Sleeping on the job has long been frowned upon, but office napping may finally be climbing out from under the desk.
A small but growing number of businesses are encouraging sleep-deprived employees to grab 40 winks during the workday, providing rooms -- or, in some cases, high-tech napping pods -- to get the job done right. Benefits include a more productive workforce and, hopefully, the end to stealth sales meeting snoozes.
A third of U.S. adults are not getting the recommended seven hours of sleep per night, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, contributing to a range of problems, including health issues and mistakes at work. Sleep deprivation costs the U.S. $411 billion in annual economic losses, according to a Rand Corp. study, with the equivalent of about 1.23 million working days lost each year due to insufficient sleep.
Cutting-edge businesses like Google have been providing napping spaces for employees for about a decade, but it remains a vaguely guilty endeavor in many workplaces, and a fireable offense in others. In some corporate cultures, being sleep-deprived is a source of pride.
"There's kind of a badge of honor for how little you sleep in this world," said Sara Mednick, an associate professor of cognitive science at the University of California at Irvine and author of a book on the benefits of napping. "The idea of napping in front of people while they're all working really hard -- there's not a lot of respect for that."
But corporate culture has been slowly changing in the two decades since surreptitious office shut-eye was explored in the 1997 Seinfeld episode "The Nap," in which George Costanza gets trapped for hours in the cozy napping nook under his desk while his boss camps out in the office awaiting his return.
Eastlake Studio, a Chicago architecture and interior design firm that works both with office buildings and individual tenants, is seeing increased demand for designated quiet spaces where napping is a contemplated use.
"They're just looking for places where people can go get re-energized," said Tom Zurowski, founding principal of Eastlake. "Certainly that need to just get away from all the noise and maybe take a nap is one of the options they want to provide."
Zurowski said Eastlake is installing everything from multipurpose relaxation areas to a meditation room for clients. While his firm has yet to create a designated napping room with a bed, spaces with couches, recliners and even massage chairs are intended to help employees throttle down.
Sleeping at the office remains far from widespread acceptance, however. And with 40 to 50 percent of adults napping on a regular basis, Mednick said, that leads to some creative ways to sneak in a workday snooze, such as workers going to their cars, a park bench, the library or a coffee shop to nod off discreetly.
Office napping carries much less of a stigma in other parts of the world. In China, for example, workers often take a break after lunch and put their heads on their desks for an hourlong nap, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Still, there's enough demand for places to nap at work that a number of manufacturers have developed pop-up sleeping accommodations for offices not necessarily designed for such inactivity.
Two European manufacturers were among those unveiling new nap pods to the North American market last month at the annual NeoCon commercial interiors show in Chicago.
Silence Business Solutions, a 3-year-old French company, rolled out La Boite a Reves (The Dream Box), a $19,000 wooden "recovery cocoon." The windowless, soundproof pod features 12 light and sound atmospheres programmed to gently guide the user through a 15-minute power nap, controlled by a touch screen. It also includes a small but comfortable bed.
The Dream Box made its debut in Europe last year, selling units to companies such as L'Oreal and cloud computing firm OVH, said Galia Jacobs, a spokeswoman for Silence Business Solutions.
Framery, an 8-year-old Finnish company, introduced its own napping pod at NeoCon, a variation on its glassed-in, soundproof meeting pod. The $20,000 NapQ features two cushioned chairs that transform into a bed.
A possible drawback: The napper is fully visible inside the pod, ending any chance of getting some shut-eye in anonymity.
"You can equip it with some kind of curtains to have some visual privacy as well," said Samu Hallfors, CEO of Framery.
Hallfors began developing the napping pod two years ago at the suggestion of clients.
"The whole product is based on customers asking for a place to have a nap," he said. "We built a space that's as comfortable as it gets in a small package. So basically, all the ventilation and lighting and ergonomics are based on the research we did to provide the most comfortable place to take a nap during the workday."
Paul Ritten, senior project manager for Hudson Everly, an Orlando, Fla., commercial flooring company, eagerly clambered into The Dream Box during NeoCon. A former football player at the University of Florida and regular work napper, Ritten sprawled out across the bed and closed the door. An external red light indicated the pod was occupied as Ritten put it through its paces.
Several minutes later, the door opened, and Ritten emerged with a smile on his face, duly impressed with the accommodations.
"It could be useful," he said.
Ritten learned the benefits of napping while playing football at Florida in the mid-1980s under then-coach Charley Pell, who preached the restorative powers of a 20-minute post-lunch nap. It is a daily routine that Ritten has carried with him into the business world.
The flooring company's designated nap area is a small TV room with a couple of couches and chairs. Ritten sneaks in daily 15-minute afternoon naps, with phone calls and other interruptions usually providing a wake-up call before an alarm sounds.
"We're there early; we go home late," Ritten said. "Sometimes you just need that little time to recharge and turn a light out and close your eyes for a minute."
While Ritten liked the ambience and privacy of the napping pod, the $19,000 price tag was a rude awakening.
"That's a little pricey compared to a recliner," Ritten said. "We can buy a $400 chair."
High Profile on 09/09/2018