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Steep Dreams
A New York company offers private pods for the nap-deprived, but, as our columnist finds, sometimes sleep doesn't come cheap
By Gersh Kuntzman
Updated: 6:11 p.m. ET Aug. 23, 2004

Aug. 23 - I have a confession to make: The other day, I was alone and felt like I needed, well, a little, um, you know. Look, I'm a man. I have needs. I'm not making excuses. I've just been a little stressed out lately and I needed some release. A tension-breaker. A few minutes between the sheets. Look, it happens sometimes. I'm no saint. But I needed a nap so badly that I was even willing to pay for it.

Yes, a nap. What, you thought I was talking about sex? Please. Any idiot can get sex, but I have found that it's almost impossible for me to get enough sleep nowadays. I'm drinking so much coffee that the President of Colombia invited me to his villa for the weekend (I turned him down. Too tired). It's gotten so bad that the other day, a friend of mine told me that he'd gone to bed with a sexy co-worker, and the only thing I could think to ask was how comfortable her mattress was.

It's not just me, apparently. Scientific studies show that every single American at one time or another has complained of being tired. It makes sense: If you believe the papers, we are all working two jobs, while struggling to find the time to raise our kids, contribute to our communities, and figure out how a guy with Viet Cong shrapnel in his leg and three Purple Hearts is a scoundrel while a guy who spent the Vietnam War drinking and working for a losing Congressional campaign in Alabama is a hero to veterans. See? We're busy.

Luckily for me, I live in New York City, where a company called MetroNaps ("Capitalize the 'N' for 'narcolepsy'") has opened a high-tech sleep center on the 24th floor of the Empire State Building. (Don't be impressed by the address. Despite its fancy pedigree, the Empire State Building is a fairly typical New York City office building, filled with low-rent tenants like wholesale sock distributors, real estate lawyers, importer/exporters, and at least one manufacturer of "seamless women's intimate apparel.")

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MetroNaps is the cutting edge of sleep today, all black and humming with the sound of white-noise machines. On the left as you enter are two rows of "sleep pods," which are really just Barcaloungers covered with a cracked-open dinosaur egg. In the darkness, the room looks like a cross between a sleep bay on the Battlestar Galactica and a cheap youth hostel on Khao San Road.

The pod-keeper told me the procedure. For just $14, I could have 20 minutes of uninterrupted repose a MetroNap pod and then help myself to a free mint or a spritz of lemon face spray. Now, I enjoy a lemon face spray as much as the next man, but $14 for 20 minutes of sleep?! At prices like that, I might as well have companionship. A sign behind the pod-keeper explained that MetroNaps "was born from the realization that many employees spend significant amounts of their day dozing at their desk or catching powernaps in odd places." As a tabloid journalist in New York City, I had plenty of experience with this concept. It's not uncommon for us to crawl under a desk near the travel section (it's so quiet over there) and catch a few winks. There's usually even a pile of old newspapers to rest your head on. But paying for sleep? This sounded like another scam, like bottled water in New York City or tanning salons in LA. But I was so tired, so in need of it, that I threw down my cash like a drunk tossing a crumpled $10 at a bartender.

The pod-keeper led me to my bed and told me to relax (how can I relax at these prices?). He offered me a pair of headphones so I could listen to "nature sounds," but let's face it, I can't sleep unless ambulances are blaring, dogs are barking, or husband and wives in the tenement next door are screaming at each other. Then he left, and the clock started ticking.

And that's the problem. I've always found that my body is very good at telling me when it needs to sleep, but I quickly learned that it's not a two-way conversation. There's really no way to tell my body that it had to sleep—and right now—because the 20 minutes were winding down.

Besides, I have this whole routine I go through before I fall asleep. I crack all my knuckles. I roll over. I figure out where my hands should go. I nestle my feet into one another. I have more bedtime ticks than Nomar Garciaparra at the plate. The seconds turned into minutes and I was still awake. Mr. Sandman, would you bring me a dream already?

But finally, I did feel myself relaxing. In fact, I was almost asleep when I had a momentary panic: Isn't the Empire State Building the biggest terror target in New York City right now? With all these white noise machines going full blast, I realized that I would never hear the fire alarms if the building was hit. And would that damn pod-keeper really wake me up and get me out of there if something happened? Certainly, there would be no time for a lemon face spritz if tragedy struck.

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Kuntzman: Terror Alert Irony—and Parody
Our columnist argues that if the government really wanted to help prevent another attack in New York, it would issue more funds for the state—not just terror warnings
The panic passed soon enough and, indeed, I was asleep. This is where my notes get a little hazy, but I remember not being in a particularly deep sleep. Of course, that's supposedly the point of a MetroNap—that if you nap longer than 20 minutes, you'd wake up groggier than when you started. And then the lights came on and my "nap" was over. I hadn't even had time to drool all over my pillow.

Did I feel refreshed? Well, there was a spring in my step, but I later realized it was only because my wallet was so much lighter. I felt cheated. After all, the only good nap is one that lasts for roughly 10 hours and ends with someone bringing you a plate of poached eggs and corned beef hash for which you do not need to pay.

This is the part of the story where I would normally give you comments by other MetroNap customers. Problem was, there weren't any. After my nap, I lingered by the door for an hour and not a single tired person showed up for some expensive shut-eye.

The MetroNaps website suggests that the four-month-old Empire State Building center is the first of dozens that founders Arshad Chowdhury and Christopher Lindholst will open across the country (believe that, and those two guys at Google have a bridge they want to sell you). "We seek to be the premier provider of professional nap centers in the United States," the company says on the website.

That sound you just heard are all the other providers of professional nap centers in the United States quaking in their pods.

Gersh Kuntzman is also a reporter for The New York Post. His play, "An Evening of Semi-Autobiographical, Highly Self-Indulgent Theater," has its two final performances this week at the NYC International Fringe Festival. See for details.

© 2004 Newsweek, Inc.



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