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Everything You Need to Know About Sensory Deprivation Therapy

Regular stimulus is needed for normal function, but moderate amounts of sensory deprivation may be beneficial for your health.

Sensory deprivation is the absence of stimuli — sound, sight, touch and even movement. In the 1950s researchers conducted sensory deprivation experiments on paid college students. These students lay on a cot in a quiet room all day and night, only getting up to use the bathroom and eat. They wore goggles that let light in, but they couldn't see shapes. They wore gloves so they could not feel the cot or their own clothes. They lay on a u-shaped pillow that blocked out sound — although the only noise was the hum of an air conditioner. Most didn't stay past the second or third day because as humans we need stimuli to function normally. But, in small amounts, this form of therapy may not be so bad.

The Benefits

Each experience in a sensory deprivation tank is slightly different, but research has found that sessions may reduce the body's stress response. This can result in quieting mental chatter, deep relaxation, reduction of stress, depression, and anxiety, and even a reduction in stress-related pain. Optimism and quality of sleep may also improve with this form of therapy.

A Normal Session

These sessions don't have to be done in a doctor's office, which is part of the appeal. You can simply find a place such as a spa or a facility that specializes in float therapy. That's how the sensory deprivation is achieved nowadays — you will literally float in a small, private tank of salt water that is about the temperature of your body so it is comfortable. The Epsom salt used keeps you afloat through no effort of your own, and the tank is enclosed to cut off outside stimulus. Sessions are approximately one hour but can be customized to suit your needs.

Some Things To Know

While the tank is relatively large and comfortable, it does shut in order to cut off stimuli and achieve that quiet environment. So, if you are claustrophobic, a float tank may not be the place for you. For some, the quiet environment is stressful — they have the opposite of a relaxing experience. You can stop the session sooner if you feel uncomfortable. A few have also reported having hallucinations during float therapy. The bottom line is that each experience is unique, and you can stop a session if for any reason you feel uncomfortable.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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