A Nap at the Gym

Futuristic pods at the Bakke Center help students catch up on sleep.

Two students nap in nap pods in a room with a starry sky.

You could mistake the sleeping vessels for personal spaceships. Bryce Richter

Catnap, meet the Badger nap. Visitors to UW–Madison’s new Bakke Recreation & Wellbeing Center can retreat from the bright lights of its traditional workout areas to a dim, quiet room with a replicated starry sky and a trio of nap pods.

You could mistake the sleeping vessels — formally called EnergyPods by the company MetroNaps — for personal spaceships. Attached to the reclining chairs are white spheres that wrap around the head and upper body, providing both privacy and the option for total darkness. The nap pods may look futuristic, but they satisfy a primal need for a student population that is susceptible to sleep deprivation. According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than half of college students average less than seven hours of sleep per night. And a lack of sleep is frequently linked to worse academic performance and a slew of other health risks.

The UW’s nap pods make it easy to catch up on z’s. Once you turn on the machine and plug in your headphones, you’re greeted by a soothing voice. You can simply set your timer and pass out, or you can customize your experience: recline or incline your position, turn on massage-like vibration, cycle through relaxing music tracks (or play your own), and adjust built-in lighting. As you approach the end of your rest session, the pods gently rattle you awake with an intensifying combination of light, sound, and vibration. The session times max out at 20 minutes.

“When we talk about sleep hygiene and wellness, we know that the most effective naps are when you’re not going into REM sleep,” says Ellie Knoll ’20, MPH’22, well-being coordinator for University Recreation & Wellbeing.

And Badgers have taken a lot of effective naps. During the pods’ debut semester last fall, they logged 4,538 sessions and 37,466 minutes of rest. They’re most popular on weekends, with highest demand from 4 to 8 p.m.

The nap pods do not require reservation and are located in the Bakke’s Rejuvenation room as part of a calming suite that includes a meditation studio, massage therapy rooms, and consultation space for wellness coaching.

“Bakke doesn’t feel like a traditional gym or rec center,” Knoll says. “It’s really about the whole person — and that includes taking care of your sleep.”

Published in the Summer 2024 issue


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