A sauna is a great way to relax and recharge your batteries. But sometimes, it doesn’t seem to have the right effect. In fact, we can leave feeling tired and under the weather. So why does that happen?
If you’ve been asking yourself, “Why do I feel sick after a sauna?”, you’ve come to the right place. We’re going to take a look at what might be going on. And we’ll give you practical advice to help you enjoy your sauna (or sauna blanket) without any adverse effects.
So if you’re ready, step this way to find out more.
What Does a Sauna Do?
There are a number of different types of sauna out there, and they work a little differently. That can mean they feel different too – we’ll talk more about that in a moment. But they all do the same basic thing: they provide a hot environment.
Human beings are homeotherms. That means we require a stable internal temperature in order for all the processes in our bodies to work properly.
All mammals are homeotherms, although not all mammals have the same internal temperature. For people, our core temperature needs to stay at about 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
When we go into a hot environment, like a sauna, our temperature rises. That means that our bodies need to do certain things to cool us down.
Our blood vessels dilate, increasing the surface area so that heat can be got rid of more quickly. Depending on our skin color, that can make us look flushed.
The other thing we do is sweat. The warm sweat sits on the surface of the skin and evaporates. That’s a very effective way of removing heat.
Feeling warm and sweating can be very relaxing. There’s also some evidence that it can help people suffering chronic pain.
But sweating also means that we’re removing water from our bodies. And as we all know, water is vital to pretty much every bodily function. That means that if we sweat too much, we can face problems.
The heat in saunas can also present other issues. Sweating and dilating our blood vessels will cool us down, but it can only do so much. If our body temperature remains too high, we can suffer other ill effects. We’ll talk more about those shortly.
The Different Types of Saunas
Different kinds of saunas work in different ways. The two main types are traditional saunas, also known as Finnish saunas, and infrared.
In a Finnish style sauna, electric elements heat up the air in an enclosed space. There are usually hot coals too, and from time to time, water is poured on these to produce steam. That steam increases the humidity level in the sauna.
Because there’s already more moisture in the air, your sweat evaporates more slowly. That means it doesn’t cool your body as quickly as it would in less humid conditions.
This is quite different to an infrared sauna. This uses radiant heat. Instead of heating up the air, it heats the objects inside the sauna – including people – directly.
That means the ambient temperature in an infrared sauna is a lot lower than in a Finnish style one. Typical temperatures in an infrared sauna are between 100 and 150 degrees Fahrenheit. That compares to between 160 and 200 degrees Fahrenheit in a Finnish sauna.
And unlike Finnish saunas, there are no hot coals and no way to produce steam. That makes the environment less humid, so your sweat will evaporate more quickly. And that means your core body temperature will stay at the right level more easily.
The use of infrared light also means that you don’t need to sit in a cabin to get the effect. You can buy a sauna tent, or even wrap yourself in a sauna blanket. Both are considerably less expensive – and require less space – as options for home saunas.
Why Am I Feeling Sick?
Saunas are supposed to be relaxing places. So why is it that some people feel sick after using one? The answer comes back to the effects we talked about earlier – heat and sweating.
Let’s start with the one that will cause problems earliest – that’s sweating. Your body is doing exactly what it should be doing in the sauna. It’s releasing water to evaporate on your skin and cool you down.
But if you sweat too much, your body won’t have enough water to do all the things it needs to. This is known as dehydration.
There are six key symptoms that your body is dehydrated. First of all, you’ll feel thirsty. Your body is telling you need to replenish your water levels.
Secondly, when you visit the toilet, your urine will be a dark color and will have a strong smell. You may go to the toilet less often, fewer than four times a day. You can feel tired, or lightheaded and dizzy. And your lips, mouth and eyes may be dry and parched.
Dehydration itself doesn’t usually make you feel sick, although the feeling of dizziness can do.
Dehydration can be a by-product of being too hot. But there are other direct effects of your body overheating. These start off as heat exhaustion, and can turn into a more serious condition, heat stroke, if left unchecked.
Heat exhaustion has some similar symptoms to dehydration. It can also make you feel dizzy, lightheaded or tired. You may also have a rapid but weak pulse, clammy and pale skin, muscle cramps and a headache. You may sweat heavily and feel faint, or even lose consciousness.
And heat exhaustion does often cause sufferers to feel sick and sometimes to vomit. So if you’re feeling sick after your sauna, there’s a very good chance this is the problem. You’ve either been in there for too long, or the heat has been too high, or both.
If you experience any of these symptoms, you should leave the sauna immediately. If your body continues to overheat, you may develop heat stroke. This requires emergency medical assistance, so don’t take any risks.
Remember – a sauna is supposed to make you feel better, not worse. It’s not an endurance test, and you won’t get any health benefits from overdoing it. Instead, you could be risking serious illness. Untreated heat stroke can even be fatal.
When to Avoid a Sauna
We’ve seen that the effects of too much heat and dehydration can be very serious. But for most people, they can be avoided with some simple precautions. These will allow you to enjoy a sauna without any unwanted side effects. We’ll get to those shortly.
But some people can be more sensitive to the effects of heat. If you fall into this category, it’s best to avoid saunas. And if you’re in any doubt, consult your doctor before using one.
If you’re pregnant, you will be more sensitive to the heat. The same applies for children below four years of age, or adults over 65.
And if you have any condition that affects your nerves or motor function, you’ll need to take care. Conditions like hyperthyroidism and motor neurone disease can make you less able to notice when it’s too hot. That can lead to burns.
If you have any kind of heart problem, check with your doctor before using a sauna. The heat will elevate your heart rate, and can lead to arrhythmia.
If you have low pressure or kidney disease, check too. The same applies if you’re taking diuretics or other medication for low blood pressure, or any medicine that can cause sickness.
Don’t use a sauna if you’ve been drinking alcohol. Alcohol dehydrates your body, and when you sweat, you’ll lose even more water. That means you’ll become dehydrated fast.
Precautions to Stay Well in the Sauna
If none of those apply to you, the good news is you can use a sauna safely. And you won’t feel sick if you take a few simple steps.
To begin with, make sure you stay well hydrated. Drink plenty of water before you get into the sauna, and again when you get out. You can also sip water whilst you’re inside. This will ensure you’re replacing the fluids lost by sweating.
Don’t overdo the heat. There’s no need to crank your sauna up to the max. If you’ve felt sick after previous sessions, put it on a lower setting and reduce the length of your session.
And listen to your body. If you start to feel unwell, leave the sauna immediately (or get out of the sauna blanket). Then drink plenty of water. You may want to lie down until you feel better. If you continue to feel unwell, seek medical assistance.
Enjoy the Heat!
We hope you’ve found our answer to the question of “Why do I feel sick after a sauna?” helpful.
The key point to remember is that if you’re feeling sick, your body is telling you something is wrong. That means you need to change what you’re doing. Don’t keep doing the same thing in the hope that your body will “adjust”. You’ll simply make yourself unwell.
Check your risk factors before using a sauna, and consult a doctor if you’re in any doubt about whether its safe.
If you’re good to go, remember that lower temperatures and shorter sessions are the best way to avoid problems. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water, and you’ll have a relaxing and comfortable sauna.