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How The Sleep Industry Infiltrated Offices

Christopher Lindholst, CEO of MetroNaps, explains how "sleeping on the job" became a good thing.

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In recent years, countless studies have extolled the virtues of napping. A quick power nap can sharpen your focus , boost creativity, and mitigate the effects of sleep deprivation. But if you work a 9 to 5 at an office, how can you fulfill your nap quota without being called out for sleeping on the job?

If you work at the posh offices of Google, the Huffington Post or Cisco Systems Inc., you take a break from your desk and slip into your own private "sleeping pod." The $13,000 pods are the brainchild of Christopher Lindholst and Arshad Chowdhury, who have been preaching the benefits of napping at work since they opened their company MetroNaps in 2004. Starting out as a retail operation, MetroNaps now manufactures a line of sleep pods and acts as a kind of "sleep consultant" for companies, offering guidance on how to work napping into a work culture that they say is becoming increasingly accepting of the idea.

"When we started the company a decade ago, people thought we were mad to say that people should be sleeping on the job," Lindholst says. "In the few last years we’ve seen a significant change—whereas before people were surprised we were out there offering this, now people are much more aware of a need for solutions in this realm. And they’re more open to helping people provide a solution, and more knowledgeable of the benefits of napping. We’re now in that place where sleep is going to get a lot of attention and where employers are trying to get sleep for their employees."

That's thanks in large part to the number of studies heralding the benefits of sleep, but Lindholst also sees a correlation between the health of a business and a business's concern with the health of their employees. As the economy has improved since 2008, he says, companies are thinking about employee retention and long-term satisfaction. Nutrition and fitness plans are both frequently built into company benefits. Why not sleep?

Lindholst says that companies are opening up to the idea, but until "nap culture" becomes the norm, people need a space at work to sleep that's secluded and discrete. As a result, MetroNap's nap pods look a bit like a cross between an Eames lounge chair and a sensory deprivation tank: an ergonomically designed recliner is topped with a four-foot spherical visor that surrounds the top of half of one's body like a giant helmet. The angle of the recline is based on NASA research that found elevating a person's feet and knees into a "gravity neutral" position distributes the body weight evenly and takes pressure off of the cardiovascular system. It's the same position astronauts are strapped into just before take-off.

Each pod also comes with a timer to encourage users not to exceed a 20-minute power nap. Lindholst suggest a nap much longer than 20 minutes enters the realm of deep sleep and causes the napper to feel groggy rather than refreshed. "[The timer] is to prevent you from over-napping, but also to educate you about naps," he says. To truly reap the benefits of a quick snooze, the best time of day is between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., when most people's energy levels tend to drop. That's also the time of day when people tend to "self-medicate" for their drowsiness by eating sugary snacks or drinking an extra cup of coffee.

Unsurprisingly, many of MetroNap's big name clients are the same tech companies that draw a link between employees' health and productivity. But MetroNap has seen its business expand—to finance, hospitals, publishing and other industries with more traditional work cultures—and Lindholst says its sales echo the growing awareness of the benefits of sleep.

MetroNap's big project for 2016 is making connected pods so that employers can track data—for example, to see which pods are getting the most use and where to locate them. Lindholst sees this as an opportunity to enrich their own sleep studies too. "It's interesting to see empirically, how the pods are used differently from hospital to technology companies and places that have employees 24/7," says Lindholst. "I think we’ll see some interesting patterns."

As the data becomes more accessible, it's easy to imagine employers monitoring sleeping patterns to determine when and under which circumstances their employees are most productive. It seems that in the quantified office of the future, no activity is spared from constant surveillance, not even while you're sleeping.

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