Cal Football

Pods Bring New Edge to Cal Athletics

November 5, 2018
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Due largely to the generous gift of a passionate Cal Athletics donor, the Cal football program is receiving a much-welcomed boost of the most unconventional nature.

An unexpected but eminently logical donation from Cal grad and donor Kevin Kennedy brought eight sleeping pods designed to with enough spaciousness to comfortably sleep large human beings that were custom-designed in Europe, shipping some five months after the order -just in time for the 2018 Cal football season.

The sleeping pods were accompanied by five additional comfortable lounge chairs that recline to a completely prone position, while allowing players to wear electronic compression sleeves on their legs, reaching from ankle to upper thigh, to further assist in muscle and circulatory reparation with the strenuous demands of college football.

Hence, the Bear den was born.

"I was talking with Kevin (Kennedy), who's been instrumental in this whole thing," said Cal head coach Justin Wilcox.  "I'd brought up in a discussion with some of our donors how we could further support our athletes -whether it's health and wellness, nutrition, sleep and other areas.

"When I first got here, you'd go in the lounge and we had these little couches that were about four feet long -more like love seats than couches. And in the year I'd been here, every time you went in the lounge, the lights would be down and the tv's off and the guys were curled up taking naps because of where our stadium is relative to their dorms and apartments and school. They often have just an hour or so between a workout and lift or meetings and class. There are little short blocks of time so they were always curled up and taking naps.

"Sleep's a really important part of recovery -as you remember at that age. Food and sleep are two of the biggest priorities in life. We're all for that so we wanted to build a little area where they could actually get some quality rest in. So we did some research to find whether that should be a sleeping chair or something bigger, where guys can lay down. So we got some recliners, where guys can get really comfortable, leaning all the way back, with NormaTec sleeves for your legs.

"So I brought that up with Kevin and some other administrative people and they were all for it."

The sleeping pods and recliners were a big hit and have received rave reviews from players and coaches alike.

"It ended up helping us a ton," said Wilcox. "It's awesome. They're big pods that fully-close, with nice pads, with pillows and blankets that they can use before class and lifts and meetings. They just didn't have time to get home in between and get some good sleep as it was before, so this is perfect.

"The previous lounge looked cool and all but when you see these huge guys curled up on these little couches with tv's never even on, something wasn't right. So we created the area for the sleep pods and chairs and kind of made the locker room the hangout area, with couches and tv's, so the other area can be dark and quiet."

The NormaTec sleeves players can use in the recliners are a system comprised of a control unit, and separate attachments that can go either on the legs, hips, or arms but are usually used on the  legs. The attachments use compressed air to massage limbs and speed up recovery by mobilizing fluid from limbs toward the athlete's core. NormaTec has a massage pattern that is believed to be the most effective way to mobilize fluid in and out of the limbs, which is what creates that “fresh legs” feeling after taking the boots off.

Lest one get a mental image of an area that can quickly get run-down and grimy after tough workouts and sweaty bodies, there are high maintenance standards players are held to in order to keep the rest area in pristine condition.

"There's rules," noted Wilcox. "You have to shower before going in and you bring your own pillow and blanket, and no food or drinks, but they've been awesome about it. I go down there a couple times a day and walk through there and guys are totally out, which is great.

"Things like that that are practical for the player -that's a tangible benefit to them and a great way for supporters to contribute in a meaningful way."

Noted sleep and circadian rhythms expert Benjamin Smarr, NIH Postdoctoral fellow in the Kriegsfield lab at UC Berkeley, weighed in to give some perspective on the practical benefits of adding small blocks of quality sleep to busy athletes' days while juggling the demands of meetings, practice and one of the most demanding curriculums in collegiate athletics at UC Berkeley.

"Sleep isn't a static thing - your brain and body go through a lot of cycling processes while you sleep," noted Smarr. "That's why it's not just that you pass out for eight hours per day, but that you get well-timed, quality sleep that matters. And 'matters' means a lot of things when it comes to sleep. Good sleep helps you heal faster, and recover from the physical demands of the day more fully. It also has a big impact on your mental and emotional state.

"When I was in grad school, my mentor helped show that those sleep cycles, and not just amount of sleep, are critical not only for memory formation, but it also appears to be true for energy, resilience, positivity, and attention - all very valuable qualities to invest in!"

It's not just simply catching a little shuteye that allows athletes in a physically-demanding sport like football to repair themselves physically and mentally at the optimal level. Fitful, light, in-and-out naps could help to some degree but have not proven nearly as effective as an efficient, short but deep nap often proves to be for individual athletes.

"Naps can be surprisingly good for you when done right," commented Smarr. "Some studies have shown that memories form as strongly in a well-timed nap as they do over a whole night of sleep. And they can go a long way to clearing out metabolites associated with physical exhaustion, so you get that extra boost to finish the day strong.

"For these reasons, I wrote in a piece for Forbes that letting employees nap was probably a smart business investment. That said, if you nap for longer than about 30 - 40 minutes, you might wake up with sleep momentum, which means you'll keep feeling groggy the rest of the day. So aim for a short, well timed siesta, and don't try to get your full night's rest in the afternoon."

For his part, Kennedy is delighted that his gift has had such a meaningful impact on Cal athletes.

"I had the same conversation with Tedford, with Sonny and now Justin," said Kennedy. "I always said, 'What don't you have that you need to get to the Rose Bowl? What is it that you're missing that will help you win the conference?' And in Justin's case, to his credit, he actually came up with an idea.

"He came to a party at my house with some of the coaches and athletes and this is one of the suggestions he threw out there -a sleep center. He views sleep as being incredibly important to kids with 40 hours of practice and school. They just don't have time to get the sleep they need and sleep is so critical for them to function at the highest level.

"Seeing those big bodies curled up on these little couches, he said, 'There has to be a better way. So they started looking into these sleep pods and I thought it sounded like a great idea and paid to fund that. We bought them a bunch of noise-cancelling Beats headphones and they branded it really cool. The space looks really sharp and I think they feel they can use this as a good recruiting tool, too. Given the difficulty in purchasing, developing and shipping these pods from Europe, good luck to any program trying to emulate Cal!"

"It's been awesome, man," said linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk. "Just being able to come in there and take a nap whenever you want in a really comfortable space designed to take quality naps, where it's dark, cool and a comfortable space. It's really cool."

Are players able to sleep soundly in the pods?

"Yeah, definitely," said Kunaszyk. "A lot of it depends on how much time I have. I usually just take quick naps but I know a lot of the guys use it and all are really happy about it.

Are any of the players having issues with claustrophobia?

"Not that I know about," said Kunaszyk. "I'm a little claustrophobic myself but it's really spacious and I don't feel that way at all."

"These guys are so sleep-deprived just given their schedules, with how demanding school is and their athletic commitments," said Assistant Athletic Director for football, Andrew McGraw. "Combine that with how difficult it is to find a place to live in Berkeley that's close to campus and these guys are trying to find a place to nap for an hour here or there to catch up a little bit at the end of class or after meetings or practice. They were desperate to find place to nap and were on little couches and random places in the facilities. So we said, 'Why don't we find a solution to get these guys some quality rest?'

"There's so much science behind the power of sleep. I know our sports medicine people have been talking with some of the faculty members that specialize in sleep on campus. So we did some research online and saw these particular sleep pods that we ended up ordering that were manufactured in the UK. A couple tech companies, including Microsoft up in Seattle and a couple in New York that (former Cal QB) Steve Levy ended up testing for us because we wanted to see them with our own eyes.

"After we got a few positive testimonials, we decided to go ahead and order eight of them to be manufactured specifically for us and had them shipped over.

"It was a lengthy process -around five months from start to finish. Well worth the effort, though. The team was wild about them. They love them. They're near full capacity like eight hours a day. We may look into grabbing some more during the offseason."

The players can also use the pods in a variety of ways.

"They can be enclosed or left open," said McGraw. "If a kid just wants to lie down and read or listen to music and relax, he can do that in solitude in his own little private space in the facilty, too. 

"We branded them and had them customed, with a kind of NASA font on the pods, so it can be a nice tool for us in recruiting too. I don't know any program that has anything quite like this. Maybe some bunk bed type situations but nothing like this. It's nice to be on the front end of a trend that I'm sure will take off."

The stadium and SAHPC project was so effective in upgrading the program's facilities that the program wasn't lacking in many ways to produce healthy athletes so the innovative addition took some creativity.

"The facility is so phenominal that there wasn't much we were lacking facility-wise so this was something that Justin identified early,"said McGraw. "He said, 'How great would it be to get these guys who were passed out all over the place a quality space to get some rest?'

"Kevin had asked, 'What can I do to help the program that's tangible and can have a direct impact on the players to really provide a nince benefit for them?'

"The timing couln't have been any more perfect. We were over at Kevin's house for a gathering in Menlo early last spring and this was just about the time the idea had been hatched. So Justin said there was one area that you can help a lot with.

"Kevin was so great and so generous to help fund the entire project, including the construction, the recliners and Normatech, to the carpet, to the headphones -he took care of the entire project, so we're very grateful.

"I want to give a huge thanks to Kevin, because for us to be on the groundbreaking side of actually having sleep pods of this quality and this size in our facilities that our kids have access to all the time, that's invaluable," said Becton "To his credit, he trusted Coach Wilcox about what our needs are around here."

Head strength and conditioning coach Torre Becton was thrilled with the addition of the sleep pods, recliners and extra NormaTec devices for his players, recognizing the important addition they'd make in aiding the health and recovery of his players.

"Most places, they'll have some type of sleep-monitoring device and we were actually in the market for one, some type of wearable technology that tells you how the wearer is sleeping. But Coach Wilcox and I kind of thought to ourselves, "These are college kids who are also athletes. Of course they're not sleeping enough. So why not do what we can to address the problem directly instead of just studying it? If these guys are getting eight or nine hours of sleep at home then you have to wonder how they're getting their studies done? And why not fill in the gaps of time to help give them extra quality sleep?"

It appears that quality sleep is now coming more consistently for the Cal players.

"We have eight sleep pods and usually when I pass through in the morning, there will be six or seven, if not all eight, all with the doors closed and you can hear them going at it,: said Becton, with a laugh. "Going at it! 

"I'm a pretty big guy and I was thinking, 'Let's see how this works for the linemen. I was a defensive lineman and I'm 6-2/285. Let me get in there and see if this thing can handle me.' But it's obnoxiously spacious. You can roll around, toss and turn, get up on all fours.

"Some of the other places I've coached in this conference didn't have anything like this so it's kind of cool to be on this side of the innovation, with Cal being the first team to have these sleep pods."

When asked if it's possible to quantify the early impact the extra rest has given his players, the veteran S&C coach noted that it will take more time to accurately determine their full impact.

"It's going to take time to assess," said Becton. "The biggest thing is that it's able to help their bodies with the recovery process. When you talk about sleep and the effect that it has on the performance process, when kids are able to accumulate the proper amount of sleep, it helps with their alertness, retention and avoidance of chronic fatigue, where you're at your most vulnerable as an athlete. It increases the workout efficiency. And for a quarterback, it aids in the recognition and decision-making process, which is important.

"From a behavioral standpoint, quality sleep has even been known to help with temperment, which in turn helps with discipline. If we can help them get some better rest, it can also help them with with off-field decisions, too.

"I talk to our dietician and academic and strength staff and emphasize that we all need to work together. Our work influences each other. The most beneficial workouts in the world are when they sleep, eat and hydrate properly. My workouts won't go very far without that. So for us to see improvement on the field and do the things we need to do, I emphasize recovery as much as anything we do with our players.

"They don't have to focus on working hard. They don't have a say in the matter. But they can control the other stuff. I tell them all the time, the 12-14 hours you're not at the stadium or in class, what are you doing? What you do in those 12-14 hours determines how healthy you'll be and how successful you'll be."

The Bears have suffered sigificant numbers of injuries in recent years and anything that can be done from an administrative and training standpoint to keep the players healthy is a major plus to a program still trying to build the necessary depth to withstand injuries to their 2-deeps.

"One of my training goals is to reduce injury," said Becton. "I'm not talking about preventing injuries, because in a sport like football that's not just a contact sport but a collision sport -a violent sport- you can't say you'll prevent injuries. You can get injured doing something as simple as stretching. Sometimes guys will roll an ankle or injure and acl when they're just running and cutting. 

"Here at Cal, we say, 'Train our guys to reduce the likelihood of injury and in the event that there is an injury, that the return to play time is reduced.'

"The longer we're here and the longer we're able to train our guys in a way that we want to, I think we'll see fewer injuries as time goes on, especially major injuries, where guys will be strong enough to play though some things they couldn't before or come back faster. To some degree, that's the effect from making better decisions, getting better sleep, an effect of hydration, how we train them and how Coach Wilcox structures practices, to it's kind of cyclical."

Offensive lineman Jake Curhan checks in as one of the tallest and heaviest of the players on the Cal roster, so the concept of sleep pods could be tested on someone of his stature and size to get a feel for the spaciousness and usefullness of the pods.

Bear Insider
6-6/330 offensive tackle Jake Curhan tests sleep pods

"I think everyone was excited about the idea of getting these pods because we knew they were coming before they arrived," said Curhan. "Guys were always sprawled out all over the lounge before and we didn't really use the tv's there so this is a much more efficient way for us to catch up on our rest.

"When we first got them, they told me to get in because I'm one of the biggest guys on the team. So I got in and it was very spacious. You're not squeezed for height, with lots of head and leg space. You definitely don't feel constricted in any way.

"It's comfortable. Anyone in need of a nap can definitely fall asleep in there. It's not a bed but it's very comfortable and a lot better than a couch."

The ability for players to get home, nap, then make it back to class was extremely limited and any brief sleep the players may have gotten was limited and not particularly effective.

"After a 6 am lift and practice coming up later, the couches were always filled and we didn't have time to get back to our rooms and sleep so this was a great solution," noted Curhan.

"The recliners and NormTecs are great, too. After a hard lift or practice, it helps us recover a lot. We used to only have a few NormaTec's by the weight room but now we have more and these chairs help use them a lot."

All-in-all, the idea that started after Wilcox's arrival last year has germinated into a unique, but highly-successful solution to a vexing problem: Keeping his players rested and healthy.

"At the end of the day, we have to hold players to really high standards and it's on us to support them like crazy and give them tangible ways of support like this whenever we can," concluded Wilcox.

Discussion from...

Pods Bring New Edge to Cal Athletics

MoragaBear
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Staff
Much thanks to our very own sebastabear for his generous investment in the football program.

Everyone needs to take the time to read about everything that went into this awesome project.
oskirules
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Student athlete schedules are crazy, I'm all for this.
DavisBear
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Great article!! Very interesting stuff! Sounds like a fantastic idea!!
Goobear
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Sebasta Bar, well done and many thanks!
CaliforniaEternal
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Sebasta, you are one awesome dude! I'm sure all of the players are super thankful for your gift!
Sebastabear
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I was going to write that that sleep pod guy sounds like a total jerk, but I think I've been outed . Anyway, credit to JW. This was really his idea. I love the coach coming up with a good idea that can hopefully translate to results on the field and in the class room. And many thanks to Jim for writing up such a nice article. Must admit I was blown away by all of the detail.
85Bear
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Huzzah huzzah! Great idea, great article, and many thanks to SebastaBear. Snore on you Bears!
oski003
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I dig this. Are players on offense allowed to use them? :P
KenBurnski
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I think they've been using themduring the middle of plays
FuzzyWuzzy
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What a great idea and what an incredibly generous gift SB! It sounds like they could use another dozen of these things. Along with a stack of extra long fleece blankets, pillows and pillow cases so they don't have to byob.

I'm a huge believer in quality sleep. There are now studies out there suggesting that your brain clears out the plaques that cause Alzheimer's in the eighth hour of sleep, so get your sleep boys and girls. It's important!
TheFiatLux
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Sebastabear said:

I was going to write that that sleep pod guy sounds like a total jerk, but I think I've been outed . Anyway, credit to JW. This was really his idea. I love the coach coming up with a good idea that can hopefully translate to results on the field and in the class room. And many thanks to Jim for writing up such a nice article. Must admit I was blown away by all of the detail.
This is fantastic. I'm not going to out you further, but I wish people knew about all the times you've seen a problem, an opportunity that was about to be missed, an issue or... and just acted on it to solve it. We need more people like you. Not just in Cal sports but in life.

[edited to remove astounding # of typos ]
calumnus
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Sebastabear said:

I was going to write that that sleep pod guy sounds like a total jerk, but I think I've been outed . Anyway, credit to JW. This was really his idea. I love the coach coming up with a good idea that can hopefully translate to results on the field and in the class room. And many thanks to Jim for writing up such a nice article. Must admit I was blown away by all of the detail.


Sebastabear, this is awesome! Thanks for all you do for our Bears!
Sebastabear
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TheFiatLux said:

Sebastabear said:

I was going to write that that sleep pod guy sounds like a total jerk, but I think I've been outed . Anyway, credit to JW. This was really his idea. I love the coach coming up with a good idea that can hopefully translate to results on the field and in the class room. And many thanks to Jim for writing up such a nice article. Must admit I was blown away by all of the detail.
This is fantastic. I'm not going to out you further, but I wish people knew about all the times you've seen a problem, and opportunity that was about to eb missed, an issue or... and just acted on it to solve it. We need more people like you. Not just in Cal sports but in life.
That's high praise coming from you of all people Ken given what you do to carry the Cal flag (figuratively and literally)
Cal89
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Excellent. Thanks for sharing MB. And, mucho kudos Sebastabear! Thank you.
HungryCalBear
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Thank you Sebastabear. Great idea by JW. Now we have a competitive advantage against Furd's gloves.
okaydo
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Thanks Sebasta....

It's really weird to know there are actual humans behind the avatar. While the gift was impressive, I was floored by the part about the part about Wilcox visiting your house.

Then I read "Kriegsfield lab at UC Berkeley." And it took me back.

A decade ago, I took a few classes at Cal to finish my degree (sort of like what Fiat Lux is doing, but I only had 3 classes).

One was a class by Professor Lance Kriegsfield in the psychology department.

The other was by a class, "The Psychology of Sleep," by a young British professor, who had just arrived after teaching at Harvard Medical School.

His name is Matthew Walker. His research is mainly on how having a good night's sleep improves your memory. And not getting enough sleep will make you erratic.

While taking his class, he was profiled on 60 Minutes:



For my final project, I decided to write and research a 25-page paper on a head football coach who, the previous season, had almost melted down on the sidelines. Turns out, I had a lot of evidence of this certain person's lack of sleep. And I ended up getting an A.

Anyways, Matthew Walker last year released a book called "Why We Sleep."
https://www.amazon.com/Why-We-Sleep-Unlocking-Dreams/dp/1501144316


If Walker hasn't already spoken to the Cal football team, I think he'd be a great guest speaker.








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