regime the longer you will be able to handle sitting in the sauna for those 30 minute periods.

When considering sauna usage you should also take into account when you’ll be sitting in the sauna. Before your workout? After your workout?

Obviously, before your workout you’ll be able to sit in the sauna longer because you will have a lower heart rate to begin with. However, studies on runners showing all the great benefits of sitting in a sauna were looking at sauna use after workouts.

This means that the heat acclimation that comes with feeling uncomfortable in the sauna may be reached quicker after your workout. Since the research was all conducted post workout, we should follow this model if we want to optimize our time sitting in the sauna.

Sauna AFTER Workout: Heat Acclimation Training Benefits

Sauna AFTER workout for best benefits, recent research suggests.

Sauna use after a workout provides superior benefits compared to sauna use beforehand or sauna use alone. Hitting the sauna after workouts may be the hardest time to do it - but it’s also part of the reason it’s the best time, scientifically speaking.

That’s because sauna after cardio and sauna after lifting increase your levels of dynorphin, BDNF-1, and most importantly, IGF-1.

Don’t worry - I promise to cover exactly why ramping up these levels is so awesome. I also promise not to make terrible generalizations like “saunas are relaxing” or use the phrase “work up a sweat.”

Sauna After Workout Benefits

First let’s cover Insulin Growth Factor-1 aka IGF-1

When you increase your IGF-1 you’re getting a huge release of growth hormone with anabolic effects that are proven to aid in fat loss and muscle growth.

How much can sauna after workouts increase IGF-1?

According to an article in the American Journal of Medicine, back-to-back 20 minute sauna use with a 30 minute break in between doubles your IGF-1 and that increase will last for nearly 3 hours after use.

Pair this kind of heat acclimation with the post-workout physiological changes and you get the most bang for your buck - going well over double IGF-1 levels in the same period of time.

Why ramp up your BDNF?

Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) is a powerhouse for your memory and learning, something we’ve known since this study in 1999.

BDNF surges the rate of growth in new brain cells and protects your current brain cells from degradation. 

It helps you stay sharper as you age and boosts your brain day-to-day.
Sauna use during or just after a workout was shown in this study to actually increase BDNF much more than exercise without sauna use - so again, the timing is key.

Dynorphin is Hard to Explain

Imagine you were born into a perfect utopia.

You have never known struggle, stress, resistance, or hardship of any kind.

Your life ‘s been easier than a billionaire trust-fund babies and you’re spoiled to the core.

Do you think you would really appreciate the everyday things that make you feel good in this life?

Of course not.

Now, imagine if you were born into a dystopian world of pure chaos and strain.

But there would be years of complete peace and and a taste of utopia now and then.

Would you appreciate those feel good moments?

Definitely, and science indicates you would feel those moments much more intensely.

How?

Well, your endorphin system works a lot like the utopia/dystopia metaphor.

Hard exercise and heat stress are very uncomfortable and cause you to release the dysphoric opioid ‘dynorphin’ (part of your Kappa Opioid Receptor system or KOR).

Dynorphin then causes your Mu Opioid Receptors (MOR) to become sensitized and respond to endorphins, allowing you to feel life’s good moments even stronger.

Moreover, sauna use increases these levels more so than exercise alone and makes an awesome after workout routine to boost your day-to-day life enjoyment.

This is something people miss out on a lot. You MUST stay in the sauna long enough to feel some discomfort or you’re likely not doing anything except working up a sweat...