DIY Sensory Deprivation Tank
Netflix series Stranger Things undoubtedly raised the awareness and curiosity levels of people about Sensory Deprivation Tanks. But for sure, the technology and use have long been popular before the cult hit series came about. It was developed in 1954 by D. John C. Lilly who was a neuropsychiatrist for purposes of psychoanalysis experiments and training.
He wanted to see how one’s mind and the whole person is affected when sensory factors that trigger thoughts, feelings, and actions are eliminated and so came the development of a sensory deprivation tank.
Curious minds like yours perhaps wonder: Is it still relevant today? What is its use? What are the benefits, if any? Can you build one yourself? And more importantly, how? Read on for the answers.
What Is a Sensory Deprivation Tank?
As the name suggests, a sensory deprivation tank is a large isolation container which deprives a person of some of his/her senses. The intention was originally for experimental research but from the 1970s, scientists and experts started looking into its possible health benefits.
Decades later, people started seeing and using it more and more at health and wellness centers. We see famous and respected celebrities using these flotation tanks (as it is more commonly called today) and attesting to the health benefits. Athletes like Lennox Lewis, Car Lewis, Steph Curry, Michael Phelps, and many others.
Some centers call it a float tank, a float pod, a float cabin, or a float room. The therapy is called Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique (REST), but health and wellness spas simply refer to it as Floatation Therapy.
What Does a Sensory Deprivation Tank Look Like?
Commercial designs initially followed suit from the original design of Dr. John Lilly. These tanks were pitch-black and soundproof with a regulated temperature matching that of the skin of the person about to use it.
The tank is filled with just the right amount of water (about a foot or so, depending on the type and size of the tank) and Epsom salt to produce buoyancy and make floating effortless.
With recent innovations in design and technology, manufacturers of floatation tanks have now come up with float pods, cabins, and even rooms that cater to the specific tastes and preferences of its users.
Floatation therapy users now have a choice over which float units best suit them. Alternative units now may feature more space (especially needed for the disabled or the claustrophobic), built-in speakers, lighting, and other innovations that can trigger the best ambiance possible to provide the user with a most rewarding experience.
What Is a Flotation Tank for and How Do You Use It?
The primary purpose of this isolation and floatation is for the mind to become deeply relaxed, which reportedly, is beneficial to one’s health. The usual recommendation to achieve the best results is to have 45 to 60-minute sessions twice a week for 6 consecutive weeks.
Some medical practitioners who use this therapy may recommend longer sessions that extend to 90 minutes, depending on the condition of the patient being treated.
What Are the Health Benefits?
Although accepted medically in some European countries, Floatation Therapy is regarded by most medical practitioners as complementary and alternative healthcare, and not part of known conventional medical treatments.
The science behind floatation therapy is still suspect to many. But actual users and medical practitioners who have embraced Floatation Therapy as a valid medical treatment believe that there are many actual testimonial experiences and enough evidence-based research to show that the following are its possible beneficial effects:
- Relaxation. The whole ambiance of the floating session can easily bring a person to a trance-like, deeply relaxed state.
- Improved concentration and focus. It probably results from being deeply relaxed, which in turn also helps improve memory and learning.
- Stress reduction. This helps relieve symptoms of burn-out, anxiety, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in some cases.
- Eases muscle tension. Athletes like Steph Curry believe it speeds up recovery after a rigorous physical workout and training, thus contributing to better performance.
- Pain relief. It radically reduces muscle soreness and joint pains. As the person experiences muscle tension relief and deep relaxation, pain decreases or goes away
- Increased creativity. This is most probably the result of being well-rested and relaxed after a much-needed float therapy.
- Better sleep quality. Probably results from being induced into a well-rested and deeply relaxed condition.
More research is needed but initial studies show some positive effects of Floatation therapy on patients with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Asperger syndrome.
More evidences is needed to substantiate claimed health benefits such as better cardiovascular function, lowered blood pressure. Overall, people who take flotation therapy or use sensory deprivation tanks report of better general well-being.
Some think that the health benefits are in fact beneficial effects of getting soaked in Epsom salt during the floatation sessions. Whether it is actually that or in reality, a combination of the relaxed isolation and the Epsom soaking, the significant thing to note is that people come out of these sessions with positive experiences and after-effects.
Is It Safe?
Floatation Therapy is generally safe. However, each body is different and no two persons have the same medical history and condition. It is strongly recommended that you consult your doctor to make sure you don’t have any medical or psychological conditions that can be aggravated by either Epsom soaking or being in a pitch-black dark small space.
How Do You Build a DIY Sensory Deprivation Tank?
Float therapy sessions range from $50-125 (60 minutes) to $175 (120 minutes) or more per visit. You can just imagine how 10 visits will cost. And what if you begin enjoying it too much that you want more?
A few years ago, the cheapest home float tanks sold for around $7,000, while the more elaborate commercial-grade ones like the Float Pods can cost from $14,500 to $40,000, depending on what features are built into them.
If you can’t afford to spend around $10,000 for your own float tank and the cost of going to your favorite spa is eating up a big chunk from your savings, then you might want to consider some of these DIY options:
If you don’t have time for an elaborate build, look into purchasing a Float Tent (costs $2,200) or an Inflatable Float Tank (costs $4,200), either of which you can set up within an hour. These units may initially cost you a little more but they are already equipped with most of what you need to enjoy a good therapeutic float. The remaining things to do yourself is:
- Choose and prep your quiet place for setup
- Prepare the water.
- Measure and apply the Epsom salt.
One cheaper option that also requires less work is to buy a rectangular above ground swimming pool that’s large enough to float in. Different brands offer various sizes and prices. Choose one that’s durable enough to last long until you come up with funds for a much better build.
Materials You Will Need:
- Above ground swimming pool ($99.99)
- Canopy tent ($194.95) that’s large enough as an enclosure for the non-claustrophobic who wants the experience of isolation and complete darkness.
- There may be “Additional Items You Will Need” to complete your float tank system and make it operational. Check these out in a separate section below.
Step-by-step Build for Option 2:
- Set up the canopy tent in a room where you have access to water and drainage where you can drain the tank water into after your use.
- Assemble your mini swimming pool inside the canopy tent, leaving enough space for you to comfortably go in and out of the canopy, or roll down the canopy door to start your float.
- Proceed with the instructions under “Additional Items You Will Need”.
This option requires more work. How durable it will be and how great it will look will depend on your building skills.
Materials You Will Need:
- Marine plywood: 8’ X 4’ X 3/4” for base
- Hardwood: 4 pcs.: 2” X 4” X 8’ for base support
- Marine plywood: 4 pcs.: 8’ X 4’ X 1/2” for sides and top
- 1 ½” wood screws
- 2 pcs. door hinges 2 pcs. door handles
- Marine Epoxy Adhesive paste
- Sealant for caulking holes, cracks, and plumbing attachments and Caulk finisher
- Rubberized paint
- Marine paint, color of your choice
- Underlayment liner
- Pond liner
- Pond liner tape
- Drain , expandable hose , and valve
- Using the 4 pcs. of 2” X 4” wood, make a base like this.
- For the side walls, cut 2 pcs. of the 1/2″ marine plywood like this.
- For the back board and door hatch, cut one of the 1/2″ marine plywood like this.
- For the top cover and the front board, cut the remaining 1/2″ marine plywood like this.
- Screw together the side walls to the back board and the front board. Make sure you also put Epoxy adhesive paste in between the attachments for reinforcement and initial sealing between the boards.
- Attach what you just put together to the 3/4” marine plywood base board.
- Using the epoxy adhesive paste, seal all joints and attachments of the unit.
- Once the sealants dry up, attach the unit to the wood base.
- Coat the whole unit with rubberized paint for added water protection and sealing. Paint also the top cover and the hatch door.
- Cut the underlayment liner to size and use the liner tape to put a double layer covering the whole base board.
- Use the pond liner as an extra lining for the walls and the base inside the unit. Use the liner tape for adhesion.
- Once the inside is all covered up with the pond liner, drill two holes into the unit for water filling and for draining. One hole by the wall (whichever is nearest to your water source) around 1-foot high from the base large enough for the water inflow valve and one hole on the base large enough for the drain. You will also need to make a hole on the wood base for the drain hose.
- As you place the valve and the drain on the holes, seal proof them with the caulking sealant. Make sure these will not cause leaks later on.
- After this, attach the painted cover on top of the unit. As you screw the cover, make sure you also put epoxy adhesive in between.
- Then attach the hatch door with the hinges. Place door handles where it best suits you.
- Use the caulking sealant to cover any holes or spaces in between any of the joints or attachments.
Additional Items You Need
Let’s check out other things you will be needing after you build your basic unit:
- Quiet room with enough space where you can comfortably place a unit that might be 8 feet long (if you are a 7 footer or near that height, you might need to make a unit that’s at least 9 feet long), 5 feet wide, and 6 feet high. If you’re more than 6 feet, you won’t be needing a higher covering for your unit since you don’t need to stand inside it during your therapy session.
- Filtration system – ordinary water filter will do, but you might find a pool filter.
- Water treatment solutions such as hydrogen peroxide and UV filters ($79.99) would be a very good addition to your filtration system to keep your water clean of bacteria, viruses, and other possible impurities. You may also use (either as a replacement or an added treatment measure) chlorine and ozone as these are good alternatives or combinations to make sure your water and tank are clean. Cleaning the tank itself and the walls regularly also help avoid the development or growth of any other unwanted substances or elements inside your tank. Carefully follow the instructions provided for these treatment solutions to avoid skin irritations.
- Hydrometer for measuring the density for ease of floating.
- Water pH adjuster and meter to control the acidity of the water in your tank.
- Water Heater. Affordable waterbed heaters with a built-in thermostat will do. Make sure they can handle the size of your float tank.
- About 1,200 pounds of Epsom salt. Some estimate a little over 6 pounds of salt per gallon.
Final Steps Before You Float
To get ready to float here are a few more things to do:
- Install your filtration system where it does not in any way interfere with your movements inside or outside the tank.
- Put in around 2 inches of water before you use the heater. You need to get the water warm at skin temperature (34-35C or 93.2-95F) before you float.
- Add the Epsom salt slowly (around 200 pounds for every inch of water added) for better mixture as you get to your target of 10 inches of water. The amount of Epsom salt needed may vary at times that’s why it’s best to put them in by batch. Some achieve the right density using 850-900 lbs, but others use 1,200 pounds to get it there.
- Use the hydrometer to monitor the specific gravity. It should usually be around 1.24 to 1.29.
- Once your water is ready for floating, make sure all electrical attachments are removed and your tank is safe from anything that can ruin your float session.
Another approach to a Sensory Deprivation Tank
In this video they opted to just use a blow up type pool and added the salt. It works, but they said it was cold for the model, so you will still need supplies like a filtration system, and a heater too.
The sensory deprivation tank was initially designed to isolate the user from anything that can stimulate the brain. It was intended to keep one’s mind away from anything that can interrupt or prevent the body from achieving a deeply relaxed state.
This is still the norm with many floatation therapy experiences but some newer float tank designs have incorporated features that are totally opposite to the mind isolation it was first designed for.
Nowadays, there are float tanks that have lights and speakers in them that the user can control for his/ her enjoyment. These innovations simply cater to the reality that some people prefer to relax with music and dim lights rather than in total silence and darkness in a small space.
Remember this when you come up with your own build. Keep in mind that you have every right to make it suit your personal preferences. That way, you can have a float experience that’s greatly rewarding and most enjoyable every time you go in.