It’s common knowledge that most people don’t get enough rest. What’s less commonly known, however, is that most people could also benefit from a little more REST, or Restricted Environment Stimulation Therapy. It’s a developing technique that’s based on depriving the body of stimulation. In the constantly moving, constantly stimulating world that we live in, a little deprivation is definitely a good thing.
During REST, a participant either lies on a bed in a dark, soundproof room, or more commonly, they float in buoyant liquid in a light and soundproof tank – definitely not for the claustrophobic amongst us! Although, some have solved the claustrophobia jitters with large custom tanks (see end of post). This type of REST is most commonly referred to as float therapy or floatation therapy. During tank floating, the water is kept at a skin-receptor neutral temperature – the temperature at which you lose track of the line between your body and your environment -- 93.5 degrees. In addition to eliminating the heat differential, the water in each tank is saturated with 850 - 1000 pounds of Epsom salt, which causes the body to float instead of sinking as usual. It’s similar to floating in the Dead Sea, but much cheaper than a trip to Asia. And unlike your typical float in the Dead Sea, a REST float therapy session typically lasts much longer, from 60 and 90 minute sessions.
For those of you worried about sharing that water with the hundreds of people before you, don’t worry: the water is sanitized between each session with filtering and UV light.
So, why do you want to lock yourself in a light- and sound-proof box or tank? The documented benefits of REST are immense.
Such sessions are incredibly relaxing and refreshing; some participants report that a 3-hour float is as energizing as a full night’s sleep. Eliminating all stimulation removes possible stressors for the body to respond to, aiding in recovery from daily stress and allowing participants to enter deep states of relaxation.
Sessions simply feel good because a) blood flow is stimulated across all tissues, aiding in detoxification, b) natural endorphins are released, and c) the brain gives out alpha waves associated with relaxation and meditation.
Since floating is a perfectly still experience with no contact points, no movement, and no postural muscle action, it’s the perfect solution to help ease chronic pain. The release of endorphins to kill pain is a completely natural and powerful effect working alongside natural healing and repair processes, and REST prevents problems associated with bed rest such as pressure points and bed sores.
Other physical benefits include muscle relaxation, pain relief, reduction of back pain and high blood pressure, and amelioration of pre- and post-menstrual symptoms.
One of the key contributors of muscle relaxation and detoxification that comes from floating is the use of Epsom salts in the tanks. Epsom salt is comprised of magnesium and sulfur, both of which can help detoxify the body way better than any 3-day juice cleanse would. By inducing reverse osmosis in the body, the magnesium and sulfur help pull salt and other toxins out of the body through the skin. Magnesium in particular plays a critical role in over 325 enzymes and improves muscle and nerve function, while sulfur helps build joints, skin and nervous tissue.
In addition to the positive physical benefits, cognitive benefits of REST similar to those associated with meditation have been documented over the course of the last 50 years. Meditation is about clearing your mind and pushing out external stimulus, and engaging in REST is a great tool that helps do you just that; many studies recognize REST participation as being equally or more effective than meditation. Trying a bit of REST is a great option if you’re too antsy to sit through a meditation session, or just plain bad at getting in that meditative headspace.
Like meditation, REST has been shown to improve cognitive function: One Ohio State professor assessed the impact of REST on competitive rifle shooters, and found that those who had participated in REST performed better at their next target shooting practice. Another university study found that a single hour of REST improved student standardized test scores and creativity.
Additionally, studies have shown that groups with REST have diminished stress, depression, and anxiety and increased optimism and quality of sleep compared to their non-treated counterparts. REST has even been studied in relation to smoking cessation programs. Several blind studies with long-term, confirmed smokers found that smokers who participated in REST had higher cessation rates and success with continued cessation compared to a control group, probably because of the meditative and cognitive benefits that all participants experience with REST.
REST really kills two birds with one stone, addressing both mental and physical stressors at the same time and in a relatively short time frame. All you have to do is look up your closest float therapy center, dig that swimsuit out from the back of your closet, and dive in! ...But don't actually dive, the water is pretty shallow.
Looking for a tank near you? Floatation Locations is a phenomenal resource to discover floatation therapy centers nationwide.
We have to give a big shout out to our absolute favorite float therapy spa (and we've tried quite a few), Float SNJ based in Marlton, NJ. Float goes beyond pods and standard tanks to deliver a comforting spa like atmosphere with completely custom built single person float therapy rooms. The experience is truly one of a kind. Not to mention, these customized and quite charismatic float rooms are large and open, providing a much better option for any first time floaters (or mild claustrophobics). Be sure to reserve an appointment with Float SNJ if you're ever in the South Jersey area - they book up quick!
Fan, Shelly. “Floating Away: the Science of Sensory Deprivation Therapy.” Discover Magazine. 4 Apr. 2014. <http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/crux/2014/04/04/floating-away-the-science-of-sensory-deprivation-therapy/#.WCJISHe-KuU>.
Fong, Phyllis. “The Modern Day Float Tank.” Men’s Journal. 2013. <http://www.mensjournal.com/health-fitness/health/the-modern-day-float-tank-20131108>.
Kjellgren, A. and Westman, J. Beneficial effects of treatment with sensory isolation in flotation-tank as a preventive health-care intervention – a randomized controlled pilot trial. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2014;14:417. doi:10.1186/1472-6882-14-417.
Jonsson, K. Promising effects of treatment with flotation –REST as an intervention for generalized anxiety disorder – a randomized controlled pilot trial. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2016; 16:108. doi: 10.1186/s12906-016-1089-x.
Bood, SA., Sundequist, U., Kjellgren, A., Nordstrom, G., and Norlander, T. Effects of flotation-restricted environmental stimulation technique on stress-related muscle pain: what makes the difference in therapy—attention-placebo or the relaxation response?. Pain Resolution Management. 2005; 10(4)201-9.
Bood SÅ, Kjellgren A, Norlander T. Treating stress-related pain with the flotation restricted environmental stimulation technique: Are there differences between women and men? Pain Research & Management : The Journal of the Canadian Pain Society. 2009;14(4):293-298.