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Student Dreams of Napping

Anthony Escalante waited a year and a half to take a 20-minute nap.

Not just any nap, mind you. Reclining in what looks like a white plastic dentist chair covered by a large motorcycle helmet, Anthony, a former UMD student, was the first to test two napping pods recently installed in McKeldin Library.

As he entered the pod and set the controls, the chair vibrated slightly. Soothing music played, ambient lights dimmed, a soft mechanical voice offered guided meditation.       

Anthony hadn’t slept much the night before, admitting he was too anxious and excited about the installation. “It feels like Christmas morning,” he said.  “I’m thankful that every day led up to today.”

His 20-minute nap ended a months-long effort begun in 2017 to research, pitch and fund a solution to help his fellow students struggling with fatigue, stress and underperformance.

As the driving force behind the pods’ acquisition, Anthony’s crusade grew from an assignment in a business-writing class: he and his teammates were instructed to identify a campuswide problem and propose a feasible solution supported by a well-researched business plan.

Anthony knew firsthand the consequences of sleep deprivation and how it adversely effects off-campus and commuter students who don’t have quick or easy access to a dorm. Scholarly research, cited in the team’s proposal, supported his assertion that taking small naps throughout the day can improve motor function and information retention.

Anthony and his team surveyed students, researched how other universities addressed student fatigue, and struggled with potential solutions that didn’t fully address concerns associated privacy and sanitation. His team landed on the idea of introducing sleeping pods on campus, like those used by corporations, airports and other universities. They learned that the University of California, the University of Miami and Carnegie-Melon use pods on their campuses.

A semester after his classmates graduated or otherwise moved on, Anthony persevered. He gained student support and lobbied administrators.

Anthony prepared a proposal for the university’s Student Facilities Fund after pitching the idea to the Student Government Association, which endorsed the project. The University Libraries Student Advisory Group also supported the effort. The Student Facilities Fund approved his request of $21,818 in 2018.

McKeldin Library, a safe space open 24 hours a day much of the academic year, seemed a logical space to house them. Students like Anthony in past years had sought help from library administrators in addressing similar problems, suggesting ultimately unworkable solutions such as setting up cots in an unused room, checking out pillows, installing an aquarium to help relieve stress.

“Anthony’s proposal checked all the boxes,” says Babak Hamidzadeh, interim dean of University Libraries, “and we agreed to host the pods as a pilot project. We’re curious to see how they’re received.”

Students, the primary users, will manage the use of the pods by signing up for 20-minute sessions, following guidelines, and cleaning the pods with a disinfectant wipe after use. Nearby lockers offer safe spaces to stow belongings. Online surveys, library administrators say, will help determine long-term viability of this pilot project.