Colleges often try to reel in prospective students with retention rates, alumni networks, hands-on or curriculums. Perks such as “the best dining hall food in North America” or state of the art fitness centers don’t hurt either. Now, a growing number of universities has another attraction to include in their brochures: Nap rooms.
Taking cues from such forward-thinking companies as Google, Ben & Jerry’s and The Huffington Post, all of which have taken their employees’ health into consideration by providing a room for them to doze during the day, schools are offering students with designated areas where they can conk between classes or before all-night study sessions.
While some might get the impression that schools are catering to needy millennials, studies show that quick naps can enhance cognitive performance, improve memory and boost self-confidence. College students, understandably, are a notoriously sleep deprived demographic: the majority of them log just six hours a night. Keggers and full class schedules have always been more valued than sleep but, with the added factor of social media exacerbating already-stressed sleep habits, college students are logging much less shuteye than previous generations. Anything that allows them to catch some healthy rest and puts sleep front and center on campuses is extremely important in keeping students healthy.
“It’s really just about trying to get peak performance out of students and making sure they’re taking care of themselves,” says Kenneth Posner, associate vice president of student affairs at Florida’s Saint Leo University, which added a nap room in 2012.
Saint Leo’s rest room, dubbed the Relaxation Room, was built as a feature of the school’s new residence hall, and is available for students, faculty and staff alike.
A little bit Kubrickian, the 24-hour area contains four spaceship-like sleeping pods. The chairs are the same ones used by Google and The Huffington Post and were built by New York-based company MetroNaps. Upon entering the chambers, nappers are provided with a private 20-minute relaxation session that includes soothing lights and music. Posner sees it as a necessary salve for students’ growing social media addiction.
“They’re a connected society,” he says. “Whether it’s the plethora of television channels that are now accessible to them or the Internet, it’s a much more connected high-tech society. It’s so easy and convenient, you can just text from your bed. These allow them the time they need to recharge.“
The feedback from students and staff has so far been positive. “We see a large number of our athletes and ROTC students using them following practice or physical training in the morning, and then we see another [rise in use] between the 2 and 4 p.m. time frame,” he says.
Saint Leo is one of many schools that have invested in MetroNaps pods. The University of Michigan and Carnegie Mellon each have them; earlier this month, the University of Miami installed two of the $9,000 pods in their Student Center.
Yet while these cocoon-like chambers are one of the most popular choices for sleep-centric institutions, they’re not the only option. Wake Forest University, for instance, built a 24-hour ZieSta Room attached to the school library (it remains open even when the library is closed). It’s stocked with five sleep-friendly recliners.
“I think a lot of [our students] are sleep-deprived, and a lot of them have 19-hour class schedules and huge commitments for extracurricular activities,” says Susan Smith, associate dean of Wake Forest’s Z. Smith Reynolds Library. “People can take very long naps in the pods — and they do.”
Of course, not every university has the resources to invest in a permanent nap room. Still, several schools are taking creative approaches to the cat nap problem. For instance, the British Columbia Institute of Technology built a part-time nap room in a racquetball court at the university’s rec room. During the day, ten mats are laid out on the floor for students to snooze on. Pillows are provided, and electronics are forbidden. At 5 p.m., the room turns back into a racquetball court.
“These students are not looking for a Hilton,” says Hannah Bielert, the University’s health and wellness coordinator. “They just need a bed.”
Bielert says that college students often have to choose between social life, sleep or good grades and that these nap rooms provide another way for them to recharge. “I think most students choose the social life and grades over sleep,” she says, “but they don’t realize how much it affects their physical and mental well-being.”