Floating Away: The Science of Sensory Deprivation Therapy

By Shelly Fan | April 4, 2014 8:30 am

float tank

I tried not to panic. I was floating effortlessly in a pitch-black tank filled with salty, skin-temperature water, wearing earplugs and nothing else. Within minutes I could no longer feel the sponge in my ears or smell the musty scent of water. There was no light, no smell, no touch and – save for the gasping of my breath and drumming of my heart – no sound.

I was trying out North America’s avant garde drug: sensory deprivation. Across the continent “float houses” are increasing in popularity, offering eager psychonauts a chance to explore this unique state of mind. Those running the business are quick to list the health benefits of frequent “floats”, which range from the believable – relaxation, heightened senses, pain management – to the seemingly nonsensical (“deautomatization”, whatever that means). Are these proclaimed benefits backed up by science or are they simply new-age hogwash?

A Sordid (and Sensationalized) History

Why would anyone willingly subject him or herself to sensory deprivation? You’ve probably heard the horror stories: the Chinese using restricted stimulation to “brainwash” prisoners of war during the Korean War; prisons employing solitary confinement as psychological torture. Initial research studies into the psychophysical effects of sensory deprivation, carried out in the 1950s at McGill University, further damaged its reputation, reporting slower cognitive processing, hallucinations, mood swings and anxiety attacks among the participants. Some researchers even considered sensory deprivation an experimental model of psychosis.

However, despite popular belief, sensory deprivation is not inherently unpleasant. According to Dr. Peter Suedfeld, a pioneering psychologist in the field, these stories are rubbish. “(The prisoners) were bombarded with overstimulation – loud group harangues, beatings and other physical tortures,” he explained. Similarly, the original studies at McGill University used constant noise and white light – that is, sensory overload ­ – rather than deprivation.

In fact, an analysis in 1997 of well over 1,000 descriptions of sensory deprivation indicated that more than 90% of subjects found it deeply relaxing. To escape the provocative name of “sensory deprivation” and its negative connotations, in the late 1970s Suedfeld’s protégé, Dr. Roderick Borrie, redubbed the experience with a friendlier name: REST, or Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy.

Today, the two most frequently used REST methods are chamber REST, which involves the participant lying on a bed in a dark, soundproof room, and flotation REST, which involves floating in buoyant liquid in a light- and sound-proof tank. The latter, first developed by John Lilly in the 1970s and now widely commercialized, is what I decided to experience myself.

The Brain Without Input

Floathouse, a newly opened sensory deprivation tank centre in Gastown, Friday May 10, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Eric Dreger

A flotation tank at Vancouver’s Float House.

The Oasis flotation tank was much chunkier than I expected. Designed to fit the average man with arms outstretched, the 90’’ by 48’’ industrial-looking behemoth nonetheless operated with only a slight hum.

Mike Zaremba, the co-founder of Vancouver’s Float House, explained that the tank was filled with Epsom salt-saturated water heated to skin temperature. Try to steady yourself in the water until it settles, Mike told me, then you won’t be able to feel the water. There was little pre-float briefing save for a reassuring remark that I could terminate the experience at any time – a disclaimer that Suedfeld encouraged based on experimental data showing it decreased anxiety.

I climbed in, closed the heavy door and was engulfed by total darkness. Almost immediately after settling in the warm, womb-like tank one of my senses disintegrated: my body orientation. The vestibular system in the inner ear contributes to the sense of spatial orientation, and together with proprioception – that is, the sense of the relative positions of neighboring body parts – it allows an overall perception of the body’s position, acceleration and movement in space. Without external cues, I felt like my body was spinning like arms on a clock face; the illusion was so strong it brought about a few waves of nausea.

Deprived of external stimuli, the brain generates its own. Parts of the visual field light up in unrecognizable shapes, which eventually morph into more complex manifestations such as dots, lines and grated patterns. With the advent of brain imagining techniques, scientists have been able to capture the brain basis of such finicky visual hallucinations during sensory deprivation. In 2000, one such study found that volunteers’ visual cortexes became more active after less than an hour of visual deprivation.

Hallucinations may also occur in other sensory domains. For me, it was auditory: initially, I heard a beautiful aria drifting in and out, like music from a faraway phonograph; soon it morphed into a full symphony before settling into a simple, tribal beat. Incredibly, I did not recognize any of these tunes; my brain was spontaneously generating them.

Creative Juices

Some of Suedfeld’s work suggests that flotation facilitates creativity. A small study of five university professors found that six 90-minute float sessions allowed them to generate more “creative” ideas, which coincided with a self-reported increase in free imagery and remote associations. Similarly, in a study with 40 university students, a single hour of flotation increased their scores on a standardized test used to measure creativity.

Although boosts to creativity are a prime selling point for float houses, evidence supporting them is sparse. A far better researched effect of flotation is that it enhances performance in a variety of athletic and musical tasks that require high levels of concentration and visual-motor coordination, including basketball, tennis, archery and jazz improvisation. In a sample of 13 jazz students, four sessions enhanced their technical performance one week after the last flotation experience, suggesting the possibility of lasting benefits.

Suedfeld speculates that flotation may enhance creativity and performance in a manner similar to that of sleep or meditation. Research has shown that during resting states the brain repeatedly rehearses newly learned skills and consolidates recently acquired knowledge for long-term storage. Some studies have also shown that the resting brain is particularly adept at synthesizing information from a wide range of brain areas to solve tough problems – something you may have experienced daydreaming in the shower.

However, Suedfeld says, compared to sleep or meditation, such “twilight” states are more easily achievable without prior training or conscious effort via flotation. Advancements in brain imaging techniques may someday help us understand how these twilight states compare at a neurological level.

Experiencing Weightlessness

Cognitive perturbations only make up half of the flotation experience; far more noticeable are the physical effects. Within minutes of entering the tank, I coaxed my muscles to relax and allowed myself to sink into the warm cocoon of water that supported every inch of my body. Moving around required a surprising amount of effort; submerging my head under water was plainly impossible. I was content to lay still.

In the early 1980s, a group of psychologists at the Medical College of Ohio initiated a series of experiments that looked at the physiological responses to REST. Both within and across flotation sessions, blood pressure and levels of stress-related hormones dropped – effects that persisted long after the cessation of the last flotation experience. In 2005, a meta-analysis further confirmed that flotation was more effective at reducing stress than other popular methods such as relaxation exercises, biofeedback or relaxing on the couch.

These results prompted researchers to investigate whether flotation could help patients with stress-related disorders. The treatment was used as a primary intervention for disorders as diverse as hypertension, headaches, insomnia and rheumatoid arthritis; all of these studies showed positive effects in small sample sizes. Those suffering from intractable chronic pain particularly benefited from weekly REST sessions: their level of perceived pain dropped, their sleep improved and they reported feeling happier and less anxious. An ongoing project is investigating the use of flotation for fibromyalgia pain management with positive preliminary results.

A Flotation Resurgence

There’s no doubt that scientific research backs some benefits of flotation. Still, the research has been imperfect. For one, studies are generally small. For another, it’s not obvious what counts as an adequate experimental control for flotation: Relaxing in a dark room? Going about daily activities? The mysticism and recreational drug use that surround flotation have also slowed research on the technique by the broader scientific community.

Nonetheless, Suedfeld is hopeful for the future of his life’s work. “There is a resurgence of the research since the 2000s,” he told me, “(mostly) replications and extensions of work done in the 1980s-90s.”

Float houses will continue to advertise their outsize lists of the treatment’s benefits. But the key to wider scientific acceptance might be for scientists to rein in theirs, Suedfeld says. “’Be courageous in what we try, cautious in what we claim,’” he said, borrowing an aphorism from psychologist Neal Miller. “I’ve always liked that one, and I think we should adopt that.”

As for me, when I left the float house reflecting on my session, I was suddenly painfully aware of the incessant car honks and busy footsteps from the bustling streets – noises I had almost forgotten about in my hour of disconnection. Was the experience transformative? No. But I felt calm and relaxed for the first time in weeks. To me, that’s good enough therapy.


Images courtesy floathouse.ca

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Top Posts
  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    Magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt) is typically added to the water to increase its density. Mg(2+) is psychoactive, and it diffuses through hydrated skin. People do not like being alone when they are in poor company.

    The brain demands input. Go deaf in a frequency band and your ear (that part of your brain) whistles at that frequency. Amputate a limp and the phantom limb in its place screams at you, Hire a brilliant high autist only allocate four days of work/week, and he must create (hence Google’s eldritch conquests).

    Enjoy being yourself as you will. Self-awareness is overall better than a gram chasing a damn – but text benefits from punctuation.

    • http://jayarava.blogspot.com Jayarava

      I can find no evidence that Mg++ is psycho-active. Not all amputees experience phantom limb pain. Not all deaf people have tinnitus.

      • wendyo123

        my uncle recently got a nearly new
        black Volkswagen Touareg SUV by working off of a pc… blog link B­i­g­4­1­.­ℂ­o­m

      • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

        doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2011.12.029 Circulatory magnesium potentiates analgesia through N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor antagonism. Don’t claim climate when weather is blowing the shingles off your roof.

        • http://jayarava.blogspot.com Jayarava

          “The action of NMDA receptor channel antagonists was studied in native NMDA receptors of hippocampus CA1 pyramidal neurons isolated from rat brain slices.”

          I think your conclusion is beyond an extrapolation too far.

        • DanD

          Analgesics are not psychoactive. They might be pharmaceutically active, but that is not the same thing. Analgesia cancels pain, it does not induce any other sensation. (You may be confused because many modern pain killers are opioids, which induce euphoria.)

          Also relevant is that magnesium is widely present in foods, and does not have any effects of the type you are describing.

          Additionally, magnesium doesn’t absorb through skin, even through water logged skin. So, no, bathing in epsom salts does not increase the magnesium concentration in your body. If it did, swimming in the ocean would do so.

          So, basically, wrong on every count.

          • lenasiggy

            If I didn’t experience it myself, I would agree with you. Look up “magnesium oil” on the internet. I use it on a regular basis on myself to alleviate my fibromyalgia symptoms, and also on my entire family when they have sore muscles, and it works almost immediately. If you read the book “Magnesium Miracle” you would know that magnesium is a mineral that is absorbed through the skin and it takes a lot of repeated doses to build up in your system, because it is held within the cells of your body. Only a very small percentage of it circulates in your bloodstream. When a person is having a heart attack, one of the first things they do is administer an IV of magnesium (sulfate I believe). It helps the muscles in your body and your blood vessels dilate and relax. That is why so many people tell you to go Oceanside to heal. We are all low on magnesium since it is depleted in our soils and food sources.

          • CherrySoda

            Magnesium absolutely absorbs thru the skin via neuro-receptors. The same way you can put a clove of garlic in your shoe and within a short time, have garlic breath

      • Kim

        Not all people with tinnitus have lost any hearing. I’ve had sever tinnitus in both ears for over 25 years now. Have my hearing checked regularly, and keep being told I have more sensitive hearing than a regular person with acute hearing. It’s annoying, sometimes “painful”, and just a downright pain in the you-know-what! Anyone think this tank would help calm it, and insomnia? Thanks!

    • Gary Deezy

      What were you smoking when you typed this?

      • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

        Reality wrapped in peer-reviewed technical literature, ignited by disgust at faith versus reproducible observation.

        • Emkay

          the faithless go to hell…

    • Emkay

      ” People do not like being alone when they are in poor company”, if you are the ‘company I can see why… Sober up and post something that makes sense…
      “Self-awareness is overall better than a gram chasing a damn” WTF does that mean?… Do not reply, what a waste of time and space…

      • Aviyl

        Does it hurt to think? If you don’t understand, that’s your problem. You say all this, then command this person to not reply to your wanderings. “Do not reply, what a waste of time and space…”. This shows gross disrespect for others but mainly yourself.

        • Emkay

          sswwooosshh…right over your head!

          • phishwg56

            Right, wrong, or any level of indifference, you are pompous individual. With no self respect, or respect for others statements or opinions. I llook forward to your feedback.

          • Emkay

            feedback is simple.. ESAD !

          • phishwg56

            nice, did you stay up nights to come up with that?

          • Emkay

            even simpler.. EMSAD….

    • sharkonwhisky

      Why not read up on the vast literature of scientific research supporting the various benefits of float tank therapy before spouting off uninformed nonsense?? How and why do you think you know better than all of this accumulated evidence?

      Also your comment about Mg(2+) is a fanciful extrapolation…potentiating psychoactivity does NOT equate to psychoactivity…CBD in cannabis is considered an analgesic but is not considered a psychoactive substance, so your point here is not valid.

  • Mea

    Did this in the 80s when Altered States was big. It was awesome. It takes 30 minutes for your nerves to stop seeking stimulus then all goes quiet. I didn’t hallucinate but the relaxation was unmatched. Everything turns back on when you come out and you’re super alive..you tingle for a long while. Lights are brighter, sound louder. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

  • Cali Bound

    How do you not get puckered night after night?

    • Garrett K

      “The reason for the inclusion of the Epsom Salt is partially cosmetic: the increase in ionic strength prevents some of the temporary skin wrinkling (partial maceration) which is caused by prolonged immersion of extremities in pure water. However, magnesium sulfate (Epsom Salt) can also be absorbed into the skin, reducing inflammation.”

      As per Wikipedia :)

      • Bradley Rogers

        Magnesium sulphate helps to create serotonin (happy chem) in the brain… so not quite so cosmetic

  • Nikhil

    meditate instead!! This experience will be like a snapshot then.

    • Garrett K

      Do both! Both are very beneficial, and have a very synergistic relationship with each other. I’ve found that my mind quiets very quickly when spending time in a float tank, and this transfers to my sitting meditation practice.. allowing me to get to a deeper state more rapidly :)

      Less head noise through floating = a variety of benefits during sitting meditation.

      • Nikhil

        With your access to the float gone,your peace will also go away..But with meditation whatever is the state of your surroundings you will remain immersed in the centre of silence. I have experienced it ..it would be much better if you experience it WITHOUT the float.. I am not against this practice but just being dependent on this is not the way. As a beginning you can use it but later you have to be on your own..

        • Garrett K

          Out of curiosity, how much time have you spent in the float tank? I, and many others, would disagree that the peace disappears without access to the float tank. Numerous people have found that it lasts for a significant amount of time. With meditation – I’ve found that the meditative peace lasts for maybe a day. So I have to do it again the next day.

          How many years worth of prior meditation did it take you, until you became immersed in the centre of silence? Also, why would it be better to experience it WITHOUT the float? And do you have any ways to guide a mother of 4, who is very stressed out, to that point? Also, why do you feel that you can only use it at the beginning, and that you ‘have’ to later be on your own?

          • Nikhil

            First i want to make it clear that I am not against anyone using it. But just stopping with the float >?!
            1. Peace disappears? It never disappears ,it is just that you lose access to it.
            2. Meditation is not just sitting in a particular place closing your eyes and observing your thoughts, meditation is being being mindful in each every action you do, observing every action you do..no matter what you DO. Eating food? eat with awareness ,getting your children ready ? do it with awareness no matter what you do,who you are, it does not matter.
            3. Experiencing it with the float “only” you will fool yourself into thinking that this is it, this the ultimate I can experience. Be mindful in every act you do .. And by your own you will experience something much more substantial than what you experience with the float.
            4. At times you may find yourself losing your awareness , don’t make that an issue. Making it an issue will not help. Sooner than later you will find yourself being in a state of awareness more and more…

            Did you read this with awareness ? 😉

          • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Paula Carnes

            Anyone up for trying this water experience should first read “Testing the Spirits” by Hillstrom pages 60-63. No matter what your religious persuasion you may want to think twice about sensory deprivation. Hillstrom mentioned John Lilly, MD who used sensory deprivation himself. After years of this experience he was not so excited about it. (I have to add that he also used LSD.) But read the book for information on how this might affect you. I think I will stick to mindful swimming myself.

          • Nikhil

            Mindful swimming ! Yeah sounds like a better and natural option!

          • Garrett K

            Lilly was using floatation tanks LONG before taking LSD. He mentions that in either “The Deep Self” or “Centre of the Cyclone”, which are both books written by him. Lilly was also super super cautious about using LSD. It was very carefully calculated & set up, in a very analytical way.

            Lilly was quite excited about floating, from the first time he experienced it, all the way until he died. Not sure where you’re getting that he wasn’t excited about it.. cause from all of the books I’ve read by Lilly, he loved floating more than anyone on the planet.

          • Floatworks

            Renowned American theoretical physicist known for his work in the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics Richard Feynman. Described in this popular book “Surely your joking, Mr Feynman” as having pleasant hallucinations and out-of-body experiences while using floatation tanks and didn’t describe any of his experiences in a negative way.

          • sharkonwhisky

            Paula I think you’re mixing up John Lilly’s view of the drug ketamine with that of floatation…he went off ketamine but remained enthused about floatation throughout his life.

          • Emkay

            5. damn, I have to go to work all day!

          • Nikhil

            haha…you can be mindful in your workplace too!

          • Floatworks

            The term “meditation” can refer to the state itself, as well as the different practices and techniques employed to cultivate that state.

            Mindfulness is just one of many methods and is currently “on trend” as was transcendental meditation a few years ago.

            I have used the floatation tank extensively over the many years and during that time have been an advocate of Tai Chi / Chi Kung – a form of moving meditation, through the coordination of slow flowing movements, deep rhythmic breathing and calm meditative states of mind.

            Meditation is about achieving states of balance, harmony and homoeostasis.

            In my experience of running a floatation tank centre for the past 22 years the effects of the floatation experience are cumulative and can stay with you for weeks at a time.

            For the uninitiated floatation can be a fast track to the meditative state. This has been proven through EEG readings that liken brain wave patterns achieved whist floating to those attained by experienced meditation practitioners.

            I have seen time and time again people come to our float centre suffering from stress, anxiety and depression. They have 3 or 4 one hour float sessions and completely turn their state of mind back to a far happier and balance disposition. Often experiencing profound insights as to why they’d become so unhealthy.and discontented.

          • Emkay

            hydrocodone? or oxycodone? which is it?

          • SosaysYou

            I know this was like two years ago but you were, hopefully you’ve changed, a sanctimonious bore and not a good ambassador of meditation.

        • sharkonwhisky

          The peace induced by a float tank session lasts much longer than that induced by a meditation session, so both have their place. The benefits of float tank therapy overlap with meditation to a large degree but you are still going to gain more benefits by meditating daily and floating occasionally than meditating alone.

    • sharkonwhisky

      There is research showing that the cumulative effect of floating can have long term effects when out of the tank, for example on cortisol or stress hormone levels. So in certain respects, floatation has much longer term effects than meditation. So I would say do both…floatation is very likely to augment your meditation practice out of the tank, but it has been found to have longer term and more comprehensive and far reaching effects than meditation alone.

  • Mabel

    I’d like to try it at least once. It sounds cool.

  • Gunasekhar Tirupati

    I went for a sensory deprivation using floatation tank in San Diego area in 2011 as I had read much about it earlier through various sources. After that 1 hour session I felt relaxed and one stunning difference is that the senses had become very sharp. Colors became vibrant, hearing became acute and presence of mind improved for few days. For those who already practice some kind of meditation or relaxation the changes will be subtle, but for others it will be really dramatic. If we had cheaper ways of inducing similar sensory deprivation at homes, it would be very very beneficial.

  • Dimitri Ledkovsky

    Definitely on my bucket list.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Andrea Mckeeby

      Agreed !

  • Vanessa Hooper

    DO NOT discourage people from mediating whatever form they choose! I have a hard time sitting for meditation practice anymore since I broke my back in a car accident. This tank sounds like heaven to me. If the mother of 4 thinks getting away from stimulus would help her, (& I don’t see how it couldn’t) then let her find peace. We’re not all on the path to enlightenment in this life, so DON’T discourage people from taking steps in the right direction!

  • george


  • 18235

    1960s hippies did this—-and they wound up being down on their luck 1970s me generation types.

    • Greg

      Fast forward to 2015. Both teams in this year’s Superbowl float on a regular basis (The Seahawks even have a float pod in their training facility). They are used by sufferers of fibromyalgia (There is a current study going on). The Laureate Institute for Brain Research in Tulsa Oklahoma just built a state of the art float facility to begin conducting scientific studies on the effects that floating has on the brain. People with PTSD are reporting positive results from floating. Just because some hippies once did it, doesn’t mean that police officers, firefighters, veterans, athletes, stressed out parents and your neighbors aren’t doing and enjoying it.

  • http://floatationtanks.com/ Floatation International

    The main thing is that it works. It’s not exactly clear how it works, but there’s enough experimental and anecdotal evidence to show that it does indeed work. As another poster noted, senses become enhanced after a float. It’s the one place you can go to get away from everything except for your own body and mind. For some people, this can be a disconcerting thought… until they try it. :-)

  • lenasiggy

    The whole reason you get the results is the Epsom Salt, magnesium sulfate solution. It really has hardly anything to do with the sensory deprivation or actual floating. The magnesium sulfate is a nerve stimulant, and most people are severely deficient in this mineral. Only a small percent of the magnesium in your body is held in your blood; all the rest is held within your cells. The magnesium is absorbed through your skin via osmosis, and therefore your cell functioning increases, hence the heightened senses and quicker reflexes. It nourishes your nerves. When people are having a heart attack, the solution fed intravenously is a form of magnesium. It relaxes the muscles and dilates the blood vessels. If you are low in magnesium and high in calcium, your muscles are tighter than they should be.

    • sharkonwhisky

      Are you a world leading scientific authority of float tank therapy?? No, I didn’t think so. The magnesium from the Epsom salts does indeed play a role in the therapeuitic effects, but claiming that it responsible for ALL the benefits of floating is an unfounded and ridiculous statement not supported by the scientific research on floating.

      • lenasiggy

        sharkonwhisky , not sure why you are so cynical and against the floatation therapy. And your arguments don’t “hold water” when you have to lower yourself to abusive comments and sweeping negative generalizations. Why are you wasting your time on a discussion about the benefits of it? Get on another discussion about the benefits of meditation therapy. Maybe if you shared the resources you are making your deductions from, people would respect your opinion more.

        • sharkonwhisky

          What?? I’m not the one being cynical here, you are. And how on Earth did you possibly interpret me being against floatation therapy?? Please point out a single word of mine that was attacking floatation as a form of therapy. You made a statement…that ALL the benefits gained from floating are from magnesium absorption…as if you know this as indisputable, proven fact. Which of course it isn’t, it’s baloney and your unfounded speculative opinion…but you were presenting it as proven scientific fact so I thought I should call you out on it, I won’t let ignorance slice. I think it very likely the magnesium contributes to the therapeutic effect, but to say that is the only variable in floatation that has a beneficial effect makes no sense and the research in so far suggests there is more to it than that. It’s really very simple, and I stand by what I have already stated very clearly.

          • lenasiggy

            Yes, you are a shark on whiskey. And argumentative. Rather than appreciate the information and add to it, you take the counter point, which really doesn’t amount to much. Of course, the darkness and “meditation” atmosphere can help. But most of the benefits are from the Epsom Salts, otherwise we would be hearing a lot more from people using just plain water, and there would be companies opening up using the same. So you “called me” on it.

          • Maggie

            Nobody does this with plain water because it would then just be a quiet, dark bathtub. The ability to float without trying or feeling is what separates this from other sensory deprivation methods (that I’ve researched so far, at least). The Epsom salt is necessary, but the current studies don’t really show that the benefits are caused by its chemical reaction within our bodies. I don’t know if there would be another way to create such buoyant water, but it would make for a great experiment to truly test out that theory.

          • sharkonwhisky

            You can’t use “just plain water” as you will sink, the epsom salts are principally added for buoyancy and to support the body while it floats…use plain water and you won’t float so it kinda goes against the whole point of floatation!! It doesn’t have to be epsom salts either…sodium chloride or sea salt was used in the past, and floaters have stated the benefits received from this when floating were the same. There is ongoing research in the US at the float clinic at the Laureate Institute for Brian Research at the University of Oklahoma looking at what extent magnesium is absorbed by the body during floatation.

        • sharkonwhisky

          When did I ever state I was against floatation therapy?? I’m just calling people out making grand sweeping statements on floatation when they clearly don’t know the bigger picture. It is very unlikely that ALL the benefits of floatation therapy come from the magnesium being absorbed via the epsom salts…what is unreasonable about that?

    • delicate_dream

      Interesting…soaking in Epsom salts is definitely no new age thing. People have been soaking up the benefits of that for a long time (pun intended ….har har). I started taking magnesium daily and saw my mood dramatically improved every month at my period. No more bloating too, although I still get cramps and headaches. That alone has made me a believer. I also heard most people are magnesium deficient (especially women….?), and so it’s a smart supplement to take.
      To me this basically sounds like a nice Epsom salt soak, meditation (which you’re rather forced into) and relaxation. Yeah, making time out for that sort of thing will definitely help people mentally and physically. Acting like it’s a spiritual thing…nah. Unless you’re praying to God then it’s just you and your own brain.
      That your brain is super creative and will create all kinds of new images and sounds for you is not surprising. Artists and musicians experience this sort of thing regularly. You’re just more aware of your subconscious.

  • lenasiggy

    The whole reason this “works” is the magnesium. Without it, there would be no lingering effects. It is absorbed into your skin while you float, and feeds your cells through osmosis.

    • Bradley Rogers

      I agree that Magnesium does play a part – it helps in the production of serotonin but also the weightlessness, the loss of senses also plays it’s part – it really is a very profound experience.

  • Pia Llama

    It was invented by John C. Lilly. He was a genius. So worth a mention.

  • Marygrace~

    Where would one find this service? I would love to try it.

  • Bradley Rogers

    It’s finished already?

  • #traitorscum

    I will try this.

  • Pong Cheecharern

    A little late to the article, but I’m looking to get into sensory deprivation therapy. I’m wondering if anybody has experience with multiply types of float tanks and if one is better than another (for example, float rooms or

  • Zeeshan Mahmud

    Amazing writing. Obviously the float did the trick. lol

  • Matthew Smith

    Absolutely worth it. I’ve only done it once but the following two or three days were among the most stress-free of my life.

  • Charles Ray

    This has been a strange discussion stream, to be sure. Several months ago it seemed to be people who had never tried the experience, posting nonsensical things and trying to prove what internet Geniuses they are. Now the discussion seems more grounded, which is a good thing. Being prior military and having some Associated trauma, I tried floating on the recommendation of a friend. I was a bit skeptical, not only because it seemed a little too new-age age, but also because for various reasons, I am extremely claustrophobic. Not to sound sexist, but my friend is a tiny little female who was going to give it a shot, so regardless of my claustrophobia, as a big, ex-military, alpha male, I was determined not to allow myself to be outdone by this tiny little lady. When I first entered the chamber, it took me about 10 minutes to get past the feeling of wanting to break everything and get out, but after that I began to feel very relaxed and peaceful. I spent about an hour in the chamber and after coming out, had a feeling of peacefulness and slight euphoria that lasted for several days. consequently I was determined to try it again. Since that time several months ago, I have been floating about every other week if not more often, and The Sensation gets more intense with every float. Personally, I don’t know if it is a going back to the womb type of thing, a buildup of magnesium, a religious experience, or something entirely psychosomatic, but I really don’t give a rip. All I know it’s that it has given me a sense of peace. I don’t know why lying in a chamber in the dark, and epsom salt water would have that effect on me, and I don’t care. You guys can continue to debate the chemical or physiological reasons that it happens if you want, but I can tell you that, for whatever reason it works. At least for me it does.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

About Shelly Fan

Shelly Xuelai Fan is a PhD Candidate in Neuroscience at the University of British Columbia, where she studies protein degradation in neurodegenerative diseases. She is a science writer with an insatiable obsession with the brain. She mulls over neuroscience, microbiomes and nutrition at her personal blog Neurorexia.


See More

Collapse bottom bar