Insomnia is a condition shared by 50-70 million Americans. Its most immediate effect is fatigue resulting from sleeplessness, but the problems of insomnia can go way beyond that. If you suffer from insomnia, you’re more likely to have difficulty concentrating, have relationship problems, or be depressed. You’re also more likely to commit suicide. The problems don’t stop there. People with insomnia are more likely to die from heart disease or stroke. They’re also more likely to wreck their cars. The CDC estimates lack of sleep is responsible for 6,000 highway fatalities per year.
In short, if you don’t have insomnia, you should be thankful. If you do have it, you should be looking for a way to deal with it. There are medications that can help you sleep, and in fact, more than 9 million Americans take them. But some people are only inclined to change their body chemistry as a last resort. And some people can’t tolerate the side effects of even the most modern generation of sleep aids.
In a previous blog post, I wrote about a 1989 Ph.D. dissertation that studied 36 volunteers with insomnia, who benefited significantly from “flotation-REST” — the research shorthand term for sensory deprivation floating, which we at Peak Recovery & Health Center call float pod. Since reporting that study, however, I have come across a more rigorous 2014 study that compared floating to not floating in a group of 65 participants. The researchers in the 2014 study examined several areas of the participants’ lives: “Stress, depression, anxiety, and worst pain were significantly decreased whereas optimism and sleep quality significantly increased for the flotation-REST group.”
In regard to sleep quality, the researchers found the participants treated with flotation-REST improved their scores on a sleep quality questionnaire by about 14% after the float sessions. There was no increase among those who didn’t float. Is a 14% improvement good enough to be called a “cure” for insomnia? That probably depends on the severity of the insomnia. But I think most people who suffer from this condition would be glad of any improvement in their sleep.
Sacha, a blogger who suffers from chronic insomnia, ventured an explanation of how sensory deprivation floating helps. For one thing, she pointed out, the epsom salt used in a floatation tank is magnesium sulphate, and the magnesium you absorb when floating helps you relax and deactivates your stress response. For another thing, the weightlessness of floating relieves pain, sometimes dramatically. Finally, Sacha seems to have found relief in floating’s ability to help her “just be.” This aligns with my own experience of floating, in which I invariably lose track of where I end and the rest of the world begins.
The best way to fight insomnia is to eliminate the influences that make it easier to stay awake. Things that make it easier to stay awake include irregular sleep patterns, use of caffeine or nicotine late in the day, exercising too soon before bedtime, eating a heavy meal before bedtime, using a screen (phone, pad, computer, or television) right before bed, or keeping your bedroom too warm. And you may find, as so many have, that regular float pod sessions make you more relaxed and susceptible to sleep. Book a session and try it.