Albert Einstein: noted genius and a big fan of sleep. Illustration: Ashley Siebels
This is the week to honor sleep.
Observe: March 12 was Daylight Saving Time, that ruiner of sleep; March 13 was National Napping Day to make up for it; and March 17 will be International Sleep Day.
This is no frivolous fun: Many Americans don’t get enough sleep, and the US is paying for it. Research from the Rand Corporation found that “on an annual basis, the US loses an equivalent of about 1.23 million working days due to insufficient sleep.”
We have two people to thank for validating this daytime napping trend in 1999 — and for placing National Napping Day so close to Daylight Saving Time. Former Boston University professor William Anthony and his wife Camille started Workplace Napping Day to show how resting is good for our health, according to Boston University. After compiling data from thousands of people, the pair came up with eight napping health benefits, including making you feel good, and boosting productivity.
The good news: we are in a golden age of new technology that promotes naps and sleeping.
Sleep technology while working and traveling
You don’t have to be in your own bed to take a nap these days. Airports, libraries and offices have all adopted sleep technology.
Airports can be exhausting, so more of them offer quick-sleep amenities. The company Minute Suites offers private rooms for people to sleep or get work done in between flights or during long delays at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Philadelphia International Airport and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Each room reportedly has a couch, a “trundle,” blankets and pillowcases.
JetBlue has also offered ways to sleep at the airport, according to CNN Money. Travelers at New York’s JFK Airport have been able to sleep in JetNap EnergyPods made by the company MetroNaps. The pods are designed to make sure you don’t miss your flight: they reportedly play music, vibrate and shine lights to wake sleepers up.
As with any product, there have been complaints about Jet Blue’s nap pods, so you’ll have to check it out for yourself and sleep at your own risk.
The same “EnergyPod” technology created by MetroNaps has been used at Google’s Mountain View campus and the headquarters for AOL, Facebook and the Huffington Post in New York, according to Fortune. The C-shaped pods block out overhead light and, together in a room, look like a container of futuristic eggs.
Podtime makes long, cylindrical napping containers that shut out more light and sound, as well as provide space for a stereo, laptop and magazines. Unfortunately, they don’t seem ideal for claustrophobes: they resemble the magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI machines, at hospitals.
Then there are the low-tech solutions: social media company Hootsuite’s Vancouver office offers cots, blankets and pillows for daytime naps. Online shoe-retailer Zappos received a nod from the National Sleep Foundation for its simple room filled with beanbag chairs and recliners.
Technology that helps you sleep at home
Almost everyone knows the key elements for a good night’s sleep at home: regular bedtimes, cool rooms, comfortable pillows and quiet. Sleep advocate and media executive Arianna Huffington designed her bedroom — a “Slumber Palace,” according to New York Magazine — for perfect sleep and she advocates a daily ritual of a warm bath and limited electronics before bed.
In a perfect world, that would work. But some technology can be helpful.
If you have trouble setting regular bedtimes, the iPhone has a “sleep reminder” function that works as an alarm that tells you when to go to bed.
If, on the other hand, you get in bed at the right time but find it difficult to fall asleep — even with warm milk — the popular BrainWave app plays sounds designed to get you relaxed, napping, or into a deep sleep. It also has settings for alertness.
If you’re always waking up groggy, the app SleepCycle tracks your sleeping patterns and emits a gentle alarm when you’re at the perfect point to wake up — which means you won’t be dragged out of a deep sleep by invasive loud beeping. (The catch: you have to place your iPhone or Android phone on the nightstand or under your pillow or next to you on the bed.) The app also collects sleep data so you can look at your pattern of bedtimes, your total hours in bed, and other fun facts.
In low-tech solutions: no one ever regretted using a sleep mask to block out light. Our bodies sleep better in dark environments.
Why you should adopt a napping habit
Napping wasn’t always socially accepted, particularly as industrialization convinced people they should always be on the go.
Albert Einstein was a big fan of naps and deep sleep, up to 10 hours a day. If sleep can support that kind of brilliance, it can certainly make all of our days more productive too.
Napping has drawn powerful advocates, however, including Winston Churchill: “You must sleep sometime between lunch and dinner, and no half-way measures…Don’t think you will be doing less work because you sleep during the day. That’s a foolish notion held by people who have no imaginations. You will be able to accomplish more. You get two days in one— well, at least one and a half, I’m sure,” Winston Churchill said, according to a New York Times article.
Although we’re supposed to be more alert during the day than at night, it’s normal to be a little tired in the afternoon, and taking an nap in the afternoon can help you combat sleepiness that would otherwise extend for the entire workday, according to Harvard Health Publications at Harvard Medical School.
And NASA was one of the first advocates of the daytime nap, for pilot safety. Its studies have shown that even 26 minutes of sleep during the day can help improve mental performance — but, as the space-exploration agency notes, there is no real substitute for eight hours of shut-eye.