Sauna Guide

How Long Should You Stay in the Sauna? The 7 Questions to Ask Before Your First Session

There is one question every new sauna bather asks before entering the gym, spa, or hotel sauna.  How long should you stay in the sauna? 

The answer for most new sauna users is 15 minutes per round with cool-downs in between.  Never stay in the sauna for more than 20 minutes without supervision.  Factors to consider include general health, age, previous sauna experience, and desire to become pregnant.  We explore each of these factors below.

The most important thing to remember when deciding how long to stay in the sauna is to listen to your body and don’t overdo it.

To sauna responsibly you should always have a sauna buddy, limit alcohol, drink more water than you think you need, and get out when your body tells you to.

Finnish Sauna Wisdom and Science are Aligned

People have been asking how long to stay in the sauna for centuries, and we can learn a lot from cultures where sauna has always been popular like Finland.

The sauna has an important role in the life of many Finnish people, who sauna 5-7 days per week.  Sauna plays an important role in family life in Finland, and exposure to sauna starts when kids are very young.  Because of this, Finland does not necessarily have the answer for how long a beginner should stay in the sauna.

The wisdom from the ages says that most people can start out using a sauna a few times a week and then increase to up to daily use.

Finnish Dry sauna bathing generally is defined as one to three sessions, each of 5 to 20 minutes. In between these sessions are periods of cooling. The cooling can be rapid, such as rolling around in snow or jumping into cold water, or even standing under a cold shower. 

Using a Finnish sauna daily is okay to do for most people, but we now have sauna research and studies that provide more nuance.

Scientists have extensively studied different temperatures in the sauna, different time lengths to stay in the sauna, and even different types of people and what types of benefits they can expect. 

7 Questions That Impact How Long You Should Stay in the Sauna

The answer to how long you should sit in the sauna depends on answers to these questions:

Question 1: How healthy are you right now? 

The healthier you are, the longer you can stay in the Finnish sauna in the very beginning of establishing your new sauna habits. 

The usual time is anywhere from 10 minutes to 20 minutes, but some protocols such as the Ron Hubbard Sauna Detox Protocol increase the length of time to several hours a day in a Finnish sauna. Don’t expect to stay in the sauna for several hours a day unless you are familiar with this protocol however, as you will need supplementation of electrolytes at levels that aren’t expected. 

When it comes to infrared saunas, the limit is usually set at 45 minutes tops.  

What’s the Difference In Effects Between Those Who Are In Shape and Those Who Aren’t With Saunas?

One university study from Poland discovered great news about the answer to this question. They found that no matter what type of shape people were in, they all received benefits from the sauna. Of course, you should realize they only tested exercisers; couch potatoes were not included.

Those who were in excellent shape exercising up to 28 hours a week adapted to heat stress (and get the anti-inflammation benefits) better than those who were only exercising up to 90 minutes a week. The participants spent two 15-minute time periods in a Finnish sauna room at 98.2 degrees C with 8-12% humidity and took a 5-minute break for cooling in a shower that was 18+ or – 2 degrees C (1).

Question 2: Is it your first sauna bath – do you sauna regularly? 

Common sense will tell you that you will feel more uncomfortable in the sauna the first time rather than the successive times. Thus, you will naturally increase the time you spend in the sauna after the first few times. 

Your body adapts in many ways to sauna heat over time. It adapts on a hormonal, cardiovascular, immune system and nervous system level. Even your skin adapts to the sauna. Thus, you can expect to be able to stay in a Finnish sauna bath longer if it’s your 5th or 6th time, compared to your 1st or 2nd.  But remember that if you’re using an infrared sauna, keep the maximum time set at 45 minutes.

Question 3: Are you trying to get your partner pregnant?

If you’re in the reproductive time of your life, Italian scientists have a few recommendations. In the sauna, the temperature of the scrotum is increased, which can alter the rate of sperm formation. 

They studied 10 men who had 3 months of Finnish sauna sessions at the rate of two 15-minute sessions per week. The temperature inside the sauna room was 80-90 degrees C. At the end of the 3 months, the sperm count and motility was decreased greatly without affecting the sex hormone levels. 

The sperm did recover fully by the sixth month after the saunas stopped.  So these researchers are pretty much saying that if you’re planning a family, wait awhile until your wife is pregnant before you use saunas (2).

Question 4: Do you have metabolic disorders or are overweight/obese?

When someone has metabolic disorders, their cholesterol and triglyceride levels are usually elevated. Can those with metabolic disorders go into the sauna without hesitation? 

Researchers in Poland (3) answered this question when they tested 20 females between 19 and 21 years old. They found that after every sauna bath, cholesterol and triglycerides were metabolized better, and their levels decreased. Not only that, but HDL-cholesterol levels – the good cholesterol – increased after repeated sauna baths. 

These are great changes for those with metabolic disorders. How long should you stay in the sauna if you have them? Well, these women stayed in only 30 minutes (one group) while a second group stayed in 40 minutes but had a 5-minute break to cool down. Both groups benefited.

Brazilian researchers reported that sauna heat therapy (and hot tub therapy) benefits type 2 diabetics by lowering the Hemoglobin A1c levels by 1% as well as the fasting blood sugar levels, weight and percentage body fat (4).  

They attribute this to the increase in heat shock protein 70 expression which affects insulin sensitivity, body fat, and inflammation levels. Their recommendation on how long you should sit in the sauna in these cases is 15 minutes at a sauna of 80-100 degrees C three times a week for three months.

BTW, a sauna should not be used for weight loss in the long term.

Question 5: Are you considering the idea that your children can go into the sauna?

In Finland, parents let their infants and children participate in sauna bathing. They follow the limits of safe heat exposure, such as rarely allowing kids into the sauna alone before the age of 7. The parents observe the kids behavior during post sauna bathing such as psychosomatic symptoms, which may mean it’s time to take the child to the pediatrician. They introduce the children to sauna bathing in early infancy (5).

Finnish saunas are heated by electrical or wood burning stoves, which brings an air temperature of 80-100 degrees C, and low humidity levels.  A 30-minute stay in the sauna with a temperature of 80 degrees C increases rectal temperature by about 0.9 degrees C in adults. In children, 10 minutes at 70 degrees C increases rectal temperature by 1.5 degrees C. These levels are accepted in Finland and result in calm and pleasant feelings in those participating in the sauna experience (6).

A German study investigating 47 infants between the age of 3 and 14 months found that all infants could tolerate a short sauna bath lasting 3 minutes followed by staying in a swimming pool for 15 minutes without any side effects.  Their heart and circulation adjustments were perfectly fine and their thermoregulatory and cardiovascular systems worked well (7).

Question 6: Are you pregnant right now?

There have been some worries reported online about saunas increasing the risk of epilepsy if moms sauna bathe during pregnancy. 

Scientists in Denmark answered this question by analyzing 86,810 births and following them up to the age of 9 years old. No increased risk of epilepsy was found (8).

Question 7: Do you have heart disease or high blood pressure?

It has been known for decades that your cardiovascular function will improve, even if you have heart disease. That’s pretty amazing – and it makes us all wonder why health insurance companies aren’t reimbursing patients for buying a home sauna or building an indoor or outdoor sauna at home.

Nevertheless, scientists in Finland studied 102 patients with an average age of 52 years and at least one major cardiovascular risk factor. They only had one 30-minute sauna session (temperature 73 degrees C, humidity 10-20%). Blood pressure decreased and stayed low compared to initial levels. There were significant effects on the stiffness of the arteries. And the left ventricle of the heart was better able to pump blood after the sauna (9-10). 

And in Switzerland, doctors at Bern University carefully monitored what happened to 37 male patients with chronic heart failure or coronary artery disease after they had two consecutive Finnish sauna 80 degree C exposures, followed by cold water (12 degrees C) immersion. The men didn’t dunk their heads under the cold water (11).

They found great improvements in cardiac output and heart rate as well as blood pressure in those who had chronic heart failure. Coronary artery disease patients had benefits after the sauna only. 

The recommendation from the Kuopio Ischemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study (12), showed that men using the sauna 2-3 times a week were 27% less likely to die from heart disease than those that didn’t. Men using the sauna 4-7 times a week were 50% less likely to die from heart disease. If you’re in this category of men, how long should you stay in the sauna? The answer is 19 minutes or more. 

Now you have all the information you need to jump into the indoor or outdoor sauna, Finnish or infrared sauna, do it yourself sauna or portable sauna  – any type of sauna. The next step is up to you!

Sauna References and Further Reading

  1. Zychowska, M., et al. Association of high cardiovascular fitness and the rate of adaptation to heat stress. Biomed Res Int 2018 Feb 2820181685368.
  2. Garolla, A., et al. Seminal and molecular evidence that sauna exposure affects human spermatogenesis. Hum Reprod 2013 Apr;28(4):877-85.)
  3. Pilch, W., et al. Changes in the lipid profile of blood serum in women taking sauna baths of various duration. Int J Occup Med Environ Mealth 2010;23(2):167-74. 
  4. Krause, M., et al. Heat shock proteins and heat therapy for type 2 diabetes: pros and cons. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care 2015 Jul;18(4):374-80. 
  5. Jokinen, E., et al. The sauna and children. Ann Clin Res 1988;20(4):283-6. 
  6. Leppaluoto, J. Human thermoregulation in sauna. Ann Clin Res 1988;20(4):240-3. 
  7. Rissmann, A., et al. Infant’s physiological response to short heat stress during sauna bath. Klin Padiatr 2002 May-Jun;214(3):132-5.
  8. Sun, Y., et al. Prenatal exposure to elevated maternal body temperature and risk of epilepsy in childhood: a population-based pregnancy cohort study. Paediatr Perinat epidemiol 2011 Jan;25(1):53-9. 
  9. Laukkanen, T., et al. Acute effects of sauna bathing on cardiovascular function. J Hum Hypertens 2018 Feb;32(2):129-138. 
  10. Lee, E., et al. Sauna exposure leads to improved arterial compliance: finding from a non-randomised experimental study. Eur J Prev Cardiol 2018 Jan;25(2):130-138. 
  11. Radtke, T., et al. Acute effects of Finnish sauna and cold-water immersion on haemodynamic variables and autonomic nervous system activity in patients with heart failure. Eur J Prev Cardiol 2016 Apr; 23(6):593-601.
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