(Photo Credit: Sellon Kirjasto/Flickr)
It's a possibility that might be closer to reality than you think. As experts continue to warn of the myriad of problems caused by sleep deprivation, including some very real potential health risks and decreases in productivity, more and more employers have been expanding the scope of employee wellness and nutrition programs to include a simple but very valuable category of health: sleep.
Enter the sleep (or "nap") pod. A unique approaches being implemented by companies ranging from Google to NASA, The Jetsons-like devices popping up in workplaces around the country are essentially sleek, shiny, capsule-looking chairs that function as a personal mobile bedroom in the middle of the office for lagging employees who'd prefer a short snooze to a bad cup of cafeteria coffee.
By setting a 20-minute timer inside one of the futuristic pods, which often block out noise and light by way of a hooded dome, you can have the very definition of a power nap right in the middle of your work day. The ultimate goal? To use naps to increase productivity and (and presumably improve overall health) among workers.
Employees of all types and sizes have incorporated some type of sleeping pods into the office environment, including major companies like Facebook and Procter & Gamble.
Instead of grabbing a gourmet chai latte from the Googleplex cafeteria when the 3 p.m. slump hits, Google employees, for example, can refuel in an "EnergyPod," a sleek, futuristic sleeping chair created by MetroNaps, a New York-based company that's been in the pod production game since 2003.
The EnergyPod looks like a super-fancy, space-age version of an airplane chair, ergonomically designed, reclines to keep the sleeper's legs elevated, and is outfitted with an aforementioned hooded dome, or, "privacy visor," to help block out sights and sounds from the outside world.
Other bells and whistles include a built-in speaker that can funnel calming music accompanied by vibrations, and "timed waking," which users can set to custom or pre-programmed 20-minute napping sessions.
While they might sound (and certainly look) silly, the goal behind the pods is a worthwhile one. According to an extensive sleep study led by Harvard Medical School researcher Ronald C. Kessler, Ph.D. in 2011, for example, insomnia costs the average American worker 11.3 days and $2,280 in "lost productivity" each year. And as a nation, our collective losses are fairly mind-blowing: $63.2 billion (252.7 days) annually.
"We were shocked by the enormous impact insomnia has on the average person's life," Kessler said. "In an information-based economy, it's difficult to find a condition that has a greater effect on productivity."
"I think people are staying up late more," MetroNaps CEO Christopher Lindholst told Sleep Review last year. "And frankly, humans, we're really good at shortchanging sleep," he continued. "That's often the thing that comes last … We watch that movie we shouldn't and we do some work late at night, but sleep gets sacrificed quite a lot … And general awareness of sleep is growing at the same time."
In addition to the EnergyPod, which they've dubbed the "first chair designed exclusively for power napping in the work place," MetroNaps offers a handful of other types of pods priced between $8,000 and $13,000. Along with Google, the company counts NASA, Cisco, the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Cleveland Indians, Huffington Post, and Procter & Gamble among its clients, which reportedly span four continents and 20 countries.
Many of the companies have successfully marketed the pods to airports, universities and libraries as well as workplaces and some offer additional sleep-related services and products. Powernaps has placed a "power naps studio" in Fort Worth, in addition to "in-house installations." Hammacher Schlemmer sells everything from alien head-shaped noise- and light-blocking pillows to a $30,000 "Tranquility Pod," which lulls occupants to sleep with a vibrating memory foam mattress and a "pulse sensor" that syncs the heart rate with 50 "mind-calming" LED lights.
A 20-minute nap can increase alertness by 30 percent, according to Lindholst, and companies both big and small are prepared to shell out more than $10,000 for a glorified bed (but probably not a desk) for employees, sleep pods might very well be on their way to becoming a staple of employee benefit packages faster than you can say 401K.
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