No Rest For The Weary

Jim Smith was sitting on a sofa in a conference room at Ground Zero, holding a meeting, when a befuddled staffer suddenly poked his head over the back of the couch. The young man had been taking a secret snooze, and the voices had woken him up. As the managers stared, the worker sheepishly slinked out of the room without a word. Why was he resting behind the sofa and not on top of it? “He didn’t want anyone to see him,” says Smith, chairman of the Marina del Rey, Calif., agency. “In advertising, as everybody knows, we don’t nap.”

That seems to be a mantra of U.S. companies in general, where napping on the job is generally seen as anathema to the American ethos of hard work—despite the fact that many recent studies, including one by Harvard researchers, suggest a brief (non-REM sleep) nap can greatly improve productivity.

“Most white-collar Americans, including those in the ad industry, are sleep deprived, and they don’t realize it,” says Bill Anthony, a professor of psychology at Boston University and co-founder of The Napping Company ( Anthony’s research does not break out advertising specifically, but he says “people in publishing and other creative professions tell me there are certain times of day when they can’t be creative. Napping is one solution to that problem.”

In advertising, where people commonly work long hours, that makes sense, and naps rooms—whether they’re called that or not—do exist at a few agencies. (One source marveled at the “Calming Room” he encountered at one shop, “complete with Le Corbusier loungers, drapes on the windows and discreetly hidden stereo, ostensibly to play soothing music.”) But no one wants to talk much about them. Whatever the scientific benefits of napping, no one wants to be seen as a slacker. “If you put your head on your desk or steal away for a nap, people think you are sick or something is wrong with you,” says Michael Borosky, creative director at Eleven in San Francisco.

Part of the reluctance may be architectural. “Agencies like ours have open floor plans,” says Smith, “and that isn’t private enough to nap.” Borosky agrees. “We don’t want to be seen sleeping with our mouth open or drooling,” he says.

Finding a secluded spot isn’t impossible. And for those who would rather not hide under a desk or in a supply closet, there are companies like MetroNaps, in New York’s Empire State Building, where you can take a 20-minute snooze in a reclining sleeping pad, lulled by music piped through headphones, for just $14. But even that seems a stretch to some. “If you had to make an appointment and then go to a place to nap, that would just add stress and defeat the whole purpose,” says Chris Cole, an art director at BBDO in New York.

Some seem afraid they might not wake up at all. “When I shut down, I’m not going to get up in a few minutes,” says Cole’s copywriter partner, Mark Wegwerth.

Agency types do find other ways to stay fresh. Smith’s solution of choice? PowerBars. “They are the only things that get me through a four-hour PowerPoint briefing,” he says. “In fact, I think PowerBar is secretly owned by the PowerPoint people—look at their names. They know you have to eat their bars to stay awake.”

Others say they try to shake off their sleepiness by turning their hand to something else. But Anthony says that’s not an optimal solution. “Those activities momentarily correct your grogginess, but they don’t address your sleep deprivation,” he says. “They make you more alert for the short term, but they don’t make you less tired. It is like when you are sleepy when you are driving. You can open your car window and slap yourself, but it’s only temporary. It’s better to stop and nap.”

Perhaps the best solution is to do nothing, to lean back and let your mind wander. Bob Kerstetter, founder of Lushadelic in San Francisco, understands. “For me, relaxing isn’t about kayaking or power yoga,” he says. “It is the eternal hope of one day making out with a beautiful stranger who appreciates me solely for my ideas.”

Now there’s a daydream to keep you going.