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Tom Brady is Under Armour's 'muse' on new athlete recovery line

Approaching 40 years old, Tom Brady said it's neither happenstance nor his DNA enabling him to continue to play football at an elite level in a league in which most quarterbacks his age have long since been discarded.

In bed by 9:00 most nights and up by 5:30 a.m., the New England Patriots star and Under Armour endorser is as meticulous about his sleep and recuperation as he is about studying defenses. He's what might be called a competitive sleeper.

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The five-time Super Bowl champion's devotion to his off-the-field regimen inspired Under Armour to push into a new category — athlete recovery — that the Baltimore-based athletic wear company hopes to make its own. Recovery is critical to repeat athletic performance and at its core is sufficient rest, particularly sleep, so Under Armour recently launched what can be described as performance pajamas, designed with bioceramics technology to enhance athletes' recovery.

Eager to get the science right, the company is collaborating with a team of Johns Hopkins University sleep experts using Under Armour's performance-tracking apps to collect sleep data on millions of users.

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Brady initially tested prototypes of the sleepwear, which Under Armour has been distributing to its athletes, including the Southampton Football Club of the English Premier League and the company's sponsored teams in the NCAA's "March Madness" basketball tournament.

"Football is not very fun if you're hurting all the time," Brady said in an interview. "I want to feel like I'm recovering when I'm sleeping. You've got to take really proactive steps."

Under Armour unveiled the pajamas at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. They are being sold online — at $160 to $200 per set — and at many of its Brand Houses, and the company expects to make them more widely available later this year. Under Armour said additonal "recovery" products may be next.

"We believe this is the start of a very big opportunity for the brand," said Glenn Silbert, Under Armour's senior vice president for global products. "The space of athlete recovery, we think, is an untapped market opportunity. (Ballerina) Misty Copeland is focused on sleep. (Baseball's) Bryce Harper talks about the rigors of being on the road and how important getting that sleep is to his performance."

Sleep science in general is creating lots of buzz.

"The problems really began when Edison invented the electric light bulb," said Alan Schwartz, who directs a Johns Hopkins lab where patients are wired up and monitored while they sleep.

Schwartz has helped Under Armour with its sleep tracking devices.

"We've been on this slow, steady course where sleep can be been encroached upon by almost everything," he said. "This is one of the unspoken areas that is now becoming increasingly recognized as being important for your overall sense of well-being."

Under Armour contends its "recovery sleepwear" will help you sleep better and recover at the same time.

Its based on research into the effects of far infrared radiation. Infrared is naturally emitted by living things. Far infared — the "far" refers to its position on the spectrum — is not harmful. Research suggests it could have therapeutic value.

Made of a soft, thin material, the Under Armour sleepwear contains bioceramic particles — tiny hexagon shapes are visible on the interior fabric — to absorb infrared waves, reflecting the far infrared energy back to the skin.

"It is re-emitted in a new frequency," Silbert said. "It doesn't come back to you in the form of heat."

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The pajamas could help muscles recover by increasing blood flow, said Michael Hamblin, principal investigator at Massachusetts General Hospital's Wellman Center for Photomedicine and an associate dermatology professor at Harvard Medical School.

"I'm pretty sure there is some effect. I wouldn't call it a dramatic effect," said Hamblin, who helped lead a 2012 study on the biological effects of far infrared radiation.

Hamblin said there are far infrared saunas and other products on the market — including socks, pillows and sheets — incorporating a similar technology.

"They haven't really got the mega-marketing power of Tom Brady," Hamblin said.

One reviewer for Time magazine wasn't convinced, saying "I expected more" from the product. He conceded, however, that he didn't follow Brady's sleep suggestions, which include "be consistent with bed time" and turn off digital devices 30 minutes before sleep — standard tips for a good night's sleep.

Johns Hopkins Medicine began collaborating in 2015 with Under Armour, tapping into the data — names of users weren't attached — collected on the 200 million "connected fitness" members using four different apps. The apps measure health and fitness information — including sleep — with mobile or wearable devices.

A team of Hopkins sleep experts is partnered with the company on a study, continuing through 2017, about sleep quality, patterns and behaviors.

"Sleep is one of the most important pieces of our health and often one of the most neglected," said Mark Shaver, Johns Hopkins Medicine's vice president for business development and strategic alliances. "From a public health perspective, this partnership provides Hopkns with the ability to reach over a hundred million lives."

Based on what it called "a mountain of data," Under Armour said its connected fitness users reported an average of 6.94 hours per night of sleep in 2016.

That apparently isn't enough.

"In general, adults need roughly seven to eight hours an night," Schwartz said. "There are broad ranges of normal and some people really need eight or nine hours to function normally."

Brady, who originally signed with Under Armour in 2010, is heading to China and Japan next month to promote Under Armour, football and the new sleepwear.

"He is super important for us in this (recovery) space in that he was our muse," Silbert said.

The reigning Super Bowl MVP, Brady said it took him "about two days" to realize the pajamas' benefits and he promptly gave some to his wife, model Gisele Bündchen.

Brady, who will turn 40 in August, said he's usually up so early that "I've got to be in bed early if I want to get a good night's sleep. You can't have a bad day."

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