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While there is little debate that saunas contribute to our well-being, the question is heated: Are infrared sauna blankets superior to old school dry saunas of the past? Or is this feverish pitch just another wellness trend?
As I have ambitious health goals and, at 54, an eye on longevity, stripping down for a sauna exploratory — pitting my at home dry sauna against the acclaimed Higher Dose Infrared Sauna Blanket to determine the front-runner — was in order. Besides, I shiver at the thought of a cold plunge.
- Penetrates skin faster to repair muscle tissue (and recover from workouts better)
- Takes only 10 minutes to heat up
- Does not feel suffocating
We don't like
- Need to wear clothes
EARLY ERA SWEAT SESSIONS
Healing properties of dry saunas — small, enclosed rooms with a heat source to raise temperature between 150 to 175 degrees Fahrenheit — have been curative since ancient times. The greatest fans, the Finnish, continue their love affair for heat relief today as the country has more saunas than cars. Stateside, we are following their lead as studies continue to link sweating it out in saunas to improved cardiovascular health, reduced inflammation and enhanced mental well-being.
TURN UP THE HEAT
Andrew Huberman, Ph.D., the Stanford School of Medicine neuroscientist best known for his global hit health and fitness podcast Huberman Lab, frequently touts the scientific benefits behind saunas. “For the reduction of dying of a cardiovascular event, the more often you get into a sauna for 30 minutes across the week is better…”
Huberman also notes that, “Heat will trigger some of the same mechanisms in the brain and body as if you were physically engaged in cardiovascular exercise. While in the sauna, heart rate and blood flow increase, and blood vessels will vasodilate (expand) as your body works to cool down to regulate body temperature.” If you need further rationale for turning up the heat, Huberman also explains that our growth hormone that declines with age — and plays a key role in stimulating muscle growth, strengthening bones, repairing tissue, and increasing metabolism — gets a boost from regular sauna usage.
But it’s the mental health gains that also matter to Huberman — and me. Improved mood (thanks to a release of dynorphins and endorphins in the brain), decreased cortisol levels and improved stress response all enhance with sauna exposure.
The caveat to the above is that Huberman believes traditional dry saunas best deliver these benefits, as they can reach 190 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas infrared saunas have limitations as they reach (on average) 110-150 degrees; Huberman notes 176 degrees or above is optimal as at this temperature the body undergoes increased physiological changes.
But like many Huberman-ists who listen to the incredible data-driven podcast, I know his approach is full tilt optimization. To me, saunas are made to be enjoyed as well as beneficial. And there are spectacular brands accomplishing this. Enter: Higher Dose.
A NATURAL HIGH
While the dry sauna can withstand higher temperatures, despite many attempts I — especially once I began perimenopause — could not. And beyond accelerating hot flashes, like many asthmatic friends, I found its enclosed room suffocating.
So, I turned to Higher Dose. Developed by two female founders who prioritized wellness in their own lives, the brand was an early adopter of the power of infrared technology. The high-tech nature of the brand is inherent in its ethos — and name. “DOSE” represents Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, and Endorphins; the coveted happy hormones released during exercise and sunlight exposure.
While Higher Dose initially had infrared saunas in retail locations, the concept of an infrared blanket stemmed from demand. People wanted to take the experience home. I am one of them.
In addition to its portability — a major convenience factor — Higher Dose’s Infrared Sauna Blanket temperature range is lower (from 68 to 158 degrees Fahrenheit), making it easy to withstand even the highest temp. Comfortability is also enhanced by the fact that your face remains uncovered. Thanks to the handheld controller attached to the blanket (which is programmed for 60 minutes but can be shut off at any time), you can adjust the temperature quickly if needed; I love staying at the highest range and breaking a good sweat.
But the question remained: Is there less impact?
A HEALTHY DOSE
While the Higher Dose Sauna Bag utilizes far infrared rays (versus full spectrum of a traditional sauna) you still get a deep detoxifying sweat that pushes out environmental toxins and increases your heart rate (“to the pace of a light jog”) for cardiovascular benefits. Your body uses this “biochemical boost” to repair damaged organs, muscles, and tissues and initiate cellular rejuvenation.
As a Crossfitter who is attuned to her well-being, I feel the difference post sweat session. The pain relief and decreased inflammation benefits are overt. I can attest to a stronger immune system given my exposure, as I am no longer the recipient of every germ brought home from school. In addition to the relaxation itself, I sleep better the night’s I make time to unwind in the sauna bag. And my skin? It glows thanks to the penetrating heat releasing toxins through sweat.
The bag itself — made of high-grade, non-toxic and water-resistant polyurethane — can fit anyone up to 6’ tall, so standing at 5’1”, I find it incredibly spacious. You need to wear clothes (long sleeves, long pants and socks) so that skin is not exposed. My next purchase is the sauna bag insert ($89) so that I can enjoy in the buff; the washable insert also simplifies bag cleanup ongoing as it absorbs the sweat.
Despite immeasurable results, limited infrared research does indicate that while it may not have the same impact as traditional dry saunas on the cardiovascular (although it still enhances it) or brain health, because the heat penetrates the skin, the muscle recovery, circulation, detoxification (which reduces the load on kidneys and liver), pain relief and sleep quality is superior. Mary Breedlove who founded Breedlove Beauty Lab (the very first infrared studio in LA), concurs: “Infrared is healing on a totally different level” as it penetrates through skin to a cellular level. My nutritionist, Sarah Wragge Wellness, adds: “Saunas cannot replace healthy eating and exercise, but infrared saunas can accelerate weight loss through added calorie burn.”
SUPERCHARGE YOUR SELF-CARE
There is no denying that the Higher Dose Infrared Sauna Bag is an invaluable tool to elevate your wellness and experience infrared benefits at your convenience. As Higher Dose founders — and self-professed female biohackers — Lauren Berlingeri and Katie Kaps, continue to evolve the brand, they’ll be harnessing science and nature to bring us more ways to improve our vitality and overall longevity. I am confident Huberman will be pleased.