It’s always exciting to hear from our network of well-rested ChiliSleepers.
But when our team learned that an elite Air Force unit was raving about how great they felt after using the OOLER to improve their sleep quality, it was a humbling yet powerful moment.
Earlier this year a group of Air Force pararescuemen -- AKA, the PJs -- purchased a large shipment of our temperature-regulated mattress pads to sleep deeper, perform better, and recover faster.
The PJs have been referenced as a "human-based weapons system" that requires maintenance just like an aircraft or other precision weaponry. Naturally, I wanted to explore a few of the key reasons these amazing pararescuemen prefer ChiliSleep to give them their deepest sleep! So I met up with Caleb, the Captain of the unit that made the purchase, to hear how his team has improved their sleep quality.
First, Who Are the PJs?
Before we dive (pun intended) into how the OOLER has improved the quality of life for Caleb and his fellow operators, let’s take a quick look at the history of the program.
The history of the PJs dates back to August of 1943 when 21 U.S. military members had to be rescued out of a remote crash site near the China-Burma border. The only way to get to the survivors was by paradrop -- from there, pararescue as we know it was created.
PJs are combat medics and rescue specialists who often get called to the middle of a war zone. Pararescue officers must be cross-trained in several different branches of the military to be well-prepared for an array of rescue operations. Special operations forces are often known as “the silent professional” and in the case of the PJ’s, their motto is “That others may live.”
Former Air Force Chief of Staff General Norman Schwartz called the squad "the angels of the battlefield" and we couldn’t agree more.
Surviving the Cut
Because they want the best of the best, not anyone can join this elite team.
After completing 8 weeks of basic military training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, Airmen must complete 62 weeks of training to become an Air Force pararescueman.
New recruits must be between the ages of 17 and 39 and their first step is passing the Physical Ability and Stamina Test.
Think it’s not that hard? Think again! The test consists of three swims, a run, and three calisthenics exercises, all conducted within a three-hour window.
The first two are 25-meter underwater swims and if they break the water surface during any portion of the swim, they fail the test. The third swim is a 500-meter surface swim and must be continuous—if they stop any time during the swim, they fail the test.
Exhausted yet? Wait, there’s more! After the swim portion comes the 1.5-mile continuous run (taking a break leads to immediate failure).
By this point, the guys get a 10-minute break before diving into four calisthenics workouts, including pull-ups, sit-ups, and push-ups. Then, and only then, can a candidate move on to the next round of qualifications, which includes:
- A minimum score of 60 on the PJ selection model assessment
- Physical qualification for aircrew, parachute, and marine-diving duty
- Normal color vision and depth perception
- Qualification and proficiency as a static line and military freefall parachutist and as a military SCUBA diver
- Certification from the national registry for emergency medical technicians (EMTs)
- Completion of a current national agency check, local agency checks, and credit check
Typically, around 80 students start pararescue training and 65 students drop out (one-third after the first week). Those who make it move on to intense training that includes airborne school at Fort Benning, GA, and survival training at Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane, WA, among other high-stress environments.
One of the most grueling parts of pararescue training is the extended training and sleep deprivation event known as Hell Night. Designed to reproduce the stressful environment that comes along with the chaos of war, Hell Night is a 20-hour day where instructors push PJ candidates to their mental and physical limits.
The Hectic Day-to-Day Life of a PJ
Once they make it, what's the day-to-day life of a PJ like? No two days are the same! One day it might be jumping out of an airplane, the next it could be a mountain rescue with rope systems.
Caleb’s group is stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. He says his small unit is constantly in either training mode or action mode -- medical training, jump training, or deployment -- they don’t have a lot of downtime.
The PJs are qualified experts in:
- Advanced weapons/small unit tactics
- Airborne/military free fall, including parachute operations utilizing boats, cars, or other equipment
- Combat divers
- High angle/confined space rescue operations
- Small boat/vehicle craft utilization
- Rescue swimmers
- Battlefield trauma/paramedics
- Fast rope/rappel/hoist from any vertical lift aircraft to both land and open ocean rescue objectives
It’s a stressful job, to say the least.
Although he can seemingly do it all, Caleb says sleep was always one of his biggest struggles.
“My wind-down at night can still take me time, because of our adrenaline-filled days. But before the OOLER, I had trouble staying asleep. My whole shirt would be soaking wet and I’d wake up. I’d eventually fall back asleep and be exhausted.”
When Covid-19 hit last year, he says he was struggling to get more than three hours of sleep and couldn’t keep his core temperature down. Then he found out about the OOLER.
“Man, that changed my sleep overnight; I was able to get 8 hours without overheating and wouldn’t wake up in puddles of sweat,” he says.
Deep Sleep Hack: A Better Quality of Life With the OOLER
In the military, sleep is on equal footing with other key indicators of health. In other words, sleep is a healthy behavior that can lead to excelling mentally and physically. The military continues to research the science of sleep to combat the ever-present problem of sleep deprivation.
Recognizing the link between sleep and high-achievement, Caleb knew that the OOLER could help him and his team. He was happily surprised to see immediate benefits and real results after trying it out the first night. In addition to sleeping cooler and not waking up soaked in sweat, he says his whole quality of life improved. After about a week, he was feeling increased sharpness and higher energy.
“My performance felt better and I felt quicker at work,” he says.
As a scientist, Caleb’s comments about feeling better and faster make a lot of sense to me. Previously on this blog I’ve written about the role of testosterone and sleep. Struggling to sleep can throw off natural hormone levels. For example, testosterone levels rise during sleep -- testosterone is actually at its highest levels during REM sleep (which occurs mostly late in the nightly sleep cycle).
Put another way, poor sleep quality and duration can wreak havoc with energy levels and testosterone.
“Now I wake up better, faster, not as groggy, drink less caffeine, and overall feel better throughout the day. I can’t give you specifics on how many more pounds I’m lifting but I can tell you how I feel: I feel better throughout the day and feel great the whole day, and am ready for bed when it’s the evening,” says Caleb.
With that personal journey, Caleb was able to justify the importance of sleep performance and advocate the value of deep sleep for his whole team. From there, he briefed the commander and justified the human performance piece.
After introducing the OOLER to his team, Caleb reports rave reviews after their first month. He says his team is sharing similar stories of consistently longer deep sleep and better REM, which they see as extremely beneficial for surviving their unknown, stressful missions the next day.
“The guys loved them. It improves their sleep. Haven’t heard a single negative or even neutral opinion -- everyone’s been super-excited and super-happy with the OOLERs,” he says.