Can floating replace sleep? Float tank experiment #1

In these pages you will learn…of indications that two hours of floating are more restful and restorative than a full night of sound sleep, making floating, in the words of one prominent scientist, ‘a method of attaining the deepest rest that we have ever experienced.’
—The Book of Floating, Michael Hutchison

Float tank experiment #1. So the plan was to see if I could sleep overnight in the tank. Since it’s said that one hour of floating is as restful as four hours of sleep, five hours should be more than enough.

I’ve been floating regularly since January 2014. I usually like floating in the morning because it gives me an extra fresh start, so this should be interesting.


Finished a short ‘bedtime yoga’ sequence, ate an apple, felt ready.

Everything you need for a good float


Here we go. I have a good feeling about this. Obviously I’m going to lose track of time from here, but I can roughly divide my float into the following phases.

Phase 1 – No pain, no gain 

A cut on my hand is stinging. Like crazy. It’s one of those tiny, silent killers that hurts like a b*tch. Luckily, my tolerance for pain is high, so I breathe through it, knowing that the stinging will go away. I just want to get to the good parts.

Phase 2 – Everything in its right place

No idea how long it’s been, but I’m in my happy place. Feeling completely at ease, mentally and physically. The stinging cut is long forgotten. I can’t feel the water on my skin, and it feels like I’m suspended in nothingness. My limbs seem detached from my body.

Random thoughts come and go. Compared to my usual weekly floats, my mind seems emptier than usual. Maybe it’s because I hadn’t looked at my phone all day (left it at home). Or because I’ve been managing my emotions/thought patterns better, letting my feelings play out instead of suppressing them like I usually do.

I reckon I stayed in this space for about three hours, based on how a previous three-hour float felt. It went by much quicker this time, felt more like 90 minutes. The fact that it’s in the dead of the night helps. I’m not wondering what’s going on outside at all.

“[Anything] can happen inside your head because everything is governed by the laws of thought more than the laws of the external world.” —Dr John C. Lilly

Phase 2.5 – Earth to…

My mind is drifting out of the zone. Physical sensations are creeping in and I feel like my hands and feet are floating away. I try to touch my sides with my hands but they’re moving so slowly. It feels like a long time before they make contact with the rest of my body.

I guess that I still have more than an hour to go, so I try to get back into the flow. It’s hard though.

My mind is still focused on how my body feels. I’ve always been a side sleeper but in recent months, I’ve been forcing myself to sleep on my back, which I’m still not used to. It feels completely comfortable in the tank though. Then I focus on my breathing and eventually, I feel close to slipping back into the dream state.

I suddenly remember Dr John C. Lilly’s theories about the tank as a medium for extraterrestrial communication. Just for fun, I listen to see if I can hear anything unusual. Nothing. Maybe we share the same time zone and they’re all asleep. Ha.

Artwork by Dustin Holohan

Phase 3 – Inner rumblings 

Aware of my empty stomach. Not hungry, just conscious of it. A tiny bit of salt water gets in my right eye so I crunch up to grab the face towel in the pitch-black darkness. While doing this, my body drifts further into the tank and I suddenly lose my orientation. For a moment, I can’t find the light switch or towel hook. It feels like I’m in a tunnel. I’m a little freaked out but kind of excited. Because I feel like I’m no longer in the tank, but rather, in an otherworldly void.

Also, thanks to the cut on my hand, I’d been floating with my palms down in the water (they’re usually in a normal, thumb-side-up resting position). Now my arms feel slightly tired from being locked in this position. I flip one side to my usual position and it feels so much better. With all these adjustments, I’m just hoping to get back into the meditative state but it doesn’t seem likely by now.

“You can create a sense of well-being, or you can create a sense of fear out of the operation of your own bio-computer.” —Dr John C. Lilly

Phase 4 – Full circle

Finally, I decide that I’m done and reach for the light. Getting up feels surreal as always, like I’m getting back into my own body and/or emerging from an alien incubation capsule.

Just as I step out of the tank, the music comes on to signal the last five minutes of my float. It’s comforting and surprising; looks like I made it to five hours.

I feel mentally energetic but I know that I still need proper sleep. By six, I’m in bed and knock out for about four hours.

Hey, no pruney fingers even after hours in Epsom salt water.

Next day

I’m back at the float club. It’s a normal day. Did a 5km run in the evening. No issues. Usually, after a late night or an all-nighter, I’d be feeling beat by now.


I thought that I might feel cold towards the end of my float, but it felt fine. My earplugs also stayed wedged comfortably in my ear the whole time. I didn’t roll over. Physically, this works.

Mentally, it’ll take some time. Seeing that reaching the three-hour mark got easier the second time, I reckon I’d do better with practice or longer, more frequent meditation sessions. This experiment would also be more accurate if I’d done multiple overnight floats consecutively.

I don’t think I’ll be replacing sleep with floating just yet. Having the need to sleep changed the experience and added expectation. For now, I prefer to use it as a tool to tune into my mind, a way to connect with my inner self, and remind myself of how deep inner peace goes.


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