A napping revolution could frame the future of work

Sleeping on the job used to be considered a bad thing: but maybe a “power nap” in a designated location could save work as we know it.

Fatigued city workers are visiting sleep stations in city centers to power-nap during busy work days or before making long commutes home. They’re pressured by increasingly demanding work schedules and a culture of 24-hour availability.

But could a surge in “nap pod” companies and sleep solutions mark a future of unhealthy attitudes to work?

Tucked away on a quiet street near “Silicon Roundabout,” London’s technology and creative district near Old Street, a young woman wearing a leather jacket and dragging a small suitcase rings a yellow bell on the door of a former industrial warehouse.

She is welcomed into a unit inside. There is a rainforest soundtrack and subdued lighting comes from a small, twinkling lamp. An A4 laminated sign on the door reads “please be quiet, minds recharging in this room.”

For the next hour, she will rest in a “pod,” one of four rooms that make up Pop & Rest, a new startup providing a place to relax and sleep in the heart of the British capital.

“London is becoming more and more a 24-hour city,” Pop & Rest co-founder and CEO, Mauricio Villamizar, told WikiTribune from the center’s low-lit reception.

“[We’re] giving people flexibility and giving people places to recharge properly. Not just by having a coffee, or not just by having a cup of tea, but actually taking a proper break.”

For £18 ($23) an hour, fatigued city-dwellers can shut themselves away in a pod to either take a nap, meditate or simply have some peace and quiet.

Each pod has a bed, bedside tables, a plant and a lamp. Visitors are offered eye masks with attached headphones that play calming rainforest sounds from an iPhone playlist. On appearance, the rooms look like a trendy hostel, though with added soundproofing.

We’re giving people …places to recharge properly — not just by having a coffee – Villamizar

U.S. nonprofit the National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get seven to nine hours of sleep every night or risk a reduction in brain function and health issues. Regular poor sleep is linked to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression and can raise the risk of diabetes, heart disease and obesity. However, the American Sleep Association has found that over a third (35.3 percent) of American adults get fewer than seven hours sleep during a typical 24-hour period, and 50-70 million U.S. adults have a sleep disorder.

Sleep disorders are also an increasing problem in the UK, with some reports saying one in three suffer from insomnia.

A photo of the quiet backstreet near Old Street in central London, where Pop & Rest is located
The quiet backstreet near Old Street in central London, where Pop & Rest is located. Photo by: WikiTribune/Lydia Morrish

Demand for a place to rest in city centers

Villamizar launched Pop & Rest after he realized there were no places for tired people to rest in the middle of the capital during the day, or for commuters before making their journeys home.

“That’s why we want to set up not just a few pods, but everywhere. So it’s more practical for people who are always moving, and for travelers as well.”

The company launched its venue near Old Street in June. It currently welcomes up to 40 people a week, Villamizar told WikiTribune. The company also has venues in Monument, near the financial district, and South Kensington, and is due to set up in London Bridge, a commuter hub, by the end of the year.

Pop & Rest’s primary clientele includes travellers and workers from London’s fast-paced IT, media and finance sectors, although workers in the gig economy, such as Uber drivers or couriers, are also a target market.

“They work all around London…they work long hours all around the city, and they need space to rest and recharge,” said Villamizar.

However, he doesn’t want the spaces to be seen as solely for sleeping. “They could rest, work, or do exercise, yoga, meditation.” Pop & Rest is trying to actively promote meditation in the pods.

The company is also developing self-contained, portable nap pods that will be dotted around the city and available to a wider range of people. “[It’s] sort of an ‘Ikea’ pod that you can set up easily, and then you can remove it and put it somewhere else,” Villamizar explained.

Restworks, a sleep equipment company founded in the United States with a base in the UK, says it is responding to employer concerns about worker health and productivity. It provides “napping installations” and “wellness rooms” to corporations, hospitals and universities hoping to increase wellbeing and improve the performance of their workers. It also has an app.

It has “hundreds” of installations worldwide, including at Google, Gymshark, Virgin Active, Proctor & Gamble and MTV in the UK, Restworks CEO Edward Kaszycki told WikiTribune.

“Our solutions make it easy for employers to promote and encourage rest in the workplace and for employees to take advantage of a break to snooze.”

One of Pop & Rest’s “nap pods” that CEO Mauricio Villamizar co-founded in response to London’s lack of peacefulness. Photo by: WikiTribune/Lydia Morrish

Changing attitudes to work and sleep

Nap pods and the surge of meditation and self-care apps can be seen as a response to a lack of serenity and constant motion in capital cities. In August 2016, London launched its first ever Night Tube service, running the London Underground through from dusk to dawn. Now, a 24-hour service runs on five of the network’s main lines every weekend.

Maybe the work itself is driving people into fatigue – Holder

Around-the-clock working, the platform or “gig” economy, and the drive towards automation are posing new threats to the mental and physical health of workers. These were the findings of a British Safety Council report on the future of work and its risks published in February 2018.

It said that an increasing pace of innovation, the drive for efficiency and more work insecurity will put growing pressure on people that will lead to stress and poor mental wellbeing.

Nap pods can be seen as a symptom of what’s wrong with someone’s workplace and that they’re not getting the rest they need, said Matthew Holder, head of campaigns for the British Safety Council“Maybe the work itself is driving people into fatigue.”

On the other hand, startups like Pop & Rest can be seen as a rational response when work is taking up more of people’s time, Holder told WikiTribune.

“[But] if your workforce is constantly fatigued, there may be other things you can do other than putting them in sleep pods,” he added.

Rainforest sounds play and a smell spritzer sprays calming smells into one of four “nap pods” at Pop & Rest in central London. Photo by: WikiTribune/Lydia Morrish

Improving the sleeping habits of employees can save employers money. Research suggests that people are less productive and more prone to illness when they don’t get enough sleep.

Lost productivity due to poor sleep comes with a high cost to employers, according to a study by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in 2010. Employees with insomnia cost $3,156 in lost productivity and those with less severe sleep issues cost about $2,500 extra. Fatigue-related productivity losses were estimated to cost $1,967 per employee every year.

But sleep deprivation is not present at every level of modern-day companies.

A 2018 study by Harvard Business Review found senior executives get more sleep than anyone else. In fact, the study found the more senior a person’s role is, the more sleep they get.

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