It claims to lower inflammation, burn 600 calories, give a natural high – and sales have soared during the pandemic. Victoria Woodhall bags up
We’ve had weighted blankets and earthing sheets for relaxation and to give us better sleep. Now the hottest bit of bed-related wellness paraphernalia to arrive is the infrared sauna blanket. This sweaty ‘sleeping bag’ claims to bring all the benefits of an infrared sauna session without the schlep to a gym or sauna studio. You can do it in the comfort of your home, away from other sweaty bodies and without the drama of communal sauna etiquette.
At a time when many of us are still cautious about going into communal spaces, it could be the perfect way to get your health fix. Mihigh, who launched an infrared sauna blanket in the UK in 2020, say they were overwhelmed by demand and sold 'thousands' during lockdown As the name suggests, it's meant to release happy hormones (my high, geddit?). I've had mine for a year now and it has really come into its own to warm up my muscles before yoga and to soothe the whole body aches I experienced after my Covid vaccines . My husband uses it when his lower back pain is bad or when he has come in from a cold water swimming session.
Infrared saunas have garnered many celebrity fans from Meghan Markle to Lady Gaga, who says it helps with chronic pain of fibromyalgia as well as Jennifer Aniston, Miranda Kerr and Paris Hilton. Elle Macpherson wrote for Get The Gloss about her love of her portable Therasage sauna , shaped like a pop-up tent, in which she marinates in healing waves, with her head poking out.
Makeup artist and wellness coach Bobbi Brown recently enthused that her Sunlighten Infra-Red Sauna pod, helps her with relaxation and inflammation. "It's great for building collagen…. It even burns calories," she enthuses. There are oft-cited claims that a single session can burn up to 600 calories, based on 1981 research published in the (pre-internet) Journal of the American Medical Association. More recent research conducted by Binghamton University found that on average, participants who spent a 45-minute session in an infrared sauna three times a week lost four per cent body fat in 16 weeks.
Bobbi says she loves her IR sauna so much that she has "one in my home in New Jersey and I have one in my beach home in the Hamptons".
For those of us without a spare house in The Hamptons or even a spare cupboard, the infrared sauna blanket is a solution for the space-starved. There are a number of infrared blankets out there, and you can spend anything from £100 to £600. The V3 from Higherdose (a trendy East Village sauna studio) is now on sale at Cult Beauty for £469 (compared to the Mihigh at £399) and for fans of crystals and rituals, it's embedded with layers of amethyst, tourmaline and charcoal and comes also in a pretty purple colour.
Infrared heat penetrates deeper than conventional sauna heat, reaching right into the muscles and the fat. It’s claimed that this depth is what helps it draw up toxins stored in fat more effectively. I’ve heard it said that IR sweat is more 'waxy' than conventional sweat, but I’ve yet to notice any Tussaud’s vibes myself. Whichever way you get your heat, it’s most certainly a fast track to mindfulness. You can’t help but relax and focus; it puts you into the concentration space much more easily by making you more aware of your body.
What are the benefits of infrared sauna blankets?
My Mihigh bag came with a long list of ‘ potential benefits ’: promoting blood flow and sleep, boosting collagen, burning calories, releasing toxins, rejuvenating the skin, stimulating happy chemicals and reducing inflammation. But can it? I checked in with our GP columnist Dr Johanna Ward, who I knew had a Sunlighten infrared sauna at home. She'd mentioned to me that it has been a game-changer in her recovery from a serious heart condition last year.
“I am a big fan of infrared technology" she confirms. “I use it to support detoxification cardiovascular health and immune health in my patients.” What does she think of an infrared sauna blanket? I send her the spec for the Mihigh. “It sounds great, I can’t wait to try it, it gives us a new and exciting way to conveniently deliver the benefits of infrared technology.”
What about its 600 calorie-burn in 30 minutes claim? As this is based on the 1981 study for weight loss in saunas, it's impossible to say whether a 'boil in the bag' session would do the same. Mihigh tells me that the strength and 'far infrared' technology of the bag is exactly the same as an IR sauna. Dr Jo believes the calorie burn figure is probably more like 300 and explains that weight loss happens because your body temperature is raised. Still, pretty impressive for a lie-down.
Weight loss aside, there are wellness benefits of infrared saunas too. “They are also an effective form of stress relief and have been proven to reduce circulating cortisol, the stress hormone,” says Dr Jo. "After a long day, I look forward to nothing more than getting into my infrared sauna, closing my eyes, and doing some meditation. It helps to know that I am also sweating out the day's toxins.”
What is an infrared sauna blanket session like?
Unpacking my Mihigh, I pull out a heavy black roll made of what looks like padded lorry tarp ('vegan leather' apparently). I unfurl it flat onto my bed with a towel for my head and a bottle of water. I plug it in to heat up for 10 minutes and change into my ‘sauna wear’. Don’t even think about going naked even though there are no one’s blushes to spare. You need to be fully covered in leggings, socks and a long-sleeved top as the bag can get pretty hot – up to 60C - in contact with your skin, as I discovered when I accidentally went in barefoot. It heats up to 80C, although the maximum surface temperature is 60C. It's fireproof apparently. Is that worrying or reassuring? I can’t decide. The recommended sweet spot for usage is 30 minutes to an hour two or three times a week.
I open the Velcro side fastening and slide in, towel under my head, podcast on, and prepare to zone out. Why didn't I think of a face mask too?
After ten minutes, I can feel the sweat trickling down my chest and thigh and the blanket becoming hot and heavy. Being clothed is more comfortable than I thought - I'm not slipping around in my own juices. “You look like you’re in a body bag,” says my husband, helpfully. Still, with my podcast on, and hands wedged by my sides it’s a rare scroll-free moment of my day.
Can you meditate in an infrared sauna blanket?
People say that meditation is possible in a sauna blanket, but it didn’t work for me. The heat raises the heart rate (hence the calorie burn) and for me, meditation is all about calming the system. Like hot yoga, it does, however, feel like a mindful experience. However, when the heat got pretty intense after 20 minutes, I was glad of my podcast to distract me. After 30 minutes I was done, my face was sweaty, my hair was frizzy and my clothes were drenched. I felt good – like I’d had a deep rest, my skin looked particularly glowy for the rest of the day and I did indeed sleep well. If you need a pick-me-up, this definitely works.
Afterwards, you simply open the bag out flat for it to cool. My clothes had absorbed most of the sweat so all it needed was a quick wipe down with detergent.
How does a sauna blanket fit into an exercise routine?
A sauna can be a powerful release for tense muscles after a workout, especially if you’ve skimped on the stretching. I'm not a HIIT kind of person, but as a pre-yoga warm up it really worked. I spent ten minutes in the bag before my Zoom yoga class, and noticed my hamstrings were a lot more open and my twists a little deeper. I sailed through those usually creaky first ten minutes of a class when you ask yourself why you agreed to this. The ‘I’m so tight' mantra didn't get a look in.
Final thoughts, are infrared sauna blankets worth it?
Well, you can decide for yourself with Mihigh’s 30-day trial. If you’re a keen sauna-goer, the blanket costs about as much as six 45-minutes sauna pod sessions at London’s Glow Bar for example, so it pays back quickly. At a time when we can’t get to wellness venues as readily, it's a good alternative and according to Dr Jo, an investment in your physical and mental wellbeing. If you find it hard to relax and need something to force you to be still, then this blanket is it. Bobbi Brown says her sauna is “the only time I sit still”.
It's true you just don't fidget. The heat and the weight of the sauna blanket mean the urge to toss and turn isn’t there and your body melts into a stretched-out state without kinks and curves, a 'savasana' kind of openness we don't often achieve even in sleep. Your blood (and your energy, if you’re on the yogic or far eastern tip) can flow freely. My husband, who has a lot of stiffness and back pain has his eye on it too. As for weight loss, I'm sure it can help in making you feel better about yourself and there are studies that indicate it can help shift calories. True to its name, it does give you a bit of a high.