Ready for a Nap

Arshad Chowdhury in one of his pods in the Empire State Building.Photo: Pak Fung Wong

Rudy Monteagut was feeling drowsy. It was a damp, cloudy afternoon last week, and he’d been traipsing around midtown with his wife, Marcela. They were in town from Miami, sightseeing with the sort of vengeance that can take its toll, when they remembered that they’d heard about a curious new company called MetroNaps—where you can drop $14 to doze for twenty minutes in a globular plastic cocoon filled with ambient sounds—with offices tucked away on the 24th floor of the Empire State Building. They made a pit stop.

“Incredible!” Rudy bellowed after his nap, standing in the company’s very dark, very quiet lobby (it’s bathed in white noise). “I’m renewed!” He turned to his wife. “Are you renewed?”

“I think I am,” Marcela replied. “I was asleep within, I don’t know, six minutes.”

Rudy’s eyes narrowed. “You actually fell asleep? I couldn’t! But I’m still renewed.”

As they went off to visit ground zero, Arshad Chowdhury, 28, the founder of MetroNaps, admitted that this has happened before: Not everyone falls asleep, a slight hurdle for a company promising sleep to the sleep-deprived. “That’s why you need to come back,” he said with a straight face. “The body needs to recalibrate itself.”

This is a young man who takes sleep seriously—he’s hoping to be the first to franchise it. “I want people to think of us as a human recharging station,” he said. “I see us in airports, in offices. I’m talking to someone right now about setting up sleep stations in rest stops along the New Jersey Turnpike.”

A former investment banker, Chowdhury came up with MetroNaps after an epiphany a few years ago: Come mid-afternoon he noticed that co-workers appeared comatose. “I looked at some NASA data, and discovered that a dip in body temperature occurs around that time,” he said. “You simply need a nap.”

Laugh if you must: Chowdhury raised nearly half a million dollars, hired an Indianapolis firm known for building Formula 1 cars to manufacture his “pods,” and found a real-estate broker to lasso him prime space in the city. “That was actually one of the biggest challenges,” Chowdhury said. “They all said to me, ‘Wait—you want to rent space where people can sleep for an hour? You know, there’s a name for that.’ ” He chose the Empire State Building for its iconic status, and because with 804 businesses, it comes with a built-in client base.

Or does it? Traffic was thin during a visit last week—five people in two hours—but Chowdhury radiated optimism (though he wouldn’t disclose any figures). A lot of profits, he explained, will come from corporations purchasing the pods—he said he is in talks with “a major bank you’ve certainly heard of”—as well as private citizens willing to plunk down $7,950 for one. The pods play ambient sounds (birds chirping, waves crashing) and dim into near-total darkness. “I just took an order from a wealthy businessman in Indiana,” Chowdhury added proudly.

There was another customer: a dapper man in a pinstripe shirt with gold cuff links who identified himself only as “a high-profile lawyer.” Emerging from the slumber womb after his twenty minutes, he spritzed his face with the complimentary spray mist, and said, “I work a twelve-hour day, and this one’s been especially rough. Court this morning. Got a conference call in a few minutes. So this was nice.” And did he fall asleep? “Think so—definitely a little toward the end.” But being a high-profile lawyer, didn’t he worry about, um, sleeping on the job? “I figure, it takes me ten minutes to get here and back. Plus twenty for the nap. That’s like 0.6 billable hours, which I can easily make up.”

Ready for a Nap