ATLANTA — As James Ramsey, CEO of Superior Float Tanks, tells it, Bill Belichick was visiting with the United States Special Forces back in 2014 to check out some of their latest technology and was led into a sensory deprivation floatation tank said to help everything from post traumatic stress disorder to sleep deprivation to, yes, learning foreign languages faster.
You know, the kinds of things all NFL head coaches do and see during their free time.
Ramsey says the Patriots coach emerged a believer in the egg-shaped pod’s ability to provide a restful sleep and soon after, his company was hired to install a few at Gillette Stadium. Ramsey said he and his brother, Steven, a former marine and contractor helped personally construct a tank in a room across from owner Robert Kraft’s office. He was left with some parting instructions after the floating tanks were in.
“Hell no you can’t tell anybody about this,” Ramsey said.
On Thursday, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels told reporters that the team utilized the sleep tanks, which, he said, give them the equivalent of four hours of rest in roughly 45 minutes. While it seems bizarre on the surface, it provides a window into the endless search the Patriots are on for the next technological advancement and their sprawling connections to worlds beyond the NFL bubble. Sleep tank companies now claim that three of the four teams (Rams, Saints and Patriots) in the NFL’s championship round utilized the darkened, noise-cancelling pods in some form. Ramsey said he installed tanks for the Rams after their move to Los Angeles. Superior boasts tanks at Notre Dame, Clemson and Ohio State and with the Boston Celtics, among other professional and college programs. Tom Brady reportedly has a commercial model in his home, which cost in excess of $30,000.
But, before the craze swept the athletic health community like a diet trend, it was just a small circle of interested parties starting to explore the possibilities of a tool that, in theory, could produce a better quality sleep and, in turn, improve awareness, brain function and overall health.
“[Belichick] is at the forefront of technology,” Ramsey said. “I feel like, people don’t understand. He’s not cheating. He just knows things that people don’t know.”
Nick Janicki, the founder and president of TrueRest Float Spas, a competing sleep tank company, said that during the Patriots-Seahawks Super Bowl in 2015 his Tempe, Ariz.-based franchise was booked almost daily with clients from both teams. Just before that season, after the Patriots fully embraced the floating tank, Janicki said Brady’s “house manager” reached out personally to have one placed into the quarterback’s home.
“In 2009, there was only 14 locations in the United States that offered something like this,” Janicki said. “Now, there’s hundreds. It took off. People use it for anxiety, depression and PTSD, and the NFL uses it specifically for recovery.”
Both Janicki and Ramsey describe a similar user experience. A lid closes over the fiberglass tub, making the patient look like a hamburger cooking itself inside a George Foreman Grill or a clam retreating into its shell. Inside is roughly 10 inches of water, which is mixed with 1,000 pounds of magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt) to increase the density and wired to run at 220 volts.
The temperature is set between 93.5 and 94 degrees—the same as the surface temperature of one’s skin. The salt makes your body float, your skin and water temperature align and it gives the person a feeling of resting in mid air.
“At that point, you’re not going to feel anything,” Ramsey said. “Essentially, you’re in there with just your collective thoughts.”
Janicki said it’s supposed to mimic the effects of the Dead Sea.
“It allows the human body to float on the surface,” he said. “The Dead Sea is 18% salt solidity to water volume, while this is 30% salt solidity to water volume. You’re floating like a cork. You literally sleep on water.”
Whether this becomes the front end of a revolution, another Elon Musk-ian piece of futurism that ends up commonplace in the league in a few years just like GPS technology and nutrition overhauls, or not, there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of professional teams and athletes lining up to endorse it. Warriors guard Stephen Curry, Julian Edelman, Marvin Jones and others have all emerged with testimonials.
However, any comfort brought to an NFL coach or player from a nap in this chamber is likely erased by the thought of a 66-year-old Belichick, well rested and ready to search for another leg up.
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