If you’ve arrived on this page, it’s probably because you’re at least a tiny bit curious about sensory deprivation, a form of relaxation therapy that involves floating weightlessly in a tank of salt water. But unlike other types of relaxation therapy—a massage, for example—climbing into a sensory deprivation tank can seem a little intimidating. After all, stripping down naked and floating in a pitch-dark pool isn’t exactly something one does every day.
As someone who has entered a sensory deprivation tank and emerged to tell about it, I’m here to alleviate some of the misconceptions you might have about what it’s like to be inside a float tank. Hopefully it will be enough to convince you to finally take the plunge (pun intended).
Even if everything else about float tank therapy appeals to you, if you’re at all claustrophobic, you might still be turned off by the sight of the traditional sensory deprivation tank, which can look a bit like a spaceship’s escape pod (but you know, filled with water). I am one such person. Tight spaces do not thrill me, so I was thrilled to discover a sensory deprivation tank near me designed to offer an entirely different experience.
At Anicca Float Club outside Chicago, the float tanks barely pass for tanks at all. Instead, you are led to a private room that looks like a chic, high-end hotel bathroom. There’s a small seating area where you can dress and undress comfortably and store your belongings, plus a rainfall shower stocked with shampoo, conditioner, soap, q-tips, and single-use ear plugs. Next to the shower is a door that, and on the other side of the door is a few steps leading down into the tank itself, which is actually more like a private dipping pool with high ceilings.
From here, it’s up to you to decide how truly deprived of outside sensory stimulation you want to be. You can dim the lights and music at your leisure and turn them back on at any time. For my experience, I chose to turn off the lights and sounds, but left the tank door open a bit so I didn’t feel completely enclosed in the tub.
While many people feel completely comfortable in a traditional sensory deprivation tank, more and more businesses are opting to create experiences like the one at Anicca Float Club. So if you are worried about feeling claustrophobic, know that there are options out there for you.
Perhaps your major hesitation about float tank therapy is that you’re just not into new agey meditation thing. I get it. As much as a I know that regular meditation comes with a whole slew of health benefits, I’ve just never been good at letting my brain wind down enough to actually feel relaxed.
But while sensory deprivation DOES promise a ton of mental health benefits—including stress relief and improved cognitive function—it boasts just as many physical benefits. Because the epsom-salt infused water allows you to float effortlessly, being in a float tank is one of the only opportunities your body has to experience total weightlessness, which can be a major relief to your hard working joints and muscles. Some of the reported benefits include reduced inflammation, pain relief, and improved athletic performance.
Personal side note: I once spent an absurd amount of money to swim in the pool of a fancy German hotel, where the spa-fed pool offered a similar slew of benefits. Floating in a float tank was a lot like that, albeit without the plane ticket and blow to my savings account. Just sayin’.
What your claustriphobia-free float tank might look like
So you’ve heard that people float naked in sensory deprivation tanks and it kind of skeeves you out a little? Fair! Except that you should know that these tanks are probably much, much cleaner than your own home bathtub.
For starters, the water itself is saturated with hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds of epsom salt, which creates an environment that is inhospitable to bacteria. But besides this, most tanks are constantly filtered and cleaned using some combination of UV light, Ozonators, and/or hydrogen peroxide. If you’re curious about how the specific float tank you’re about to use is cleaned and sanitized, just ask the staff!
Real talk time: I didn’t love, love, love my first-ever float. Even with the spa-like environs of the place, I was still nervous about feeling claustrophobic and it look my body a long time to fully relax and accept the fact that I could float without trying. By the time I actually started to embrace the experience and let myself totally relax, my hour in the float tank was almost up.
This doesn’t mean the benefits weren’t readily apparent to me tough. My back and neck definitely felt better than they have in years in the hours following my time in the tank, and I could see how, with a little practice, I could get comfortable enough with the experience to love it as much as the other floaters I encountered in the waiting room did.
In fact, the real ringing endorsement for the benefits of floating were the people in that waiting room who were eager to tell me how much floating had improved their chronic pain, their sleep problems, their stress levels, etc. Of the 5 or 6 others who were there, I was the only first-timer. Everyone else was an enthusiastic regular.
My advice? Plan to try floating at least twice, and expect that your first time might be spent awkwardly trying to get the hang of things. Especially if you have any of the misconceptions listed above. It might just take a little more practice for you to feel at home in the tank and decide whether floating is right for you or not.
Sensory Deprivation At a Glance:
What to Expect: 60—90 minutes of total weightlessness as you float effortlessly in a shallow pool of epsom-salt infused water. Lights and music can be left on if you prefer, but turning them off provides the true sensory deprivation experience and may help you better experience the mental benefits of floating.
Possible Benefits: Reported benefits of sensory deprivation floats include a reduction of stress and fatigue, lower blood pressure, lower cortisol levels, improved cognitive performance, reduced pain and inflammation, and better athletic performance. Some proponents also believe it can help enhance creativity.
Don’t Forget: Ear plugs! Although some facilities will provide this for you, it’s best to bring your own just in case. It’s not fun trying to get salt out of ears!
Still curious? Check out our video on sensory deprivation below!