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Our collective lack of sleep shows readily across campus. People nap in chairs, or even on the library floor, to catch much-needed shuteye before they return to the grind. Our culture of poor sleep habits isn’t new, but in recent years, Harvard has come up with some novel solutions to tackle it. In September 2018, for the first time, the College required incoming freshmen to complete an online training module prior to their arrival on campus about sleeping habits and their effects on other areas of life.
In other ways, too, it seems that students are becoming more aware of the importance of sleep. There is even a General Education class on sleep taught by leading researchers. I’ve taken the GenEd and completed all my required training modules, but those haven’t been enough to solve the lack of sleep on campus. I’ve come away convinced that we need better ways to promote sleep for students. Put simply: Harvard needs nap pods.
Nap pods are furniture designed to enable people to sleep comfortably in any place — a corporate office, a hospital lobby, or a library at a university like ours. Not only do nap pods suit our busy schedules well; our schedules demand them. Research suggests that naps, even as short as 20 minutes, may increase energy levels and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. For most of us, 20 minutes is all we can muster during a busy weekday.
Aren’t there simpler solutions to our sleep woes? In theory, the College could reduce class workload or remove anti-sleep rules in study spaces like the Smith Center. The first of these options, however, is particularly unfeasible; reducing class workload is perhaps the greatest pipe dream of them all. Students are naturally ambitious. Whether it’s classes or clubs, something is always taking up our time. And because we pay the same tuition regardless of how many classes we take, we are incentivized to bulk up our course load every semester.
Removing anti-sleep rules at Smith or other common spaces is unlikely to be sufficient, either. It would be a step in the right direction (and, in some ways, requisite for introducing nap pods), but students should benefit from the best tools available to help them rest, as with any other educational device. Nap pods offer students a level of privacy that generic couches do not. And because they are intended only for sleeping, in contrast to generic couches, the College could ensure thorough and frequent cleaning between occupants.
Other universities seem to recognize the value in nap pods. Institutions like Stanford University, the University of Miami, Wesleyan University, and Washington State University have installed sleeping pods in libraries and other places around campus.
The University of Akron, in particular, offers a feasible model for integrating nap pods into study spaces. The university set up four nap pods in three different study places, allowing students to use them for 20-minute refresher naps throughout the day. The school seems to have recognized that sleep itself is a crucial aspect of wellbeing, in all senses of the word. Nap pods can be understood as cutting-edge mental health equipment, and providing this equipment to all students, not only select groups like student-athletes, is laudable.
Harvard has a unique opportunity to make investments in its students’ physical and mental wellbeing. Nap pods have shown to facilitate promising improvements to alertness and energy levels for healthcare workers on long shifts, and there’s no reason to suspect that their effect would be anything different at Harvard.
The College should look for nap pod manufacturers with which to partner on a pilot program. It wouldn’t be the first. San Diego nap pod manufacturer HOHM partnered with the University of Ohio Cleveland Medical Center in 2020 to deliver two free sleep stations. Though some university administrators may deem nap pods an inefficient use of money, our student body is small enough, and the university’s coffers large enough, to make our sweet dreams a reality.
Sleep is too crucial to be overshadowed by every other priority in the life of a busy undergraduate. Sleeping inadequately is associated with severe physical and cognitive consequences, a reality that does not spare ambitious students. A 2014 analysis showed that the best independent predictors of injuries among student-athletes in Los Angeles were hours of sleep per night and grades in school, with students averaging less than eight hours of sleep almost twice as likely to suffer an injury as those who averaged eight or more — a sobering fact for the hundreds of student athletes on Harvard’s campus. Other documented effects include decreased attention spans, impaired cognitive development, and an increased propensity towards risky behaviors.
The reality is that students don’t sleep as much as they need to. Instead of hoping the problem will fix itself, it’s time for Harvard to take action to bring students what they need: nap pods.
Alessandro Hammond ‘25, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Human Evolutionary Biology concentrator in Eliot House.
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