Flotation Tanks

Why Sensory Deprivation is a Good Thing

By Brandon Twyford

Since the day you were born, you’ve been assaulted by a barrage of stimuli on your senses, beginning with your cold, harsh exit from the womb to the constant tug of gravity on your adult body. Even asleep, your ears still unconsciously pick up sounds, and all the tiny muscles in your neck still work to support your head on the pillow. Is there no escape from the continual onslaught of computer screens, phone calls, and traffic noise, the constant white noise of modern life? Is there no way to completely unplug your senses or body?

Flotation tanks, also known as isolation tanks or sensory deprivation tanks, were originally designed to do exactly this—remove the body and mind from all sensory stimuli for the purpose of studying the brain. The first isolation tank was developed in 1954 by John C. Lily, MD, and stood upright, requiring the subject to be submerged in water and breathe through a ventilator. The design has evolved since then, and now flotation tanks are sleek pods, or even entire rooms, where subjects float carefree on their back in the salt-infused water.

The Research

Floating in a sensory deprivation tank is purported to have a host of health benefits, including decreased stress, depression, anxiety, and pain, and increased optimism and sleep quality.1 In addition to these benefits, a 2018 study found that flotation therapy is a safe and effective method for reducing muscle tension and improving mood.2 The roster of professional athletes who use flotation tanks is impressive and growing, and includes NFL quarterback Tom Brady and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, US Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman, and the Golden State Warriors basketball team.3 Track and field star Carl Lewis reportedly used in-tank visualization techniques to prepare for his gold-medal long jump at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Julian Edelman, a wide receiver for the New England Patriots, was skeptical at first, but after experiencing flotation for himself, says, “Once you get comfortable with it, it feels like you’re just on a cloud or something because there’re no pressure points. For athletes, I’m 120 percent all in on it.”4
While some critics contend the scientific evidence for the claims of flotation tanks’ health benefits is tenuous or exaggerated, there’s no denying that it just feels good to float. It’s the perfect way to unplug and de-stress, to take a break from everything. Where else do you get a chance to remove yourself from the noise around you, to feel weightless, to be completely alone with your thoughts for an hour or more? With the weight of your body removed from the equation, the flotation tank is also the ideal vehicle for practicing meditation.
When floating, there is anywhere from 800–1,000 pounds of Epsom salt in the tank, making the water dense enough that you can fall asleep and not worry about sinking. The temperature of the water matches the temperature of your skin exactly. It’s pitch black and silent inside the tank. All these factors make floating in a flotation tank nothing like floating in a pool or the ocean—it’s more like floating in space.

Where Can You Float?

Dedicated float studios are popping up across the country. If you don’t have one in your area, check with yoga studios, spas, or other alternative healing centers, as these often incorporate flotation tanks into their offerings. Similar to massage, prices typically range from $50–$100 for a session.
An intriguing new development in recent years is the introduction of affordable, consumer versions of flotation tanks for home use. At the forefront of this trend is Zen Float Company, which raised approximately $300,000 on Kickstarter for their first tent-like flotation tank prototype. The current, redesigned version is sturdier, easier to maintain, and easier to ship due to its lighter, drop-stitch inflatable technology. The shell is similar to an inflatable stand-up paddleboard, which, when deflated, is small and light, but has a hard-shell exterior when you blow it up.
What are the pros and cons of having a float tank in your home? According to Shane Stott, co-owner of Zen Float Company, the most obvious benefit is you can float anytime you want. “Your health is an investment, and while a tank costs more upfront, having 24-7 access will help you develop a regular float routine for maximum benefits. Whether you float in the morning to set the tone for the rest of your day, or at night to quiet the mind before you sleep, you can do it in privacy and at your convenience with a tank at home,” Stott says.
With this convenience comes the need to maintain and care for the tank, just like you would a hot tub. “It’s fairly simple,” Stott says. “It only takes 15 minutes a week, and the water and salt will last for the next two years.”
One of the main reasons home-based flotation tanks haven’t caught on until now is that most commercial tanks are large and bulky. According to Stott, in addition to using lighter, more affordable materials, the new Zen Float Company tanks “use submersible filtration, which cuts down on the space required for external heating and water cleaning.”     
If you’ve never tried floating before, it might take you a couple tries to get comfortable with being in the tank. But once you are able to fully relax and enjoy the experience, it can be an incredibly relaxing, stress-relieving experience—almost as good as getting a massage.


1. A. Kjellgren and J. Westman, “Beneficial Effects of Treatment with Sensory Isolation in Flotation-Tank as a Preventive Health-Care Intervention—A Randomized Controlled Pilot Trial,” BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 14 (2014): 417, https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6882-14-417.
2. J. S. Feinstein et al., “Examining the Short-Term Anxiolytic and Antidepressant Effect of Floatation-REST,” PLOS One (February 2, 2018), https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0190292.
3. Phil Perry, “Patriots Keep Up with Floatation Therapy Throughout Run to Super Bowl LI,” NBC Sports, February 5, 2017, accessed May 2018, www.nbcsports.com/boston/new-england-patriots/new-england-patriots-keep-floatation-therapy-throughout-run-super-bowl-li; Chris Tognotti, “Olympic Gymnast Aly Raisman is Back and Feeling Stronger than Ever,” Bustle, July 9, 2016, accessed May 2018, www.bustle.com/articles/171621-olympic-gymnast-aly-raisman-is-back-and-feeling-stronger-than-ever.
4. Phil Perry, “Patriots Keep Up with Floatation Therapy Throughout Run to Super Bowl LI.”

Brandon Twyford is editor, online and digital strategy for Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals.