Eliminate Stress With Sensory Deprivation
By: Bulletproof Staff
March 4, 2016
Modern living can be stressful.
The information age has brought endless stimulation to everyday life. Emails, texts, calls, chats, websites, smartphones, social media – with all of them combined, the average person consumes 174 newspapers’ worth of information daily . The ride never stops, and as empowering as technology is, it demands constant engagement that can overwhelm.
The massive flow of information – much of it inconsequential – forces your brain to choose what to focus on and phase out everything else. All that filtering and focusing taxes your insula, a part of your brain that mediates attention. When your insula is overworked, you lose your ability to concentrate and your general stress increases . On top of that, a 2012 study of 4100 young adults found that frequent phone and computer use links to depression, higher stress levels, and decreased sleep quality . Too much stimulation is no good.
Fortunately, there’s a hack for that.
Sensory deprivation tanks (also called float tanks) block out almost all sensory input. The one in my biohacking lab is pictured above; human cloning experiments have been unsuccessful so far ;). When you enter a float tank, you’re suspended in magnesium-saturated water that’s dense enough that it keeps you buoyant – minimizing your sense of touch. The water and air in the tank match your body’s temperature, and the tank is lightproof and soundproof. The tank is designed to take away all of your senses. You’re essentially left in empty space with nothing but your own mind as company. Floating the ultimate technology and stimulation detox, and it comes with some big benefits.
Floating helps you destress…a lot
One of the biggest benefits to floating is stress relief. You’re countering stress in two distinct ways, the first of which is has to do with magnesium. Magnesium inhibits ACTH, a hormone that drives your adrenal glands to release the stress hormone cortisol . Magnesium also improves sleep quality, which further decreases stress  (the study looks at the elderly, but I and many people I know enjoy better sleep after supplementing with magnesium. I take it before bed regularly). Many people are magnesium deficient, and you absorb magnesium through your skin when you float, balancing any deficiency you may have .
The sensory deprivation aspect of floating also quells stress. In a recent study, participants floated with limited sensory input 8 times over the course of 2 weeks. Their serum cortisol decreased by 21.6% . That’s a lot! Participants also showed a 50.5% decrease in cortisol variability – they handled stressful situations better, without a spike in cortisol.
Floating for depression, anxiety, and burnout
Floating does more than relieve everyday stress. It can help with depression, anxiety, and burnout.
When you’re stressed, your hypothalamus (an almond-sized part of your brain just above your brainstem) tells your adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol. One of the hallmark signs of depression is an overactive hypothalamus . Negative thoughts and anxiety put depressed people in a state of chronic stress, and it taxes their hypothalamus. Ironically, your hypothalamus doesn’t do well with cortisol. Too much cortisol damages the hypothalamus, causing it to release even more cortisol. It’s a vicious cycle, and it offers a glimpse at why depression and anxiety are so hard to escape.
Floating helps regulate depression and anxiety in several ways. In addition to calming down your cortisol production, being suspended in water relieves muscle tension, particularly for your neck and back . The resulting deep relaxation leads to lasting improvement of symptoms of depression, anxiety, and burnout .
Floating for psychological growth
Floating is also great for exploring your own mind. The total lack of external stimuli lets you sit undistracted with your thoughts. If I want to solve a problem, I’ll go to my float tank and have myself a deep think. There aren’t yet studies on this aspect of floating, but in my experience float tanks offer a potent way to enhance problem-solving, creativity, and personal reflection. It’s like meditation on steroids – and by the way, meditating in a float tank is even more powerful than either of the two alone.
If you’re feeling stressed, overstretched, or blue, give floating a try. The results might surprise you. I recommend starting with a 90-minute session. You may fidget and feel like getting out of the tank for the first 45 minutes or so – fight the urge and stick with it. Once your brain adapts to the lack of stimulation and you relax into the float, you’ll begin to reap major benefits. If you’re looking for a float center (there are more of them than you’d think), this list is an excellent resource. Thanks for reading, have a great week, and stay Bulletproof!