The benefits of bathing in a sauna or steam room include stress reduction, muscle relaxation and pain relief. Sweating in a sauna cleanses your pores and can make your mind and body feel energized. Saunas aren't right for everyone, however, and you should take some precautions when using a steam room or any kind of heat therapy.
Steam Bathing Time
You should never stay in a sauna or steam room for more than 15 or 20 minutes because the prolonged increase in body temperature can be dangerous. If you start to feel dizzy or nauseous, get out immediately, drink some cold water and cool off. Even if you feel fine after using a sauna, drink 2 to 4 glasses of water to replace the fluids lost through perspiration.
Babies and Pregnant Women
Babies under one year old do not have fully developed temperature regulation systems in their bodies, which makes steam rooms unsafe for them. Children can use steam rooms for short periods of time, but they should never be unsupervised. Pregnant women should also avoid using steam rooms because the steep increase in body temperature can cause serious birth defects, especially in the first trimester.
Men who are having trouble conceiving a child should avoid saunas or other types of heat bathing that raise the temperature in your scrotum. Sperm need slightly cooler temperatures than the rest of the body in order to thrive. The "International Journal of Andrology" reports that men who used a sauna regularly had lower sperm counts and their sperm had reduced motility. Since a man's body is always producing new sperm, these effects are not permanent, but they do temporarily reduce fertility.
The American Heart Association warns that if you have high pressure, you should be careful about using a sauna or steam room. The sauna's heat causes your heart rate to go up and makes your blood vessels dilate, which can cause chest pain or shortness of breath. It is safe to use a steam room if your blood pressure is under control, but you should get out immediately if you start to feel uncomfortable. Additionally, if you have suffered a recent heart attack, you should avoid using steam rooms or saunas. If you have heart or blood pressure problems, never alternate a sauna with a cold bath in quick succession.
Alcohol and Drugs
If you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, do not take a steam bath because the effects on your cardiovascular system can be increased. An intoxicated person may not pay attention to how much time has passed in the heat, or may not notice the early symptoms of over-heating, such as feeling lightheaded or nauseous. There is also the risk of falling asleep, which could be fatal in a steam room.
- The International Journal of Andrology: Effects of Sauna on Sperm Movement Characteristics of Normal Men
- American Heart Association: High Blood Pressure and Hot Tubs (Saunas)
- The American Journal of Medicine: The Benefits and Risks of Sauna Bathing
- The Finnish Sauna: Sauna and Your Health
- American Pregnancy Association: Using Saunas During Pregnancy