European nap bars are boosting employee creativity and productivity

While napping is a cultural norm in many parts of the world, it remains a taboo across much of Europe. Now, the continent is finally tapping into the trend, with nap bars emerging in response

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According to sleep experts, siestas can boost both creativity and productivity, as well as reduce stress and the risk of heart problems. Image © ZZZen Bar

We need sleep to survive – it’s a simple, irrefutable fact that applies to every single person on the planet. And yet, despite its importance to our physiology and psychological wellbeing, the practice is often neglected. Busy work schedules, responsibilities at home, social engagements and time-draining hobbies are affording us less time for precious sleep. While cutting back on such commitments is simply not an option for the majority, there are other solutions. Rethinking sleeping habits could be one such remedy.

Unlike other mammals, humans are monophasic sleepers, meaning that there are two distinct periods to our days: one for wakefulness, the other for sleep. Most mammals, however, are polyphasic sleepers, dipping into slumber for short bouts throughout the day. Interestingly, there is a strong argument to say that our current mode is not optimum: infants and the elderly are a fine example of this. Indeed, for the former, napping is absolutely crucial for early development. So, perhaps polyphasic sleeping is actually within our primal nature, and as such, we could be missing an important trick.

Though still small in number at present, nap bars are finding homes in bustling cities throughout Europe

Enter nap bars. Not for drinking, eating or socialising, these establishments are devoted to daytime dozing. Though still small in number at present, they are finding homes in bustling cities throughout Europe, including Paris, London, Brussels, Madrid and Luxembourg City. “Cities with a high concentration of people and a fast-paced environment tend to have a sleep-deprived society, as well as a lack of privacy and quiet spaces in some chaotic areas,” said Mauricio Villamizar, CEO of London-based nap bar Pop and Rest. Nap bars, however, offer relief to this pressing urban problem.

Basic needs
“Many people suffer from a lack of sleep for many reasons… They do not sleep enough and also the quality of sleep has decreased because of work, stress, pollution, noise, [etc.],” said Christophe Chanhsavang, co-founder of France’s first nap bar, ZZZen Bar, which opened eight years ago.

Chanhsavang and his wife were inspired by their travels around the world, from which they learned that in many countries, napping is the norm. “In Asia, people are taking naps everywhere – in the streets, in shopping malls… It was really unusual for me,” he observed. This cultural difference was highlighted further when, while working as a trader in China, Chanhsavang’s boss told him to sleep during his lunch break. Rather than seen as lazy and unnecessary, napping was encouraged as a quick way to recharge for the rest of the day.

This attitude isn’t exclusive to Asia. Throughout the Mediterranean, siestas hark back centuries. In warm climates they simply make sense: rather than suffering unproductively through the hottest part of the day, siestas offer people respite and a chance to feel refreshed when they continue working afterwards.

Armed with this knowledge, Chanhsavang set up ZZZen Bar in an area in Paris that’s proximal to various large companies and global headquarters. It’s also close to numerous restaurants, cafes and bars, which sees many chefs and waiters visit the nap bar during the long break between their morning and evening shifts. “For some of them, going back home is too far,” Chanhsavang said. This links to a trend that can be seen around the world – namely, that many people have little choice but to move out to the suburbs due to the high cost of buying and renting property in city centres.

Ironically, this back and forth has further added to the need for a place to rest in urban areas. “Daily long commutes to work can be stressful,” Villamizar explained. “In the last few years, people are more and more keen to find a better work-life balance and look to improve their mental health. Nap bars in the city centre [give] them another option to disconnect from work and recharge.” These tranquil spaces have also found fans in those travelling through the city on business.

Busy work schedules, responsibilities at home, social engagements and time-draining hobbies are affording us less time for precious sleep. Image © ZZZen Bar

Reaping the benefits
For many countries, especially in the West, napping during the day is still somewhat taboo. It’s a practice with connotations of laziness, particularly in the workplace. But this mindset is beginning to shift, albeit slowly, thanks to the pioneering approach of the likes of Google and HuffPost. For these groundbreaking companies, napping at work is not only encouraged – it’s facilitated with carefully designed nap rooms and pods.

There’s good reason behind the move, aside from just being a nice job perk. According to sleep experts, siestas can boost both creativity and productivity. “Naps can restore alertness, enhance performance, and reduce mistakes and accidents,” Villamizar told European CEO. “A study at NASA on sleepy military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34 percent and alertness [by] 100 percent.”

These short, super-charging breaks can also reduce stress, as well as the risk of heart problems. In fact, a recent study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Athens Medical School found that those who napped at least three times a week for more than 30 minutes were 37 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease.

With so many health and mood benefits, employee wellbeing can be drastically improved thanks to napping

With so many health and mood benefits, employee wellbeing can be drastically improved thanks to this small, yet highly effective, work policy. Job satisfaction grows in turn, which further improves talent acquisition and employee retention rates. Given such benefits, it’s little surprise that more companies are jumping on the bandwagon. L’Oréal Paris, for instance, has enlisted the help of ZZZen Bar. But with proximity being key for lunchtime nappers, instead of sending employees to the bar itself, Chanhsavang is bringing the concept to their doorstep with the ZZZen Truck. “We move everywhere, we go where the companies are,” he told European CEO.

The truck provides two services – the first, a 15-minute session in a zero-gravity massage chair, which is said to be equivalent to a one-hour massage. “It’s very intense to [help people] recover from stress or maybe depression, or just tiredness,” Chanhsavang said. The second service involves a virtual reality device, which allows clients to use mental visualisation in a form of meditation known as sophrology. Through the use of technology, it’s possible to reach more individuals and provide greater relief in a shorter amount of time, thereby making lunchtime nap sessions a practical solution for busy professionals.

Desperate times
Modern living moves at 100 miles per minute. With technology helping – and distracting – us in every aspect of our lives, sleep continues to face the brunt of our increasingly connected existence. Add in the levels of pressure and competitiveness found in city centres, and we are facing a melting pot of stress and burnout. As such, understanding what prompts and worsens stress levels in everyday life has become absolutely vital.

In the workplace, leaving this unchecked can be of great detriment to an organisation. As Arianna Huffington wrote in a blog post on Thrive Global: “There is growing evidence that the long-term health of a company’s bottom line and the health of its employees are, in fact, very much aligned, and that when we treat them as separate, we pay a heavy price, both personally and collectively.”

To some, nap bars may seem like a self-indulgent gimmick, but the truth is, this seemingly trivial service is actually responding to a pressing and unanswered need in western life today. Many of us lead busy, stressful lives. In a bid to have it all, we really do try to do it all, leading to burnout that is prevalent across industries and national lines throughout Europe.

And yet, something as simple and cost-effective as introducing nap times, and fostering a culture where the practice is encouraged rather than shunned, can make a marked difference to individuals and the companies they work for. With more and more people waking up to this realisation, napping could well be the key to happy urban dwelling that we’ve been searching for.