Before floatation tanks became more popular in spas, they were primarily used by astronauts in training. NASA still trains astronauts with floatation chambers. This is because floatation chambers simulate a zero-gravity environment. The water in a floatation chamber contains about 1,200 pounds of magnesium sulfate, causing the body to easily float on top of the water. Especially combined with the darkness and lack of sound integral to the floatation experience, it’s no wonder astronauts train in a chamber.
The effects of weightlessness are very different between a floatation chamber and long term space travel, however. Floating in space long-term can have some serious negative effects on the body. In a zero gravity environment, muscles shrink. This can lead to deteriorating joint function, and can also lead to pain felt throughout the body. Bones suffer as well, significantly decreasing in mass in proportion to the time spent in space. The body’s most important muscle, the heart, is not exempt from this shrinking effect.
The heart is designed to work with the gravity of Earth. The heart pumps blood strongly upward to combat the force of gravity so we can have adequate blood flow to the head. With no gravity, the heart’s upward force would be too strong. This can create swelling in the eyes and face.
The immune system also suffers. Astronauts can experience recurrence of childhood illnesses, such as chicken pox. Diseases that occur in zero gravity are also difficult to treat, as medicines don’t necessarily work the way they do on earth.
For all the detrimental effects of long term weightlessness, the short term weightlessness of the floatation chamber has been shown to havesignificant positive effects. The resulting muscle relaxation allows for faster healing of injuries, when applied in moderation. Patients in floatation chambers report significant improvement in muscle and joint pain whether the pain is the result of injury, genetic predisposition, or is caused by stress.
The mental relaxation achieved by a floatation chamber’s short term weightlessness is not found by any other means on Earth. When deprived of external stimuli, the brain no longer scans for threats. This is something every human brain naturally does while awake, and even while sleeping. The brain, when free from noise, sound and other distractions, enters a state similar to dreaming, but it happens while you are still awake and in control.
The positive health effects of the short term zero-gravity environment created by sensory deprivation chambers are long lasting. Depression, insomnia, pain, PMS, lack of focus, and stress are all significantly reduced. If you want to experience something as close to space travel as you can have on Earth with therapeutic effects, contact the Northwest Float Center.