The guide to nomadic napping for productivity

Over 50 per cent of office workers say there is nowhere to relax and refresh at work. Look no further than Dubai's first nap bars that might just boost your work output

Leonardo da Vinci, Winston Churchill and Albert Einstein all shared a fondness for it.

Japanese executives indulge in it. For staff of Apple, Google and Nike, there are designated spots for it. Napping, it seems, has universal appeal. And now, sleep-deprived Dubai residents are getting in on the act.

In March, Dubai played host to a pop-up Nap Bar, located in the city’s arty Al Quoz district. The installation, the brainchild of French design house Smarin, formed part of the emirate’s annual Design Days fair, offering tired visitors a mix of soft, curved lounge chairs, pillows, essential oils, tea and lullabies. Circular lamps hanging over the chairs faded gently on and off at five-second intervals, to mimic breathing. Free and open to all, the pop-up bar hoped to help visitors “disconnect and recharge”, says founder Stephanie Marin.

“It’s an experience of resting, which is quite unconventional because most public spaces are so deeply designed to discourage that,” she tells Vision. “I hope people will get some energy back from this peaceful moment.”

Marin was inspired to create the bar as a means of offering people a respite from fast-paced city life. “When I’m walking in big cities, sometimes I take a break with coffee. But actually, I need more of a real break,” she says.

'To be asleep while present'

Decades of research underscore the cognitive benefits of daytime napping; from improved memory and increased alertness, to boosting creativity and problem-solving skills. At the other end of the scale, one study found workers lose 11.3 days of work a year because of sleep deprivation; a sign of the toll tiredness can take on productivity.

Yet despite wide acceptance of the perks of sleep, few countries – and even fewer companies – have embraced a nap culture. Even in nations where public dozing was once a core part of daily life – the siesta of Spain, the riposo of Italy and the Japanese art of inemuri, which literally means ‘to be asleep while present’ – the practice has been eroded by our increasingly hectic schedules.

Some firms are capitalising on what they see as a gap in the market for sleep. New York-based Metronaps sells futuristic pods, among other nap products, to companies such as Google and the Huffington Post, for use by tired employees. The company’s self-cited goal is to “fight workplace fatigue”. UK firm PodTime, which counts Nestle, Facebook and GlaxoSmithKline among the buyers of its sleep capsules, has gone a step further. The company also supplies its “Bunk Pod” – or stacked nap pods – to hostels in London, Moscow and elsewhere, providing an alternative to dormitories or hotel rooms in cramped cities. Its pods are also in use among sports teams, such as the Australian football club, the Sydney Swans, to allow players to rest between training sessions.

Schools are also catching the trend, in the hope of boosting grades and attentiveness among students. The University of Michigan, US, has piloted campus napping stations, open around the clock, while the UK’s University of Manchester last year unveiled the aptly named Zzz Zone; complete with a pod offering music, dim lighting, and the opportunity for a 20-minute doze. 

For Marin, the idea of turning her pop-up Nap Bar into a permanent installation is appealing. “I’d love to consider [it]; with music exclusively created for the bar, with healthy beverages and snacks,” she says. “Really to just help people to do nothing; something everyone needs and deserves.”

Demand for such facilities could be strong. An early version of Marin’s Nap Bar was trialled in 2014, for the opening of the Carreau du Temple market in Paris, attracted dozens of visitors. “There were perhaps 200 people, sitting closely together or having a nap,” she recalls. “What a nice memory.”