For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering two questions. First, what’s the deal with salt room therapy? Are there actual benefits, particularly for dermatological and respiratory conditions, to sitting inside a room as aerosolized salt wafts over you? Second, what can a reader do who absolutely can’t get to sleep after training at night? Postworkout insomnia is a real drag, and it will impede your gains, so this is an important topic. Luckily, there are a few things to try.
Just wondering if you have any information on salt room therapy. These places are popping up all over Australia and I have seen good anecdotal evidence that they are terrific for skin and breathing issues. My granddaughter (1yr) has terrible eczema which I thought might be helped by salt therapy. Do you think there are any possible dangers involved? Either short or long term?
Thanks for your time,
Legend has it that ancient salt miners had such remarkable respiratory health that physicians of the time began prescribing visits to the salt caves for people with asthma and other respiratory conditions. As it turns out, a salt cave’s air is imbued with powdered sodium chloride, or clouds of salt. A salt therapy room recreates this “microclimate of the salt cave” by releasing aerosolized salt into the air. Proponents and a recent literature review say it improves respiratory health, treats asthma, reduces inflammation and swelling of the bronchial mucosa, hastens expectoration of mucus (and all the allergens found within said mucus), and can even treat dermatological conditions like psoriasis and dermatitis.
Most of the modern research into salt room therapy, also called halotherapy (from “halo,” Greek for salt), comes from Eastern Europe. It’s quite interesting but difficult to parse.
A PubMed search for “halotherapy psoriasis” produced a confusing Russian study that appears to show benefits for psoriasis patients. A 1993 paper found that among 112 children with atopic dermatitis treated with halotherapy, 58% reported a full recovery and 20% a partial recovery at 24 months. Another, earlier Russian paper reports the successful treatment of 216 pediatric bronchial asthma patients using halotherapy. A halotherapy institute in Belarus reports treating over 42,000 respiratory and allergic patients with a 97% success rate.
In 2013, 45 patients with tonsillar hypertrophy (the kind of hypertrophy you don’t want) received either halotherapy or placebo (spending time in a room that resembled the salt therapy room only without the aerosolized salt). 44% of the halotherapy group improved, while only 22% of the placebo group did. Moreover, the young patients enjoyed the halotherapy, considering it a “time for play rather than therapy.”
Most of the studies don’t seem to have control groups, and the language barrier (albeit via translations) makes it tough to analyze, but I’d say it’s worth a shot if it’s not too expensive and nothing else has worked.
Good luck and let me know how it goes.
I love working out – especially HIIT. I tend to work out between 7pm and 9:30pm after I leave the office. I have noticed that during weeks where my training is especially intense, I suffer from incredible insomnia. I do not want to stop training, but on the other hand, need to bring down my exercise-induced cortisol levels so I can catch some zzzs. Any suggestions on how I can do this naturally and safely?
Be the weirdo wearing blue-blocking goggles
The worst thing you can do for your sleep is to spend your evening under fluorescent lights with blaring music and two dozen big screen TVs beaming blue light directly into your eyes. Couple the heavy light-induced melatonin suppression with the stress hormones coursing through your veins from the constant training sans-respite and yeah, you won’t sleep well. Pick up a cheap pair of orange safety goggles and wear them to the gym for two weeks. See if it helps. I bet it will.
Train in the morning
Instead of losing 2.5 (and likely 3, with showers and such) hours every night to your workout, shift it to the morning. You can focus on establishing a nice, relaxing evening routine. You can read some fiction, chill out with friends or partners, have some tea, maybe some gelatin. Sure, you’ll have to wake up earlier, but you’ll be sleeping better, going to bed earlier, getting the workout over first thing, and that should free up enough sleep time for an earlier wakeup.
While L-theanine hasn’t been definitively shown to reduce cortisol, it does induce relaxation and improve sleep quality (especially in hyperactive people). Go for 100-200 mg. You might also try Primal Calm, my anti-stress stack that includes L-theanine.
Look into anti-stress teas, herbs, and supplements
Keep caffeine to the morning hours. Avoid pre-workouts that include caffeine if you intend on training at night.
Don’t train HIIT so much
HIIT, sprints, and related workouts work as an acute stressor: a massive dose of intensity that you need lots of time to recover from. If you try to make them a chronic stressor, something done every day or every other day, you’ll get diminishing returns and blowback from your adrenals. Your insomnia is blowback.
But at some point, you’ll have to just chill out and reassess your schedule. It sounds rather extreme to me.
Why are you training for two and a half hours at a time? Are you doing this every day? Why?
I’ve observed a funny thing: when something isn’t working, many people do the same thing even harder. Low-carb not working? Go even lower. Dropping 500 calories a day not helping your weight? Drop 1000! This can be a big mistake. That you feel the need to train so frequently and for so long suggests that you’re not getting the results you’d expect. Just remember that you don’t get fitter during a training session. You get fitter during your recovery from the training. If you’re doing HIIT every day, you aren’t recovering. You aren’t improving. And the lack of sleep will only hamper your recovery and adaptation even further.
That’s it for today, folks. If anyone has any tips for post-workout insomnia or experience with salt room therapy, let us know down below!
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.