Two cups of coffee and still yawning through the day? You're not alone. Experts say most of us get about six-and-a-half hours of sleep instead of the eight the average person needs. Luckily, there is a new crop of sleep aids that aim to improve the quality of the sleep you do get. And for those who still doze off at their desks, a growing body of research suggests that naps are the answer. Taking a 25- to 45-minute daytime snooze can boost productivity significantly. One of the most powerful strategies to help you deal with sleepiness and sleep detriments is a nap," says Mark Rosekind, president and chief scientist of Alertness Solutions in Cupertino, Calif.
Some companies are getting the message that naps are good for employees, but nap rooms aren't going to be as plentiful as conference rooms anytime soon. "It is called a power nap because there is still a negative perception of napping as 'blankie time,'" says Rosekind.
In the meantime, you can turn to one of the new sleep aids based on the body's sleep cycle. The cycle, which lasts about 90 minutes, is divided into five phases that move from light sleep, during which body is the most restless, to deeper, sounder sleep. Pzizz, a software program from Britain's Brainwave Ltd., combines ambient sounds such as ocean waves and ringing bells with soft music and guided meditation to coax you to Dreamland. It uses what is called a binaural beat, a sound that approximates the theta waves the brain produces during light sleep. Pzizz' programs, which include one for napping and one for overnight, are MP3 files that can be downloaded from pzizz.com for $30.
Waking up during the deepest sleep stages can leave you groggy for hours. Enter the Sleeptracker, a wristwatch that also is designed to rouse you during the lighter sleep stages. You set the watch's alarm to wake you at a specific time. Sleeptracker will assess your movements beginning up to 90 minutes before that time, with the alarm sounding during the restless stages of light sleep. The device, which is made by Innovative Sleep Solutions in Atlanta, can also be used for naps that last at least one hour. The original model costs $150; the Sleeptracker Pro, which lets you download sleep-pattern data to your computer, runs $180. Geoffrey Graham, president of GuildQuality, a $1 million, 13-employee market research company in Atlanta, began using Sleeptracker three years ago. Thanks to the demands of running a startup and raising two children, Graham sleeps about six hours a night, but says the watch helps him wake up refreshed nonetheless. "It's the difference between being startled awake by my three-year-old son at 6 a.m. and just waking up, feeling like I have slept the amount of time I am supposed to," Graham says.
For those who can score time to nap, the EnergyPod, by New York-based MetroNaps, is an ergonomically designed, plush reclining chair encapsulated by a sliding dome of fiberglass that shuts out noise and provides privacy. Soft music plays through noise-canceling headphones. Set the timer, and the chair buzzes and vibrates to wake you up. New Yorkers can nap at the company's spa in the Empire State Building. Others can buy an EnergyPod for $12,500 or rent one for $800 a month from metronaps.com. Your employees will thank you when they wake up.
By Jeremy Quittner