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 .

Enveloped in the tranquility of a dimly lit nap sanctum filled with ambient whooshing noises that deadened sound and dulled the senses, I stowed my bag and was tucked into a trademarked "pod chair," an objet du desir that could elevate the nap to a design-conscious lifestyle choice, just as pricey, sleek bottles have elevated water consumption.

Headphones on, I initiated the nap by dimming my podlights, and when the 20 minutes were up, the lights slowly became brighter and the chair gently vibrated, as though whispering in my ear, "Back to work, drone."

After a stop at the "freshening up" station -- complete with mints, sprays, towels and lotion -- I was out the door in the promised 25 minutes.

MetroNaps' execution was beautiful. I was the problem. Never a strong sleeper, I'm lucky if I can eke out five hours a night, and lying in my egg was no different. I spent 16 minutes thinking about work, books, rent and dinner. I unsuccessfully tried to get a look at other nappers. And for four minutes, I slept like a log. Rather than refreshed, I left feeling twitchy and anxious about my inability to relax.

But Jose Stevenson, a Wall Street bank examiner who pays $65 for an unlimited monthly pass, has trained his body to nap, and it has become an addiction.

"At first I thought what anyone would think: who would pay to nap," says Stevenson. "Now I go on a daily basis."

"If I nap, I can get back to work with the same level of productivity I had in the morning. Otherwise, I would sit and fight sleep at my desk for two or three hours," he says.

Stevenson asks that I withhold the name of his employer until napping becomes more widely accepted. I understand the request, but also wonder how many bosses understand when they find employees slumped over keyboards, snoozing on the toilet or in the fetal position of a major book retailer feigning interest in the highways of Wyoming.

"For better or for worse, I think napping will be a necessary part of tomorrow's workday," says Chowdhury.

So true. And workers will continue to steal shut-eye wherever they can get it, while those with MetroNaps will get the best rest money can buy.

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