Workplace napping hits the mainstream
Sleeping on the job has never been regarded as a very productive work habit, but new research suggests that a daytime catnap might be just what workers need to improve their output.
Companies like Google, Pizza Hut and Nike have instituted pro-nap policies, and the national holiday called Sleep at Work Day (March 10th this year) encourage dialogue about the issue.
The room is small and dark, except for a tiny sliver of light showing through the peephole. The scent of a fresh sea breeze tinted with mimosa flowers perfumes the air. The gentle clamor of ocean waves emanates softly from unseen speakers.
Swathed in cashmere blankets, and reclined with their feet above their hearts in a “zero-gravity” mattress chair, the worries of the fiercest urban warriors melt away.
For 20 minutes at least. Then it’s back to work.
Yelo, the company that provides this full-sensory sleep experience, opened in bustling Midtown Manhattan last year, after founder and former marketing executive Nicolas Ronco saw firsthand the effects of too much work and too little sleep.
“I could never really recuperate, so it was really taking a serious toll on my body and my mind and my psyche,” Ronco said. “Instead of drinking coffee and going to happy hours for alcohol and taking sleeping pills or illegal drugs, we offer a place where people can actually find a refuge, an oasis.”
Power naps are becoming the “new coffee break” for many of Ronco’s most loyal clients-–over 3,200 people have visited in the salon’s first 12 months, shelling out as little as $12 for a 20-minute snooze. He is currently scouting locations and hopes to open 500 salons around the world over the next two years.
A growing number of authors, doctors and entrepreneurs are promoting guilt-free daytime naps as studies show both that napping can improve productivity, and that Americans are sleeping less and less at night, getting only 6.9 hours on average, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
More and more companies are embracing the trend as well. Google famously offers a massage parlor, where employees can nap and rejuvenate. Pizza Hut has instituted a policy allowing its employees to nap on their breaks, no questions asked. Nike has “relaxation rooms,” equipped with napable furniture. Union Pacific permits one member per crew to take a 45-minute nap while working, to promote safe and alert train operation.
Though most of the talk about workplace napping is whimsical in tone, there are real benefits. An October 2007 British study found that the anticipation of an afternoon nap lowered blood pressure. Another study last year found that daily siestas decreased the risk of heart disease in more than 23,000 Greeks. This February, a Harvard study found that 45-minute naps increased some memory performance.
“Employees are napping secretly from other employees and the employers are too tired to know that it is happening,” Bill Anthony, the director of the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation at Boston University and a leading napping advocate, says. “It is an epidemic that we need to start dealing with.”
To spread that message he and his wife, Camille, created National Sleep at Work Day. The holiday celebrates its ninth anniversary this year on March 10 - the first workday after daylight savings time. In the past, their pet holiday has been sponsored by the Sheraton hotel chain and the Anthonys have attended “napathons” across the country.
Bill Anthony argues that most companies could improve productivity, mood and health by simply stating that employees are allowed to nap on breaks and should not fear dismissal or loss of reputation as a result. The Anthonys have published two books on the subject: “The Art of Napping” and “The Art of Napping at Work.” They run an online business, The Napping Company, that offers napping aides, advice and a survey of workplace napping.
They’ve even conducted surveys they claim demonstrate that 70 percent of workers nap on the job, Bill Anthony said. The majority do so in secret; the Anthonys even found that 4 percent of men and 8 percent of women who nap at work catch their Z’s in the last bathroom stall with a toilet paper pillow.
It’s conditions like that that appear to be driving the growth of the naptime spas like Yelo and another New York-based company, MetroNaps, which offer employees around the world a more dignified way to catch some workday Zs.
“We are just trying to get napping as readily accepted as we can,” said Janet Rhew, a MetroNaps employee. “And our company is built for that - the pod can go anywhere.”
The “pod” is actually another white leather, zero-gravity chair, but it is portable and can be installed in any office setting. A dome around the head and earphones with ambient noise provide nappers with privacy.
Like Yelo, MetroNaps originally started as a sleep lounge, set up in the company’s Empire State Building office. But founder Arshad Chowdhury realized that workers didn’t want to walk several blocks just to sleep. After changing his business model, the company has recently installed pods at Procter & Gamble, Cisco and the Savannah College of Art and Design.
These entrepreneurs hope the market for their services will only grow in the future and plan to expand. “All we can hope is that science will back us up more and more,” Rhew said.
Anthony has little doubt the evidence will continue to support the trend. But he has yet to form an opinion on the best technique for napping during the workday.
“We can tell you what is most popular and how people feel about longer or shorter naps,” Bill Anthony said. “But napping, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder.