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.

"We recently expanded to the Vancouver airport, and offer travelers the opportunity to take naps while they wait for their flights," says Chowdhury.

With a monthly membership fee of $65 in New York City, and an hourly cost of $15 at the Vancouver airport, MetroNaps is already taking orders for more pods.

"We are currently taking orders for pod rentals for $250-$300 a month, depending on how many pods an institution or corporation wants to rent," says Chowdhury. "An individual pod can also be purchased for $7,950."

If you are in the vicinity of the Empire State Building, and want a nap, planning ahead is important. "By midweek we are definitely full," Chowdhury says, "so we recommend that people make appointments in advance."

Napping Sans Pod

While the rest of the world waits tirelessly for sleep pods to be installed on every street corner, crawling under the desk will have to do. But how do you explain that to the boss?

"Many people don't nap because they say they would be fired, and understandably, it's a tough sell," says Camille Anthony, co-author of The Art of Napping at Work. "But if an employer wants a productive workforce, employees need the tools to be productive, and that includes napping."

So the trick if you're not getting enough sleep at night, explains Anthony, is obvious: Don't sleep on the job.

"You don't need to nap during your work hours -- if you get a lunch break or an afternoon break, nap then," says Anthony.

Be efficient about it, too, so you can make the most of your nap time. Here are some tips that that will help maximize the benefits of the power nap:

Bring comfort to work. Anthony suggests bringing a mat to work instead of sleeping on the floor, and maybe a blanket and pillow.

Find a comfort zone. "Figure out how to have an effective nap, so find a comfort zone," says Anthony. "Do you need a blanket, your feet up, or your glasses off? Find your comfort zone and use that to help you nap well."

Use tricks. "Use what we call napnomic devices to help yourself fall asleep," says Anthony. "Use a radio, white noise, eye shades, temperature -- whatever you need to help you fall asleep."

Keep it short. "Keep your nap to about 10-20 minutes," says Anthony. "Over 30 is too much because then you are getting into the deeper levels of sleep."

Be creative about where you nap. "If your office doesn't have an employee lounge that you can nap in, find a quiet spot to curl up in -- other than the bathroom or your car, which are not very nap friendly," says Anthony.

Set your alarm. If you want to make sure your boss isn't ticked off about you catching some shut-eye on the job, and to help avoid slipping into a deep sleep, set your watch alarm, or have someone call you so you wake up on time and can get back to work, bright eyed and bushy tailed.

Get your sleep at night, like nature intended. "The important thing to remember about napping is that if you get sufficient sleep at night, you don't need to nap when you're meant to be awake, whether it's in a pod or elsewhere," says Marcia Stein, spokeswoman for the National Sleep Foundation. "If you feel sleepiness when you've had enough sleep, that may be a signal that something is wrong and you should see a doctor."

Published Jan. 10, 2005.


SOURCES: Camille Anthony, M.Ed, co-author, The Art of Napping at Work (co-authored with William Anthony, PhD), Reading, Mass. Arshad Chowdhury, co-founder, MetroNaps, New York City. James Maas, author, Power Sleep; and professor of psychology, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. Marcia Stein, spokeswoman, National Sleep Foundation, Washington. Frisca Yan-Go, MD, medical director, UCLA Sleep Disorder Center at Santa Monica Hospital, Calif.

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