New York, New York

To Nap, Perchance to Rest

When 37 percent of adults say they’re so tired it interferes with their work, shouldn’t smart employers bring back rest time? Visiting a new professional napping center in the Empire State Building.

Dagwood, the notorious bungling husband of cartoon heroine Blondie, is often depicted slack-jawed and snoozing at his desk while his blowhard boss has little puffs of steam coming out his ears. Other cartoon antiheroes like Homer Simpson and Fred Flintstone also are known for sleeping on the job, an act generally used to iconify the humor of the lazy and stupid. Only a fool would sleep in the middle of the work day, right? Nappers do not make for Stephen Covey’s highly effective people, and you certainly won’t find “Put your feet up, take a snooze,” as a suggestion in any of the One-Minute Manager books.

Me, I can sleep anywhere if I’m tired, and nowhere when I’m not. This led to sleeping in such high-class locales as workplace bathrooms, a corner table at CBGB while loud punk bands played, and client conference rooms. Most terrifying was the time I fell asleep on the A train on a Friday commute home the day after a long night out and found myself roused by an MTA conductor somewhere at the end of the line in a Bronx train yard; both of us were impressed no one had stolen my bag or written a cautionary statement on my face in marker. I got lucky, and he felt sorry enough for me to give me a lift the mile or so to the closest “real” subway stop so I could go home, but it was at that moment I vowed to always try to sleep if at all possible when I felt the pull, or bad things could easily happen.

The time management craze that turned into institutionalized work habits began in the late ‘60s, hitting full steam in the ‘80s, when every second not spent making money or giving your life over part and parcel to your employer was considered on par with professional treason. Yet sleepy drivers are responsible for more than 100,000 car crashes a year, most being attributed not to long-haul drivers but sleepy shift workers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (They advocate taking naps at the end or middle of the work day to combat drowsy driving.) The National Sleep Foundation reports 37 percent of adults say they are so sleepy during the day that it interferes with their daily activities a few days a month or more; 16 percent of adults experience this level of daytime sleepiness at least a few days per week or more. Given the statistics, shouldn’t we be regarding our dozing cartoon oafs as role models?

Maybe I’m jaded, but my workplace experience says nothing is true in the workplace—no matter how logical or scientific the data—until a good-looking MBA says it is. Christopher Lindholst and his business partner Arshad Chowdhury, both pedigreed masters of business administration, believe they can change the future of workplace productivity by letting people do the one thing more taboo than having sex at the Christmas party: taking a nap.

In May, Lindholst and Chowdhury opened MetroNaps in the Empire State Building, an architectural love letter to industry not just from New York but from America. Surely any nap intentionally taken in that building has to be good, if only by virtue of historical significance. The concept was born out of sleep research the pair took part in while classmates at Carnegie-Mellon and continued when planning their business. Lindholst, a former health economist (someone whose job it is to assess value of medical products) explained their choice as, “business logic. Being in the Empire State Building, we’re in a location everyone can find, everyone knows where it is, and secondly, with all the businesses in the building, we start out convenient to a large customer base.”

As someone who sleeps four hours a night and relies on a mid-day blackout nap, I’m overjoyed to see naps finally being brought to us by nice MBAs in white shirts and cuff links. Lindholst takes napping very seriously, and is deeply concerned with the discretion of his customers. He would not name names, allow photos if other customers were on site, or make light of the nap process no matter how I prodded him. He cited “many professionals and Broadway actors” as his chief repeat clients, assuring me once customers have MetroNapped they are very likely to return. I completely believe him because they have gone out of their way to insure the experience is gentle, comfortable, and has little touches of luxury so even cheapskates can write off $14 for 20 minutes of peace. Lotion, lemon-scented hand towels, and mineral water spritz wait at the “wake stations” to help you freshen up after your snooze. They’ll order lunch for you while you sleep, so a reasonably priced sushi meal or salad is ready when you emerge refreshed and ready to nosh. You return to work looking no worse for the wear, and still have time to eat.

The nap goes like this: After checking in (where you have a chance to pre-order lunch), you’re escorted to your nap pod, a hybrid that looks like a Djinn Chaise cradled inside a bubble chair. You climb in, get comfortable, and 20 minutes later, the chair gives a little shake to wake you, with light filling the hood of the sleep pod. Only occasionally have MetroNaps personnel had to manually wake a zealous sleeper—since the sleep is brief, nappers don’t reach deep REM sleep, just get a nice little mind and body break to recharge them for the rest of their day.

Though MetroNaps’ lunch-hour concept is novel, it’s the sleep pods that win points for innovation. Designed specifically for MetroNaps by noted architect and industrial designer Matthew Hoey, whom New Yorkers may know best for his sleek design of the Soho club Canal Room, the pods were built based on Lindholst and Chowdhury’s research at Carnegie Mellon. The pod chairs tilt back, holding the body in the “zero gravity” position, removing pressure from the spine and shoulders. The feet are elevated and the privacy visor keeps fellow nappers from gawking in case, like me, you occasionally drool in your sleep. The hood also provides darkness and sense of being in a cocoon, safe and sound. “The goals were to try to remove as many of the barriers to sleep as possible,” says Lindholst. “We also suggest people try it at least twice. The first time, they may be too conscious of the experience to get the high-quality sleep they need. Usually the biggest thing in the way of first-time [Metro]Nappers is worrying they won’t fall asleep. The second time, they know what to expect and come mentally expecting to sleep, which makes a big difference.”

Apparently their clients’ employers are noticing a positive effect on the workplace as well. Several companies have purchased books of nap coupons to help their staff through large projects or to thank them for a job well done. “We’re expecting to sell a lot of books at Christmas time for gifts,” Lindholst added, and I can see why; any boss who gave me the gift of sleep would inspire loyalty and appreciation, not because she would be endorsing a little unproductive time, but for her acknowledgement of my humanity.

As someone who sleeps four hours a night and relies on a mid-day blackout nap, I’m overjoyed to see naps finally being brought to us by nice MBAs in white shirts and cuff links. If it catches on, I would almost consider re-entering the American nine-to-five work force again—the nicest thing about my freelance lifestyle is not having to explain why I can’t keep my eyes open (and have stopped trying to) between 2:30 and 2:45 p.m. each day. Though I’d love to be in a workplace that spent eight grand to have its own pod on site, the sheer zeitgeist of making napping not only OK, but a good thing gives me hope. Plus, it’s a lot more civilized than sleeping in a chair at CBGB or having to flirt with transit workers to score a ride back to civilization.


TMN Contributing Writer Leslie Harpold was a pioneer in web design and online publishing. At the time of her death in 2006, she lived in Grosse Pointe, Mich., where she was working on a novel and “dreaming alternately of an ├╝ber-urban or ultra-rural future, as she is not one to do things by halves.” More by Leslie Harpold