Why Do I Feel Worse After an Infrared Sauna Session?

Medically reviewed by Dr. Justin Ternes
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If saunas are supposed to be healthy and leave me feeling revitalized, why do I feel worse after an infrared sauna session than I did before I stepped inside? This is a surprisingly common question with clear and simple explanations, additionally, there are a few things you can do to ensure that you feel great after every session.

Infrared saunas can make you feel worse when the session is over, typically due to dehydration rather than anything to do with the sauna itself. To manage this: hydrate well, don’t take it too hot, and if you’re new to sauna use then start short and work up to longer sessions over time.

Infrared saunas and traditional saunas are generally considered healthy, in fact, people use them to feel better overall. It’s frustrating to end your sauna session feeling terrible when you were hoping to feel better. Don’t abandon the sauna life just yet. When you understand the effects saunas have on your body, you can take steps to avoid those unpleasant feelings and actually enjoy how you feel during and after your experience. 

Effects of Sauna Use on Your Body

oung woman in the infrared sauna

Sometimes, people feel awful after stepping out of the sauna. You might experience unpleasant symptoms after your sessions such as headaches, exhaustion, aches and pains, brain fog, anxiety, and depression-like symptoms, even if you’ve just used an infrared blanket.

You feel a certain way after sauna use because saunas directly impact your whole body. While infrared saunas offer a wealth of benefits and help you feel healthy and well, they do have some negative effects on your body that can explain why you might feel worse immediately following an infrared sauna session. Some of those effects include:

  • Dehydration. This is one of the top reasons people often don’t feel well upon stepping out of the sauna. The point of a sauna is to raise your body temperature and make you sweat, but this causes excess fluid loss. There’s a real risk of losing too much fluid and becoming dehydrated during and after sauna use.
  • Increased circulation. As your body heats, blood circulation becomes more efficient. Also, the amount of blood flowing to the surface of your skin increases. This is a way that the body eliminates accumulated toxins. Not all toxins escape through the pores of the skin, though, which means that some are left circulating through your system. Not only that, they’re flowing around more rapidly than they were when your body was cool (before entering the sauna).
  • Low blood pressure. The excess heat and increased circulation can cause the heart to work harder and blood pressure to drop.
  • Increased heart rate. Also because of the heat, your heart rate speeds up as much as it does with moderate exercise. As mentioned, your heart is working harder, which means an accelerated heart rate that you can sometimes feel.
  • Changes at the molecular level. The electromagnetic energy of an infrared sauna penetrates deep into the body. The unique wavelength of infrared light can affect the molecular bonds within the cells of your body. While this isn’t considered dangerous and is believed to contribute to the health benefits of a sauna, it does affect the inner workings of your body and how you feel. Your body might feel different when you leave the sauna, and because it’s different, you might perceive this as not feeling well.
  • Intensified symptoms of underlying health conditions. Those with certain health disorders, especially (but not exclusively) heart, kidney, or skin conditions, might find that an infrared sauna makes their symptoms worse.

Rare Causes of Feeling Bad After Infrared Sauna Use

You may run across claims that infrared sauna use makes you feel ill because you have a compromised blood-brain barrier (BBB) or a leaky gut. While this information is not necessarily incorrect, it is a bit alarmist. Here’s what you need to know about these conditions to help you decide if they might apply to you. 

Understanding Sauna Effects on the Blood-Brain Barrier

Both conditions involve a compromised barrier within the brain and the gastrointestinal tract (the gut) separately. The barriers are protective, keeping harmful toxins either out of the brain or confined within the gut and out of the rest of the body. 

In the brain, the barrier is made up of a lining of special cells within the capillaries, the tiny blood vessels that supply nutrients to the brain cells. These special epithelial cells allow nutrients to pass through but prevent harmful substances from flowing into brain cells. 

Sometimes, changes occur in these cells, causing the barrier to “loosen” and allowing toxins into brain cells. This happens in the case of specific infections, such as bacterial meningitis. It can also be a factor in diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS). While it is possible for the BBB to become damaged, it is rare. Most people are not at high risk of BBB damage.

Understanding Sauna Effects on the Digestive Tract

In the case of a leaky gut, the lining of the digestive tract becomes compromised, and toxins leach out of the gut and into the bloodstream where they circulate and cause damage. Not all doctors recognize the validity of leaky gut syndrome. Also, the lining of everyone’s gut is a bit semipermeable on purpose. Whether leaky gut is directly responsible for toxicity and health conditions is still being researched. 

While rare, a compromised BBB and leaky gut are conditions that do allow toxins to enter the brain cells and body. This can cause health problems that are aggravated by sauna use (because, as explored above, spending time in a sauna increases circulation, including the movement of toxins in the body). 

Regardless of the cause, it is common to feel worse after an infrared sauna session, especially when you are a first-time sauna user. Luckily, you can do things to minimize the negative effects of sauna use and feel better.

Ways to Minimize Negative Effects of Sauna Use

Man relaxing in a luxury infrared sauna

The negative effects of sauna use are, to a limited degree, a natural part of the sauna experience. A sauna is supposed to heal your body, increase circulation, increase your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, and make you sweat.

An infrared sauna is supposed to affect the cells of your body at the molecular level. While you can’t (and don’t want to) change this physical response to a sauna, you can minimize feeling worse because of it. 

The keys to feeling great after your session are hydration, sauna temperature, time spent inside the sauna, starting slowly, your own health, and a healthy lifestyle outside of the sauna.

Hydrate and Don’t Go Too Hot

Perhaps the biggest factor in improving the way you feel afterward is staying hydrated. Drink a lot of water before, during, and after your session, at least six cups across the whole experience.

Also, make sure you’re drinking water rather than caffeinated beverages or alcohol. Caffeine and alcohol contribute to dehydration and can make you feel (and actually become) very ill when you consume them at any time around your sauna session. 

Although heat and sweat are the foundation of any sauna experience, hotter is not better. Instead, it can be dangerous. Monitor your sauna’s temperature regularly to ensure it’s in the safe zone.

An infrared sauna should be between 130 and 150 degrees Fahrenheit (43- and 54 degrees Celsius). Saunas vary, so know the manufacturer’s recommendations for your sauna, and never exceed the maximum temperature.

If You’re New the Saunas, Take it Slow 

Less is more when it comes to sauna use. Benefits don’t increase the longer you stay in. On the contrary, it’s the negative effects that increase with the length of time. Never stay in an infrared sauna longer than 30 minutes. 

Often, the people who feel the worst after a session are people who are new to the experience. It’s important to let your body get used to sauna use, just like you gradually let your body adjust to exercising. Think of it as sauna training.

Newbies should limit sessions to 10 minutes the first few times and gradually add a few minutes per session until reaching the half-hour mark. Also, consider doing your first session (and the next few, too) on a weekend or when you have a few days off in a row. This will allow you to minimize activity and rest so your body can recover. 

Take Into Account Your Overall Health

Know your own health and your own limits. If you have underlying health conditions or are pregnant, adjust your time and temperature accordingly. Also, always check with your doctor before starting a sauna routine.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle will help prevent you from crashing when you step out of the sauna. It’s important to power your body with the right nutrients and regular exercise. A sauna is a part of healthy living rather than a pass to do unhealthy stuff.

If your body isn’t in good shape or is functioning poorly because of an unhealthy diet, you won’t feel great after sauna use. 

Sauna Use and Detox Products

A word on detox products is in order so you can consider whether they’ll help you avoid the negative effects of sauna use. Some people, many of whom are not medical professionals, recommend the use of toxin binders.

These are substances like Zen Charcoal (on Amazon) and pyrophyllite clay that you take, often in pill form, to help clear the body of toxins, especially associated with leaky gut or a compromised BBB. They work by binding to toxins as they move through your gut and carrying them out of your body.

If you’re considering using them, do so with care. They’re not regulated by the FDA, and they could be a waste of money at best and dangerous to your health at worst.

It’s always best to consult with a doctor before taking any type of supplement. You can also take some simple steps to prepare for a great sauna session. They’ll help you avoid feeling worse afterward.

How to Prep for a Great Sauna Session

Think of your sauna time as a full experience that begins long before you open the door to step and lasts a while after you close the door behind you when you leave.

While feeling worse after an infrared sauna experience is normal, especially when you first start, it doesn’t have to be your norm. You can minimize the negative effects on your body and feel great, in fact, here are just a few things you can do:

  • Begin to drink water at least an hour before entering. Aim for several glasses upfront. 
  • Eat a light, healthy snack to keep your blood sugar level, but avoid large meals because your blood flow will be diverted away from your gut and toward your skin’s surface. A big meal will be left hanging and be very uncomfortable. 
  • Set a timer so you don’t exceed 30 minutes.
  • Consider taking a break half way through to cool off and drink more water.
  • Check the temperature of your sauna periodically while inside.
  • Keep sipping water slowly the entire time you’re inside. 
  • When your session ends, take a cool shower to rinse salt, residue, and toxins from your skin (but don’t use soap).
  • Relax and recuperate before jumping into intense activity.
  • Keep drinking water. 

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