Like girlboss and JOMO before it, napercise is the newest made-up word I don't need in my vocabulary. Last week, news outlets reported that David Lloyd Clubs, a UK fitness chain, was launching a series of "napercise" classes targeted at exhausted parents. Naper-cising means resting in a single bed in a temperature-controlled room, surrounded by strangers in their own single beds, as an instructor guides you through light stretching and a 45-minute nap. Also, there's ambient music.
For the most part, the cheekily named program is yet another effort to monetize sleep. With its gimmicky-but-well-meaning-premise — a group-napping class to help people catch up on lost Zzzs — napercise runs into the same issues as other pay-to-sleep services: It commodifies a vital neurobiological process and reinforces the more money —> more sleep relationship. But, in framing communal sleep as a potentially teachable skill, napercise could be useful, just not in the way it's supposed to be.
I don't want to make napercise out to be an insidery health-and-wellness craze: As of now, the class is less than a week old and only being offered on a trial basis at one David Lloyd Club in London. But a company rep told HuffPost that, so far, reactions have been positive and that more than 100 people signed up for last weekend's free sessions. If all goes well, napercise could become available nationwide. And, at least theoretically, it could be something adopted outside the David Lloyd Club universe.
Media reactions to napercise have been mixed.
On the Today Show, Hoda Kotb remarked that she'd never be able to sleep in a room full of strangers. Mashable's article on napercise started off with the sentence "Today in ridiculous ways people spend their money, a gym in the UK is offering napping classes for adults who don't get enough sleep." And Forbes questioned the characterization of structured sleep as anything resembling a workout: "What other regular activities can you add -cise to and transform into a gym program? How about "sitting on a toilet" -ise?"
On the other hand, napercise coverage has consistently pointed out that the buzz surrounding the program is a testament to the fact that people are under-slept, concerned about their sleep health and willing to resort to unorthodox measures to get sleep. Napercise gets people talking, presumably, because people are so frustrated by sleep.
Napercise, as Forbes noted, is by no means the first instance of a company finding a way to charge people for an otherwise free activity. Nor is it the first time the activity in question is sleep. Last year, I wrote about the NYC nap spa, Yelo and the niche pay-to-sleep industry; back in the late '90s, trend-spotters at the The New York Times deemed napping the new bottled water. Did their prediction bear out? Sort of. More people are buying naps today (and more companies are selling them) than 20 years ago.
Companies and schools, for instance, are providing nap pods and designated quiet spaces where workers and students can rest up. Bleary-eyed travelers can buy safe, secure spots for catnaps in airports around the world. Spas have increasingly incorporated sleep into their menus of luxury services. And there are at least a few places, such as Sao Paulo, where nap cafes have started to crop up like internet cafes once did.
But I challenge anyone to argue that pay-to-sleep services have ever truly taken off.
Any time sleep is framed as something that should cost money, there's resistance. Namely because pay-to-sleep services emphasize the relationship between privilege and health: The underlying message is that, in the age of anxiety and 24-7 connectivity, insufficient sleep is a common issue. But, if you have a flexible schedule and some money to burn, you don't have to be part of the sleep-starved masses. Otherwise, yawn on.
I'm generally wary of the desirability of traveling to a gym to pay for non-private naps. Like Hoda Kotb, I highly doubt I'd be able to fall asleep in napercise. For one thing, I think sleeping in public is a gendered issue. Given that women are taught not to make themselves vulnerable in public (e.g., don't run at night; don't walk down dark streets alone), it seems like passing out in an unfamiliar, communal setting in the middle of the day goes again survival instinct. While the data on the pay-to-sleep market is thin, there's evidence that men keep it going, making it an outlier in the greater health-and-wellness space.
And if we sidestep the gender issue, adult naptime seems like a relic of a different era. Two hundred years ago, people learned to sleep in noisy, communal spaces, alongside family members and even acquaintances. Today, many (if not most) people today are trained from a very young age to sleep by themselves. For better or worse, "social sleep" is has fallen by the wayside in many western subcultures.
That's not to say there's no reason for napercise. It makes sense for a health club or gym to provide a room for napping or rest as a complimentary feature for members. And, while I don't know exactly what nap instructors teach 'cisers to do, learning how to regulate thoughts enough to power down in an unfamiliar environment could be of immense value to the average working and stressed-out American, not to mention insomniacs whose sleep gets thrown off by any slight disturbance. Someone could make the case that, even if we're not naturally inclined to hit the sack in groups, it's time to bring back social sleep as a means of helping people learn to doze in a variety of conditions.
In any case, I'm dropping napercise from my vocabulary as soon as I hit "publish" on this post.