The Neuroscience of Nothingness

Delving into the Benefits of Sensory Deprivation Tanks

5/28/20234 min read

"Disclaimer: The information provided in this response is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this response

The ways in which our brains process and interpret sensory information are so interesting. One intriguing method for exploring the brain's response to sensory input (or lack thereof) is through the use of sensory deprivation tanks, also known as float tanks or isolation tanks. These tanks provide a unique environment in which individuals can experience near-total sensory deprivation, allowing them to explore the effects of this state on their minds and bodies. In this blog post, I will delve into the science behind sensory deprivation tanks, discuss their potential benefits, and provide a detailed overview of the experience.

The Science of Sensory Deprivation

Sensory deprivation tanks were first developed in the 1950s by neuroscientist Dr. John C. Lilly to study the effects of reduced sensory input on the brain. The tanks are filled with water that is heated to skin temperature and saturated with Epsom salt, creating a buoyant environment that allows users to float effortlessly. The tank is also soundproof and lightproof, effectively eliminating external stimuli.

When the brain is deprived of sensory input, it enters a unique state known as the "resting state." In this state, the brain's default mode network (DMN) becomes more active. The DMN is a network of brain regions that are active when the mind is at rest and not focused on the external world. This network has been linked to self-referential thinking, introspection, and daydreaming.

In the absence of external stimuli, the brain may also increase its production of theta waves, which are associated with deep relaxation, meditation, and the transition between wakefulness and sleep. This shift in brain activity can lead to a range of subjective experiences, including enhanced creativity, introspection, and even altered states of consciousness.

Potential Benefits of Sensory Deprivation
  1. Stress reduction: One of the most well-documented benefits of sensory deprivation is its ability to reduce stress. By providing an environment free from external stimuli, float tanks allow the body's parasympathetic nervous system to become more active, promoting relaxation and reducing the production of stress hormones like cortisol.

  2. Pain relief: Sensory deprivation has been shown to provide relief from various types of pain, including muscle tension, joint pain, and headaches. The buoyancy provided by the Epsom salt solution can alleviate pressure on the joints and muscles, while the reduction in sensory input may help to interrupt pain signals in the brain.

  3. Improved sleep: Many individuals report improved sleep quality following float tank sessions. This may be due to the increased production of theta waves, which are associated with the transition between wakefulness and sleep, as well as the overall relaxation and stress reduction experienced during the session.

  4. Enhanced creativity and problem-solving: The unique mental state induced by sensory deprivation may facilitate creative thinking and problem-solving. By allowing the brain to enter a more introspective and relaxed state, individuals may be better able to access novel ideas and solutions.

  5. Mental health benefits: Preliminary research suggests that sensory deprivation may have potential benefits for individuals with anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The reduction in stress hormones and promotion of relaxation may help to alleviate symptoms of these conditions.

The Sensory Deprivation Experience

A typical sensory deprivation session lasts between 60 and 90 minutes. Upon entering the tank, individuals will first notice the buoyancy provided by the Epsom salt solution, which allows them to float effortlessly on the surface of the water. As the body adjusts to the water's temperature, the floating sensation may become more pronounced, leading to a feeling of weightlessness.

As the session progresses, the lack of sensory input may lead to a range of subjective experiences. Floating in a sensory deprivation tank can be an incredibly peaceful and transformative experience. The sensation of weightlessness and complete darkness removes all external distractions, allowing the mind to enter a deeply meditative state. As the body relaxes, the mind can more easily let go of stress, anxiety, and negative thoughts. This creates space for positive emotions and new ideas to arise. Some people even report having profound spiritual experiences while in a sensory deprivation tank. The water is heated to skin temperature, so it's easy to forget where the body ends and the water begins. Spending time in a sensory deprivation tank can be a rejuvenating and enlightening experience. Some individuals report vivid mental imagery, while others describe a deep sense of relaxation and introspection. It is important to note that each person's experience in a sensory deprivation tank is unique and may vary from session to session.

I've only done this process once and unfortunately for me, it wasn't really that crazy of an experience, but I think I had too much focus on it, I expected too much of it, and I had all these preconceptions of what it was supposed to be like. I also got super stoned beforehand because I think I heard Joe Rogan recommend that or something. but I ended up just feeling wet and bored. I wouldn't discount it though. I would definitely try it again. I've heard about so many amazing experiences, and when I read the guestbook of the place I went I saw review one after another praising this method for its healing properties. I do think there's something to it.

If you're interested in learning more about this method of relaxation, there are several books that can help.

"The Deep Self" by John C. Lilly explores the psychological effects of sensory deprivation and the potential benefits of using it as a tool for self-discovery.

"The Book of Floating" by Michael Hutchison provides a comprehensive guide to the history, science, and practical aspects of floating.

The Float Tank Cure: Free Yourself From Stress, Anxiety, and Pain the Natural Way by Shane Stott is a great resource for beginners, with tips on how to prepare for a float and what to expect during your session.