In the go-go culture of the nation’s capital, where power brokers brag about how little sleep they need and every dawn seems to bring another cafe brewing caffeine for the workforce, a new enterprise is making a play for the weary.
It’s a windowless room downtown with real bark walls, faux grass floors and curtain-divided sleeping pods, where suited-up professionals can pay $15 to take a 20-minute nap — a brief midday respite in the middle of bustling Washington.
Welcome to Recharj, which opened in September near the White House as a “sanctuary from the stress and constant noise of the outside world.” The business is part of the nascent “workday sleep industry,” which banks on dragging workers out of their offices to meditate and, yes, power nap.
As discordant as Recharj may seem against the workaholic stereotype of downtown Washington, its origins have a familiar D.C. beginning: an underslept government consultant.
Daniel Turissini, the company’s 31-year-old founder, has worked downtown since 2008 and recalls unsuccessful searches for a comfortable place to nap. He wasn’t alone in his quest, discovering that co-workers were also discreetly dozing.
“It wasn’t a matter of whether or not people were napping each day,” Turissini said. “It was a matter of where they were doing it.”
Recharj joins a movement of boutique fitness studios, pricey restaurants and trendy bars opening in the District. Like these establishments, Turissini’s business is capitalizing onthe changing demographics of the city, particularly the influx of affluent millennials concerned about work-life balance and healthy living.
Recharj also promotes meditation and mindfulness, an en vogue practice that encourages full awareness in the present and is touted as a way to reduce stress and improve mood.
Individual sleep pods, dubbed “cocoons,” allow nappers to crawl under a slate-colored blanket and lie on a firm, bean bag-like bed that molds to their bodies. The lights shut off, nappers don lavender-scented eye masks and doze as a soft soundtrack timed to the frequency of their sleep cycle plays. They lay their heads on colorful pillows with words like “awesome,” “peace” and “love.” After 20 minutes, a faint beep — far more pleasant-sounding than an alarm clock — wakes everyone.
When a power nap just isn’t enough, certified instructors lead 20-minute meditation classes with names such as “realign,” “reborn” and “re-center.”
“It’s an oasis in the middle of the city offering a serene sense of calm that you can’t find anywhere else,” Turissini said. “We have a consciously curated, dedicated space for both mindfulness and power napping.”
Mindfulness practices are becoming more popular as meditation studios sprout across the country. Companies such as Google and the Huffington Post have dedicated spaces in their offices for employees to nap.
In San Francisco, a company called Doze allows businesses and events to rent high-tech, $11,000 reclining nap pods by the month.
The biggest challenge is “the American cultural work ethic and getting people more comfortable napping throughout the day,” Doze owner Brandon Smith said.
Doze nearly closed at one point but turned around after a steady stream of advertising agencies and co-working spaces began renting pods for their employees, Smith said.
Sleep scientists say midday naps can help workers fight drowsiness that typically hits in the afternoon. And although a power nap isn’t intended to replace a decent night’s sleep, it can help offset natural afternoon drowsiness, said Vivek Jain, director of the Center for Sleep Disorders at George Washington University.
But there is a correct way to doze in the middle of the day, he warned. Effective naps should not exceed 30 minutes, and sleepers should not fall into a deep slumber. When done correctly, he said, nappers should wake feeling refreshed — not with the grogginess of waking in the morning.
“Naps are a good thing when done appropriately,” Jain said. “There is science showing improvement in memory-processing in the afternoon, and overall, our cognitive efficiency goes up.”
About 12:30 p.m. on a recent Monday, two LivingSocial employees — whose offices are in the same New York Avenue NW building — arrived for a power-napping session decked out in their professional attire. Taking a nap is far more rejuvenating than their usual midday coffee, they said.
“It’s just a nice break in the middle of the day,” Colleen O’Reilly said after her third session at Recharj. “Everyone always comments on how refreshed we look when we walk back to the office.”
Turissini said some workers are afraid bosses and co-workers might see a midday nap as a sign of laziness. With the backing of sleep science, he hopes Recharj squashes the siesta stigma.
And he’s hoping businesses will subsidize the cost for their employees.
Christy Stillwall, a 28-year-old account supervisor at D.C. marketing firm Delucchi Plus, has a health-and-wellness budget for her team and is considering purchasing sessions at Recharj for her employees, who are starting their busy season. After attending meditation classes and power-napping sessions, her team noticed the results.
“It’s a different idea, and in advertising, you always look to the newest and best idea, so I was intrigued,” she said, adding that she came away from her nap feeling more productive.
It’s unclear whether Washington’s workday culture will be hospitable to a routine midday sleep, but Turissini said he hopes fast-paced professionals will at least try it.
“Everyone is kind of curious,” he said. “This is a new concept.”