Tom Brady takes his job very seriously.
He regularly goes to bed before 8:30 p.m. He doesn't consume white sugar, white flour, MSG, iodized salt, coffee, caffeine, fungus, alcohol or dairy. He swears by an unorthodox training methodology that prioritizes muscle pliability.
Brady does all of those things because he wholeheartedly believes they've helped him continue to play at an elite level.
"I'm 39 and I get to play football for a living. There are not a lot of people who get that chance," Brady told New York Magazine. "Part of that is because of the way that I treat my body."
One critical component of Brady's regimen? High-tech sleepwear engineered by Under Armour. UA Athlete Recovery Sleepwear Powered by TB12 was unveiled to the public at the recent Consumer Electronics Show. Now available for purchase, each individual pajama garment costs between $80 and $100. That's a steep price, but Brady and Under Armour say it's more than worth it due to the clothing's "soft bio-ceramic print."
The bio-ceramic print combines with body heat to produce far infrared radiation FIR), which supposedly reduces inflammation, improves circulation and helps the body recover faster. The idea came when Kevin Haley, UA's president of innovation, saw Brady use a bio-ceramic sleeve on an injured calf muscle two years ago.
Pajamas that can make you a better athlete might sound far-fetched, but Haley firmly believes in the product's healing powers. He told TIME, "This is something people have been working on for a long, long time. We've had our best Ph.D. scientists here breaking down all the science. It definitely works."
Sounds great, but what does the research actually say?
Before we get into the science, let's define some terms.
Bio-ceramics result when various ceramics and mineral oxides are mixed together and heated to nearly 3,000 degrees. Once they cool, the material is a bio-ceramic, which naturally emits FIR energy. Traditionally, bio-ceramics have been used in medicine to replace bone material such as hips or knees. But the fact that they naturally emit FIR has broadened their usage.
What is far infrared radiation? It is a region inside the infrared spectrum of electromagnetic radiation typically defined as any radiation that has a wavelength of between 15 micrometers and 1 millimeter (though these ranges depend on source).
Over the years, far infrared has been found to have some impressive health benefits. When used for therapeutic purposes, it is often referred to as "biogenetic radiation." The body perceives far infrared energy as a gentle radiant heat that can penetrate up to 1.5 inches beneath the skin. The deep penetration could be a key reason for its therapeutic benefits.
People can use far infrared for therapeutic purposes in a number of ways. One popular method is far infrared saunas. These are special heated rooms equipped with far infrared-emitting ceramics. A 2009 study found that far infrared sauna usage helped decrease pain, stiffness and fatigue in arthritis patients. A different 2009 study found that far infrared sauna usage increased physical health, general health and quality of life for patients with Type II diabetes. A 2011 study found that far infrared sauna usage improved cardiac and vascular function and reduced oxidative stress in patients with chronic heart failure. Oxidative stress is what occurs when the body isn't properly equipped to fight off free radicals. High amounts of oxidative stress can have a wide range of ill effects on the human body, including increased cell damage and a higher risk of disease.
Another method is far infrared "ray" devices. In contrast to the full-body approach of far infrared saunas, rays can be directed at specific parts of the body. A 2007 study found that far infrared ray usage can significantly ameliorate the symptoms of allergic rhinitis, the fancy name for seasonal allergies. Patients reported improvement in symptoms like eye itching, nasal itching, nasal stuffiness and sneezing after the treatments. A 2011 study found that far infrared therapy reduced the symptoms of exercise-induced muscle damage in athletes after a simulated trail run race.
As for far infrared-emitting fabrics—like Brady's new Under Armour pajamas—there's some promising research.
To create far infrared-emitting fabric, bio-ceramics are included in the fibers in one form or another (often as a powder). "The principle source of energy needed to power the FIR emission from the garments comes from the human body, since it is at a significantly higher temperature than the surrounding air. So energy from the human body is transferred to these ceramic particles, which are acting as 'perfect absorbers,' maintain their temperature at sufficiently high levels and then emit FIR back to the body. It is plausible that FIR emitted from the skin is absorbed by the ceramic particles, which then re-emit the same FIR back to the skin," write the authors of a 2012 review entitled Far Infrared Radiation (FIR): Its Biological Effects and Medical Applications.
A 1989 study found that participants reported a subjective improvement in their health after using bedclothes that contained far-infrared radiator disks. A 2009 study found that far infrared-emitting socks helped reduce chronic foot pain more than a control sock. A 2011 study found that wearing a garment embedded with powdered bio-ceramic led to a reduction in body measurements in women. A 2012 study found that wearing a far infrared-emitting belt helped relieve menstrual pain and discomfort in adolescent women.
A 2015 study found that bioceramic fabrics have a positive effect on postural control and improve postural stability in expert gymnasts. In half of the trials, participants wore a full-body second skin suit that contained a bioceramic layer. In the other half, participants wore a skin suit that was identical except that it lacked a bioceramic layer. The skin suits with a bioceramic layer helped reduce body-sway during both a standard standing and handstand positions.
So, can bio-ceramic clothing improve recovery and overall health? It certainly seems so.
Most of the benefits of bi0-ceramic clothing can likely be traced to improved circulation. "Improved circulation" has become such a common phrase that it now sounds like a marketing buzzword, but circulation is incredibly important. From a recovery standpoint, increased blood flow helps flush out the by-products of intense exercise quicker. When our cells can't get enough oxygen to keep up with strenuous activity, excess lactic acid accumulates. Improved circulation helps to flush out the deoxygenated blood, lactic acid and other waste products from our extremities so that oxygenated, nutrient-rich blood can flow back in more effectively. Poor circulation can lead to a host of health issues, since it means your muscles and organs (including your brain) aren't receiving the nutrients they need to function properly. Poor circulation can cause issues like high blood pressure, muscle cramps, dizziness, blood clots, strokes, cardiovascular disease and numbness. It also puts a serious drag on athletic performance.
Although the technology behind Brady's sleepwear might seem far-fetched, it's grounded in real scientific research. Bio-ceramics do emit far infrared energy, which has been proven to improve circulation and help with a number of health issues. Clothes equipped with bio-ceramics have been found to effectively emit far infrared energy.
The fact you can wear the pajamas while you sleep makes it an incredibly convenient way to enhance recovery. Do you need Brady's new pajamas to be a great athlete? Of course not. But if you really want them, should you buy them? We don't see why not. Best case scenario: you'll be significantly enhancing the effectiveness of your sleep. Worst case scenario: you might get a placebo effect from rocking the same pajamas as a three-time Super Bowl MVP.