Jessica Leigh Hester is a former senior associate editor at CityLab, covering environment and culture. Her work also appears in the New Yorker, The Atlantic, New York Times, Modern Farmer, Village Voice, Slate, BBC, NPR, and other outlets.
The snooze that almost was.
It was 4 p.m. and 86 degrees Fahrenheit when it was my turn to slide off my shoes and crawl into the napmobile.
Casper, an on-demand mattress company, rolled into town towing a trailer outfitted with four nap pods. When I heard that the trailer would be parked in a pedestrian plaza next to Madison Square Park, in the shadow of the Flatiron building, I thought I’d walk over and give it a try.
The goal, of course is to shill mattresses. It’s a clever marketing tool. I’m not in the market for a new bed, no matter how doughy. But I figured that it would be fun to get of the office and score a nap in the middle of a workday, combining my love of field trips and sleeping. Even better: I’d drift off to the frying-burger fumes wafting from a nearby Shake Shack.
We’ve written a lot about siestas, from a desk with a built-in sleeping compartment to a walk-in, pop-up nap parlor in London, to Google Naps, a crowdsourced app that helps users find the closest place to steal some shut-eye. I counted this as research.
I walked over to the plaza and joined a queue. A 30-something mom and sleepy toddler were in front of me; a briefcase-toting businessman brought up the rear. I swiped at beads of sweat pooling on my lip and forehead. Dozens of people sat underneath green umbrellas, sipping iced coffees or slurping gelato and ogling the sleep-deprived zombies lining up to pass out in the back of a truck. A jackhammer roared, the drill sending teeth-rattling vibrations down the sidewalk. These were not ideal napping conditions.
I spied a chalked-up sandwich board emblazoned with the phrase, “You miss 100% of the naps you do not take.” Can’t argue with that.
I sidled up to a sleek wooden desk and talked to a nap concierge, who was standing next to a silver hotel call bell. All of the employees scurrying around fluffing pillows and tidying sheets were sporting classic starched PJ tops with red piping.
“There are a lot of people here,” I remarked. “Yeah,” he nodded. He looked at the check-in list on his iPad. “You’re the 303rd person today.”
That was alarming. I’d been so focused on my own blissful nap that it hadn’t occurred to me that I’d be laying in a puddle of some stranger’s sweat. “How often do you swap out the sheets?” I asked. “Every couple people,” he shrugged. “How many people do you let into one pod at a time?” I fired back. He pointed out that visitors lower a mesh privacy curtain: nappers can see out, but others can’t see in. ”What happens in the pod stays in the pod,” he winked.
He may have been facetious, but there was no way I was going to be able to sleep, haunted by the ghost of lunchtime trysts that may have taken place on those sheets.
Each pod was loaded with a full-size mattress, crisp sheets, and a wood-and-white color scheme that conjures a slick spa—or a Scandinavian tiny house. Think of a miniature IKEA room, on wheels. Every 10 minutes, staffers gently woke anyone who’d dozed off, or roused groups of friends from their selfie-snapping stupor. Then the next person climbed up two steps and settled into the pod.
I lowered the shade, crawled to the middle of the bed, and lay down with my head on my tote bag. It was hot and loud. I tried to ignore the sidewalk chatter and the sound of buses rolling to a stop. The octagonal pod was a cozy little hideaway, but I couldn’t nod off.
I picked up a wall-mounted phone and listened to a dramatic reading of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. What was this chick’s deal? I wondered. Porridge and napping? She was living the dream.
Google, Nike, Apple, and a handful of other companies have installed napping infrastructure for their employees to use. While it seems unlikely that nap pods will ever be as ubiquitous as, say, the break-room coffee maker, it’s no secret that workers are tired, and that insufficient sleep has a negative impact on efficiency and concentration. I’d absolutely stash some PJs in my desk and conk out for a regular afternoon snooze—but next time, preferably indoors.