Some overworked New Yorkers would sell their souls for sleep. Now thanks to Arshad Chowdhury and Christopher Lindholst, all they need is $14. "While working at Deutsche Bank ( DB), I noticed that my colleagues would sometimes fall asleep at their desks, or even sneak off to the bathroom to nap in the stalls," says Chowdhury. "The automated flush toilets alone posed a problem. I knew we needed better solutions." He put aside a career in banking to nail down and market the most effective way to rest on the go. And with the help of Lindholst, a former economist, MetroNaps' flagship store opened on the 24th floor of the Empire State Building in 2004. A franchise hit Manhattan's financial district earlier this month, both offering single naps for $14 and yearlong memberships for $65 a month. After 20 minutes of rest, a person will feel rejuvenated without the drowsy effects of a longer sleep, Chowdhury says. And in a vaguely Orwellian turn, he touts the ability of napping to actually accelerate workplace productivity. "If we let people who work long days rest, they will be more productive. ... And it could even allow people to have even longer days," he says. "The more that companies learn about the cost of fatigue and the benefits of napping, the more they will realize that napping benefits their bottom line." Chowdhury worked with designer Matthew Hoey to create MetroNaps' signature sleep pod, a swank recliner with a white egg-shape dome that pays visual homage to A Clockwork Orange, the glowing "egg" from Woody Allen's Sleeper and the Jetsons. The white fiberglass seems illuminated from within, glowing and beckoning the weary urbanite; the chair itself is fully adjustable, comfortable and tricked out with Bose headphones. The company never intended to sell the pods, which Chowdhury designed while getting his MBA from Carnegie Mellon, but they have generated a significant amount of interest from spas, hospitals, universities and businesses that all see on-site use potential. So MetroNaps selectively sells them for $7,950 a pop, or leases them for $285 a month over 36 months. "We're a small company and I understand that this market is one that looks really inviting to competitors," says Chowdhury. "The only way for us to beat them is by growing fast and establishing brand recognition." For MetroNaps, that means being synonymous with sleep, just as Starbucks ( SBUX) is the only name in coffee shops and Apple's ( AAPL) iPod the name in MP3 players. To that end, the company is expanding beyond Manhattan, with a store in the Vancouver International Airport and plans for pods in Australia's Qantas Airline lounges. MetroNaps also has permission to open franchises in over 30 states, including Illinois, California, Florida, Georgia and the District of Columbia.
The MetroNaps Pod A midday nap boosts alertness, memory, mood
Source: Nathan Sayers for MetroNaps
Chowdhury rattles off numerous studies that support the benefits of napping, including work done by Sara Mednick, a research scientist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies , whose research is devoted to understanding how napping can improve human performance. "I don't think that allowing employees to take naps is an indication of employers providing more fringe benefits," says Chowdhury. "It speaks to a larger trend. We've been working more and sleeping less for years, and that trend is not going anywhere." As he argued why workforce fatigue is here to stay -- workers pressed to toil longer days, produce more and stare at screens -- I thought back to an afternoon spent curled on the floor of a Border's bookstore, sleeping with a road atlas spread over my head, hoping no co-workers would browse the stacks. His argument grew more convincing. On my next sleepy afternoon, I went to MetroNaps. To view Katie Benner's interview with MetroNaps founder Arshad Chowdhury, click here .