Selling Sleep, One Pod at a Time
Oxygen bars and power lunches are so last year. The new thing is napping with style.
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By Michael Long
March 6, 2005
In the middle of the hustle and bustle of midtown, Christopher Lindholst and Arshad Chowdhury set out to see whether they could sell what these tired people need more than anything else, sleep.
On the 24th floor of the Empire State building, in a small space that could be leased by one of the many attorneys in the building, the MetroNaps founders set up a station of specially-designed sleep pods, offering twenty minutes of repose for $13.45. A “wake-station,” with mints, refreshing spray, hand towels and a locker for your things completes the experience.
The furniture, or sleep pod, as MetroNaps calls their chaise lounge with a privacy bubble and built-in full body buzzer-as-alarm clock, is the sexy selling point driving interest in the otherwise pedestrian concept of naptime.
HealthyLivingNYC sat down with Lindholst recently to find out what started their sleep mission and where they are going with it. Why, we asked, did they choose the Empire State building, are these people more underslept than most?
“We chose the Empire State Building for its iconic status,” Lindholst said. “More practically there are 10,000 people who work in the building. Most people aren't going to travel extensively to take a nap. They are willing to walk about as far as they would to go get their lunch.”
To make sure that people don’t have to make a decision between their bellies and taking a nap in the pod, MetroNaps does offer a mix of sandwiches and salads that can be ordered when you start your nap and ready to go when you leave, but Lindholst noted that they are not in the business of selling sandwiches.
The business idea came originally from Chowdhury, who was working downtown in financial services a few years ago and was struck by how many of his coworkers were sleeping in strange places around the office, including the toilet. With an MBA from Carnegie Mellon, Chowdhury and Lindholst, who was a health economist working for Johnson & Johnson with an MBA from Columbia, realized that there was a niche market to be filled.
MetroNaps is quick to point out the science behind the value of naptime. According to one study conducted by a researcher at Harvard quoted on their website, a nap of one half hour significantly improved performance on repetitive perceptual and cognitive tasks. In our discussion, Lindholst noted that the 20-minute naptime in their pods was carefully calculated to allow five minutes for falling asleep and fifteen minutes of naptime. According to their research, fifteen minutes is the optimal nap time during the afternoon energy slump.
The fact that Americans aren’t getting enough sleep and that companies are missing out on productivity due to daytime sleepiness is undeniable. The hard part is creating a compelling reason to pay someone for a nap. MetroNaps is betting that the pod will do the trick.
Lindholst recalled development of their trademarked pod, “We strove to come up with a practical tool and one that had a great aesthetic. We deconstructed the napping experience and came up with a design that is driving the napping discussion.” The Pod, which allows one to elevate the feet to increase circulation and take stress off the lower back, is much better designed for sleep than a toilet seat. We spoke to one Midtown office worker with experience in toilet sleeping, who noted that sitting on the toilet for too long can cause your legs to fall asleep.
Obviously, the Pod wins seats down over the toilet, but what about just passing out at your desk, nodding off in front of the computer screen? Lindholst said, ““It shouldn't be professionally acceptable to sleep at your desk, but there is no reason to prevent your employees from taking a break to regain their alertness. We let employees to take all kinds of breaks: for lunch, to go the bathroom, outside for a cup of coffee or a quick nicotine fix. There is no reason why people shouldn't be able to take a nap break; it just shouldn’t be done at your desk.”
Recognizing that the pay-for-play Pod model and single location does not allow them to reach as wide of a market as they would like, MetroNaps is marketing the pod to companies, hospitals and universities for about $350 a month per pod. Lindholst commented on the number of medical errors that could potentially be prevented by providing severely under-slept hospital workers with a brief nap. Commuter driving mistakes after a long workday also come to mind as a significant risk of late-day drowsiness.
While many workers would not travel for a nap, we spoke to a number of professionals who have been timidly requesting a nap room from their human resources departments for years with little response. Most companies do not have the space and don’t know how to accommodate the napping experience. By marketing the Pod directly to companies, MetroNaps is working to reeducate corporate HR departments for the workers, who may be afraid that a request for a napping accommodation could be seen as a sign of laziness.
“Our biggest challenge,” Lindholst agreed, “is the cultural shift, educating people about sleep in general. People know very little about sleep compared to the rest of the world around them. Educating people about the benefits of napping is our primary goal.”
If MetroNaps is successful in shifting the corporate world’s understanding of how to best support their workers’ alertness, productivity and overall health, we may see a world where napping is a standard part of the workday, just like lunch.
Go ahead. Forward your HR department this article. There is no need to argue over who gets to use the Pod at what time. Give the office Pod its own Outlook calendar and schedule an appointment. The creepy part will be if the Pod starts rescheduling appointments due to overrun conference calls.