Feature Archive

The Power of Napping

A sleep pod promises an oasis of comfort and quiet during the busy workday.

By Heather Hatfield
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario

It's midafternoon, you've just had lunch, and you're feeling tired -- probably because you didn't get enough sleep the night before, or the night before that. Before you crawl under your desk for a power nap, have you considered catching some shut-eye in a pod?

"The MetroNaps Pod blocks out sound and light to provide an instantly peaceful napping environment," says Arshad Chowdhury, co-founder of MetroNaps -- a recently launched company in New York City that offers busy Manhattanites a chance to snooze in a whole new way. "Without a pod, tired people resort to napping in cars, desks, couches, and even bathrooms."

Tired people napping in bathrooms? It happens, especially since Americans are just so darned pooped.

"Americans are seriously sleep deprived," says James Maas, author of Power Sleep. "At least 70% of people who work are getting six hours of sleep or less every night, and that is one to 1.5 hours too few."

So post-lunch, most adults are looking to catch up on their ZZZs. Whether it's in a pod, under your desk, or in the bathroom, experts explain to WebMD why napping can be a crucial part of the sleep quota.

Nap Power

"Sleep deprivation can have a serious, deleterious effect on a person's health," says Maas, who is a professor of psychology at Cornell University in New York.

Increasing a person's risk of everything from daytime drowsiness to a shortened life span, obesity, slower reaction time, concentration and memory problems, reduced creativity, critical thinking impairment, irritability, anxiousness, and depression, Maas explains that if it's negative, it can happen with sleep deprivation. Enter the power nap.

"A 15-20 minute power nap, usually midday when people start to feel the effects of not getting enough sleep, can help a person maintain their morning alertness all day long," says Maas.

The power nap also helps prevent a person from raking in some serious debt -- sleep debt, that is.

"We have to meet our sleep needs in quantity and quality per every 24 hour cycle," says Frisca Yan-Go, MD, medical director of the UCLA Sleep Disorder Center at Santa Monica Hospital. "Most people need seven to eight hours of sleep per 24 hours, and if we don't have that amount during the night, we start to create a sleep debt."

For the majority of Americans who are running full steam ahead and not getting enough sleep at night, naps are just what the sandman ordered.

"The power nap is like paying back a debt -- just like you owe an American Express card, as you pay it back over time, bit by bit, it will get better," says Yan-Go. "So anytime in between 12 p.m. and 5 p.m. is a good time to catch up on the debt with a nap."

But before you ball up your coat to take a nap on your office floor, there are some other options.

The Sleep Pod

"The idea came when I was working in banking and I saw a lot of my colleagues falling asleep during meetings and going to the bathroom to take naps," says Chowdhury. "Then when I was getting my MBA, I researched the business model for napping."

Basically, Chowdhury wanted to know if people would pay to nap.

"The benefits of napping are well established," says Chowdhury. "A brief midday rest has been shown to increase reaction times, boost alertness, and decrease nodding off. Subjective experience tells us that naps are also good for creativity and improving mood."

Chowdhury and his colleague, Christopher Lindholst, took this information and turned it into a bright idea that would put people to sleep: They called it MetroNaps, and introduced to the tired public the concept of napping in a pod.

Shaped like a lounge chair from outer space, the MetroNap Pod blocks out about 40% of all background noise, explains Chowdhury, and the napper is given headphones to block out the rest. With built-in features including a sound system that plays relaxing music or the sounds of nature to help you fall sleep, the pod wakes a napper after about 20 minutes -- before deep sleep hits.

"It prevents oversleeping with a programmable timer; nappers are woken with a combination of vibration and light," says Chowdhury. "We recommend a short nap of about 20 minutes because if you sleep for longer, you go into deep sleep which is accompanied by grogginess."

While MetroNaps initially launched eight pods in the Empire State Building in the heart of the busiest -- and arguably most sleep-deprived -- city in the world, New York, it has since taken off to the West coast.