Can You Drown in a Sensory Deprivation Tank?

Medically Reviewed on 11/25/2020
 It is next to impossible to drown in a sensory deprivation tank.
It is next to impossible to drown in a sensory deprivation tank.

No, drowning in a floatation tank is one of the most common myths of sensory deprivation. It is next to impossible to drown in a sensory deprivation tank. It is impossible to not float in a sensory deprivation tank because the Epsom salt causes changes to the composition of tank water making drowning in a floatation tank incredibly difficult. The water in a floatation tank is about 12 inches deep and contains hundreds of pounds of Epsom salts that increase the density and buoyancy of the water, allowing the individual to float with ease. The fluid temperature is maintained at external body temperature (around 95° Fahrenheit) by a coil. The water is sterilized with a peroxide solution and UV filtration. Inside the chamber, the participant floats effortlessly without gravitational requirements and with reduced stimulation of sound and light. While it may seem scary to enter the tank and relax for an hour, there is nothing to fear. Thousands of people use this tank successfully every year and the numbers are gradually growing. However, people with infectious diseases, pregnancy, and those who are epileptic (not on controlling medication for the condition) should avoid using the tank.

What are the common myths of sensory deprivation tanks?

The common myths or misconceptions of the sensory deprivation tank include:

  • Floating can’t help with sleep disorders: It is a common myth. Floatation therapy is widely known for its benefits in relation to sleep, it is ideal for those dealing with insomnia or other sleeping disorders for several reasons. Floatation therapy allows an individual to clear the mind because the body releases endorphins and boosts mood. It causes a relaxation reflex (RR) in the body. The RR is directly opposite of flight or fright response of the sympathetic nervous system. The RR reflex brings down the heart rate and breathing by direct action on the parasympathetic system (relaxing system) of the body. Finally, floating causes a decrease in blood pressure as well, so that a person may emerge stress-free and ready to resume more normal sleeping habits.
  • Floating may replace sleeping: It is the second common myth regarding sleep deprivation. Since many first-time floaters have heard that an hour of floating equals as much as 8 hours of sleep, they begin to wonder if they could simply float for an hour or two a day instead of ever sleeping. Although this might seem logical, floating shouldn’t actually replace normal sleeping habits. Typically, floaters feel energized after a float session and often need several hours to wind down before sleeping. Floating should, however, encourage more regular sleeping patterns. Floating is often used to treat insomnia because it is known to facilitate deeper sleep for several days following each float session.
  • It’s dangerous to sleep in the tank: It’s one of the most common questions about floatation therapy. In fact, many people enter the float tank specifically to fall asleep. An hour in a float tank can serve as a type of power nap that leaves an individual completely refreshed and energized. Since many people don’t normally sleep on their backs, they worry that they would roll over in the water if they fell asleep and drown. However, the buoyancy and density caused by the Epsom salt in float tanks make it difficult to turn over, so those fears are unfounded.

What happens to our body in the sensory deprivation tank?

The sensory deprivation tank may ease muscle tension and mental anxiety. In fact, floating in a sensory deprivation tank provides so many physical benefits. Due to the buoyancy effect of the Epsom salt water, all the muscles in the body can relax into their natural state, relieving tension, and muscle tightness. It’s an experience closest to our muscles experiencing zero gravity. The skin is also absorbing all the goodness of the magnesium sulfate in the water, which is an emollient and causes skin to soften. The tension in the muscles wears off due to the deprivation of all the sensory inputs. The relaxation reflex takes over and the body gets a chance to reset its fatigue point. This all happens whether an individual is awake in the tank or not. With an hour of floating, one can get similar physical and mental benefits to a 6-hour sleep in a bed.

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Medically Reviewed on 11/25/2020
References
Healthy WA. Floatation tanks. https://healthywa.wa.gov.au/Articles/F_I/Floatation-tanks

Kjellgren A, Trischler JW. 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. October 25, 2014; 4:417. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-14-417