By Jill Smith on October 16, 2019
Despite its recent popularly, sensory deprivation and float tanks are still surrounded by a shroud of mystery. Many of the same myths are perpetuated year after year -- these include floating with claustrophobia, boredom in the tank, as well as fears of falling asleep and drowning in the tank. Read on if any of these float tank myths or fears sound familiar to you.
Myth #1: I will get trapped inside the tank and never get out.
While a float tank may look like a giant sarcophagus, with a heavy metal door waiting to entomb you within, the reality is that a float tank is nothing more than a giant closet door with a tank full of water behind it. Modern tank doors are on hydraulic lift systems that make them incredibly easy to open and close. Older tanks have simple hinged door systems with no mechanics to lock you in. The actual latching mechanism is similar on both older and newer systems. It's a basic catch and release device that grabs the door and loosely holds it in place. There is no locking mechanism on any sensory deprivation tank door.
There are a few steps you can take as a new floater to get over your claustrophobic feeling about floating. The main idea is to ease into the concept of being comfortable with the tank door closed and the darkness. Check out our article about getting past your fears of floating with the tank door closed for more information about how to get over this hurdle.
Myth #2: I can't swim so I won't be able to keep my head above water.
If you've read this far, you're surely familiar with epsom salt. Epsom salt is what's used to increase the buoyancy of float tank water. Float tanks have between 800 to 1000 pounds of salt in roughly 12 inches of water. This highly concentrated salt environment makes it impossible to not float. Similar to the Dead Sea in Jordan, anybody who enters a float tank and lays down will absolutely float on the water, regardless of swimming abilities.
It can be challenging to relax in a tank if you're unable to swim. Laying back and floating can be easier said than done. If you have major concerns about the water, be sure to mention this to your float center. They may have suggestions on how you can ease anxiety and make your float session more enjoyable.
Myth #3: I'll get bored in a sensory deprivation tank. A 60 minute float is way too long.
We've heard the concerns before. People new to floating usually say something similar to:
"It's dark. It's quiet. It's 60 minutes long. I'm going to get bored!"
To be honest, you probably will get a bit bored, especially if it's one of your first floats. But this isn't a bad thing. The quiet and darkness are important to decrease stimulation and aide in your focus and concentration. The benefit of a float tank is that you're able to completely shut out everything around you. All outside distractions and stimuli are removed, creating a quiet, meditative environment that allows you to completely relax.
If generally takes practice to be able to enjoy a full 60 or 90 minute float without feeling too bored. As you get additional floats under your belt, you'll find that you are able to close your eyes and focus on the moment rather than stressing about boredom.
There can also be some benefits to boredom. Many people find that they're at their most creative when in a bored state. People also find sudden clarity or answers to issues or challenges that they're facing in their lives while in a state of boredom. Similar to sudden moments of clarity in the shower, being "bored" in a tank can help you resolve many of life's daily challenges.
Myth #4: Sensory deprivation will cause me to hallucinate.
No, you will not hallucinate in a sensory deprivation tank. While a common concern, there is no evidence that sensory deprivation in the 60 to 90 minute range causes hallucinate for mentally healthy and stable individuals.
A study completed in 2009 came to the conclusion that short-term sensory deprivation caused no visual or auditory hallucinations in healthy individuals. The study attempted to cause disturbances, or hallucinations, during brief periods of complete isolation from sound and vision. The study was done on individuals highly prone to hallucinations and those not at all prone to hallucinations.
Hypnagogic hallucinations are imagined sensations that seem very real. People commonly experience a sensation of drifting off to sleep, or similarly, just waking up in the morning. In this hypnagogic state, often called theta rhythm or theta waves, people can experience dream-like sensations that may feel like hallucinations but are simply common thoughts that seem fuzzy or far away due to the relaxed state of theta brainwaves.
While not considered hallucinations by most, its been common for people to see flashes or blobs of colors while their eyes are closed and they're floating inside of the tank. These are called "phosphenes" and are generally described as looking similar to lava lamp blobs of yellow, green, or pink moving and tumbling over each other. Some people experience similar sensations while lying down to sleep at night. These are generally attributed to the retinas of your eyes remaining active after visual sensation has been removed. The retinas are still alive with neurological activity causing a random firing of neurons, generating the visual sensation of colorful blobs and flashes.
Myth #5: It's dangerous to fall asleep in a float tank. You might drown.
Falling asleep in a float tank is actually quite common. The buoyancy effects of the salt water help your body easily float, allowing all your muscles to fully relax. Muscle tension and tightness are quickly relieved in the salty water of a float tank. In addition, the brain's hypnagogic state, that is the semi-awake, semi-asleep mental state that is achieved during sensory deprivation may allow you to feel that you are asleep when you are actually in an incredibly deep state of relaxation.
Even if you did fall asleep during a float, you would still have nothing to worry about. People remain floating on their back when they fall asleep in tanks, and rolling over can be quite difficult. Drowning in a float tank is nearly impossible for a healthy adult. Float tanks only have about 12" of water, so rolling over without contacting the tank floor is nearly impossible. Even if you did manage to roll over in the shallow tank water, the epsom salts in the water would be felt in your eyes, nose, and mouth, causing you to quickly wake up.
An article was written in 2015 highlighting a man who spent the night in a sensory deprivation tank. He explained that he became restless after a few hours of off and on sleep. The floater wanted to roll over onto his stomach but was unable to in the tank. After 5 hours in the tank, his exited the tank and showered off. He came to the conclusion that sleeping in a sensory deprivation tank is quite difficult and rather uncomfortable. And the salty water making contact with his eyes and nose prevented him from fully relaxing in the tank.