Finally! My prayers have been answered! Now, if they'd just open one up near me. Wait, maybe I could be a franchisee...or, I could just steal their idea and call it my own.
NYC siesta salon offers 20-minute pick-me-ups
By Stevenson Swanson
Tribune national correspondent
Published December 7, 2004
NEW YORK -- The days are short and cold. The lists of year-end and holiday chores are endless. Rich food and befogging beverages abound.
Sounds like a good time for a nap.
The holiday stretch that ends with the bleary eyes of New Year's Day is surely the high season for the oft-maligned practice of catching 40 winks.
At least that is the hope of two young entrepreneurs who are heading into their first holiday season as proprietors of MetroNaps, a space-age snooze station that opened earlier this year at the Empire State Building.
For $14, sagging shoppers and weary workers can put their feet up for a 20-minute power nap in a dimly lit space filled with seven sleep pods, which look like surplus from the set of "2001: A Space Odyssey."
A third of an hour may not sound like much, but a brief mid-afternoon nap can be just the thing to make the rest of the day productive. A 2002 study by Harvard University researchers found that subjects who napped were better able to process information and learn new skills than those who stayed awake.
"We allow people to do more with their day," said co-owner Christopher Lindholst, 29. "There's a natural tendency to be drowsy in the afternoon, but we know that Americans are chronically sleep-deprived. People are leading busier lives, and sleep is the first thing that gets compromised."
Occupying an office space on the skyscraper's 24th floor, MetroNaps has had steady business since opening in May, he said.
The company's custom-built napping stations resemble lounge chairs with their leg rests extended. Nappers can adjust their leg elevation to reduce cardiac strain, and a spherical hood can be pulled over the upper body for greater darkness.
Headphones pipe in ethereal electronic music that soon induces a trancelike state. After 20 minutes, the back of the chair vibrates, and the lights come on in the pod.
"I wake up early every day," said frequent customer Janet Rhew, 22, a special-education teacher whose students are preschoolers. "I just find that by early afternoon, after the kids leave, I'm pretty exhausted. It's 20 minutes, and I'm good to go."
Co-owner Arshad Chowdhury came up with the idea for MetroNaps while working as an investment banker in New York. In a business notorious for brutal hours, he saw co-workers fall asleep at their desks or sneak off to the bathroom to take a nap.
While studying for his MBA at Carnegie Mellon University, Chowdhury researched the idea of a business that would charge people to take naps. A few companies provide napping lounges for employees, but he knows of no enterprise like MetroNaps.
"There is an unfortunate and outmoded notion of napping," said Chowdhury, 28, referring to the perception that napping is a sign of laziness. "Our biggest challenge was to repackage napping. We had to reinvigorate it with a new style."
Sleep specialists say that ever since Thomas Edison--a frequent catnapper--invented the light bulb, Americans have been getting less sleep.
A 2001 survey of 1,004 adults by the private National Sleep Foundation in Washington indicated that 31 percent of Americans get less than seven hours of sleep a night, the minimum amount recommended.
And 40 percent of those surveyed said drowsiness interferes with their work anywhere from a few days a month to almost every day.
Even in Spain, Portugal and Italy, lands associated with a midday slumber, the go-go ethic of contemporary culture and the pressure to stay competitive in the global economy are causing a decline in the siesta.
That led 18 Portuguese artists, politicians and writers last year to form the Association of Friends of the Siesta.
Members promote the siesta "as a restful pause in the middle of the working day which produces harmonious biological rhythms, frees us from stress and improves the quality of life at the psychosomatic level."
Quite true, according to James Maas, a Cornell University psychologist and the author of the book "Power Sleep." What's more, lack of sleep can lead to impaired cognitive functioning, accidents in the workplace and an increased risk of heart attacks.
"The main problem is that people do not see sleep as a necessity," Maas said. "They look at sleep as a luxury. But to be blunt, sleep deprivation makes you stupid, clumsy, and it can shorten your life."
Still, naps are not a panacea for every yawn. There's no substitute for the seven to nine hours of nighttime sleep that most adults require, Maas said.
Too long a nap, however, can leave a person feeling groggy and disoriented, according to James Wyatt, laboratory director of Sleep Disorders Center at Chicago's Rush University Medical Center.
That's because after about 15 minutes, the brain descends into deep sleep, the factor that led MetroNaps to establish its 20-minute schedule--five minutes for relaxing, 15 minutes to nap.
Long naps, Wyatt notes, also can set someone up for trouble falling asleep at bedtime. And napping is not for insomniacs, he said. That will only exacerbate sleeplessness at night.
"Napping is the last thing you should do," Wyatt said. "You should get the insomnia treated."
Lindholst said MetroNaps hopes to expand to other cities. The company is set to open its second location soon, at Vancouver's airport.
And several companies are considering setting up employee napping lounges equipped with MetroNap's pods.
"They would be great for morale but also for productivity," Lindholst said.
Copyright © 2004, Chicago Tribune