Reviving the Sleep Deprived, One Nap at a Time
By: Sydney Palese
Posted: October 11, 2013
Students who once curled up on couches or snoozed sitting upright hoping to find a quick nap in between classes now have a place where their napping ambitions are embraced and encouraged.
The Nap Nook, founded by senior psychology major Caroline Cooke and staffed by the Sleep and Actigraphy Lab, offers six bean bag chairs and a cool, dark space for students to catch a 40 minute nap.
“Students are getting a small amount of sleep,” said Cooke. “I’ve been that student before. It’s had huge tolls on my student success and I started to notice, the more sleep I added to my day, the better my grades started to get and I found that to be an interesting correlation.”
The idea came to Cooke in December of 2012 after trying to squeeze in a few moments of napping in the Sleep and Actigraphy Lab, located in the Department of Psychology and directed by Professor Jeff Dyche.
“I was trying to sleep on my backpack and I realized there was no way I could sleep like that, and all I wanted was a 20-minute nap because I knew the benefits,” Cooke said. “I thought to myself ‘There’s got to be a better way.’”
In the spring of 2013, Cooke presented the idea of a “napping center” to her sleep lab. The proposal was well received, so Cooke made the center her 400-level psychology project.
Cooke spent the months of January through April combing through research literature to find more information about sleep deprivation.
“There are many benefits of napping,” Cooke said. “It boosts attentions, helps with processing memories and memory recall, it reduces sleepiness, increases subjective stress threshold and increases performance and vigor.”
Cooke also found that stimulant abuse among students contributes to sleep deprivation.
These stimulants include prescriptions to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder like Vyvance and Adderall.
“Sleep deprivation mimics some symptoms of ADHD,” Cooke said. “Stimulants are being prescribed to people who may have underlying sleep disorders.”
Additionally, Cooke realized that there is a correlation between the amount of sleep students get and their retention of information.
“When we dream, which is our REM stage of sleep, we’re consolidating our memories by intertangling them with past experiences in life. We come up with these kinds of nonsense stories as a way of our brain integrating new information into our system,” Cooke said. “It’s really important to get REM sleep.”
Cooke combined what she gathered from her research with her own informal observations of her classmates.
“My inspiration comes from seeing students passed out all over campus. I’ve seen them sleeping upright. They’ll find any nook and cranny,” Cooke said.
She also noticed that worn-out students tended to flaunt their drowsiness.
“When many students say ‘I only got 3-4 hours of sleep last night,’ they use it as a badge of honor. It’s a really bad thing,” Cooke said.
Once Cooke had the knowledge she needed to present the idea of a nap center, she scheduled a meeting with Dave Barnes, the director of University Unions.
Though Barnes didn’t have a space for Cooke, he directed her to Lisa Mathews-Ailsworth, coordinator of Off-Campus Life, who was also considering changing the JMad lounge in the lower drum of Festival into a relaxation space.
“I pitched the idea [to Lisa] and she said, ‘Great. Let’s make this a napping center,” Cooke said.
Once Cooke had a location, she formed an advisory board and partnered with Varner House, JMU’s counseling center. Her team was in place and she was almost ready to get make her dream a reality.
However, Cooke decided that a physical napping center wasn’t enough.
To end the stigmas attached to napping (e.g., napping is equated to laziness) and the glorification of sleep deprivation, Cooke decided to add an educational component to The Nap Nook.
The campaign, formally known as Revive the Sleep Deprived, is aimed to change the university’s impressions of sleep and the importance of it.
According to the campaign’s website revivethesleepdeprived.com, the goal of the campaign is to “to increase student education regarding sleep hygiene and sleep disorders, as well as to promote awareness as to the dangers associated with sleep deprivation.”
The Nap Nook, which is in the process of a soft opening, is in full operation and operated by student researches at the Sleep and Actigraphy Lab.
Three beanbags are located in a lounge area where students are also able to sit and rest on upright chairs, while the other three beanbags are in a dimmer, quieter area.
Students are encouraged to reserve a chair a maximum of 24 hours in advance and at least two hours before.
Naps in the Nook are limited to 40 minutes, but longer naps may be had if no one is waiting for a beanbag.
Sarah Houhoulis, a senior biology and psychology double major and Cooke’s research assistant, said that some students don’t understand why there is a time limit.
While students should ideally take 10-20 minute naps to get a boost in vigor and memory processing, Cooke said that 40 minutes is enough time so that students will not feel sleep inertia, but still feel the benefits of the nap.
Houhoulis said they accounted about 10 minutes for students to get settled and be on their cell phones.
Though the Nook has generally had a smooth opening and has been received with gratitude from many students, there have still been a few glitches, including people not getting up. Students who use the Nook are expected to set an alarm on vibrate mode to wake them up at the end of their snooze.
For now, the time limit is on an honors system. If a student doesn’t wake up when their time limit is up, the staff will not wake up the student up. However if a new napper is waiting on a chair, then they can either wake up the occupant or ask the staff or Office Campus Life staff to wake up the occupant.
Cooke said that in the future this rule may be modified to meet the demands of the Nook. She added that if people begin to abuse this rule, then this will also effect the system.
Cooke added that students should know that they do not have to lose consciousness to benefit from a nap.
In the future, the Nook will offer earplugs and blindfolds to maximize their naptime.
The staff is also currently brainstorming a system to keep the new bean bag chairs clean and hygienic, but for now, they will be maintained like any other piece of campus property.
Though Cooke is graduating in May, she said she hopes to stay on and work on the project if given the opportunity. She added that she also hopes the Revive the Sleep Deprived campaign will create a shift in the opinions on sleep that students have.
“I hope that the benefits of [the projects] will increase student efficiency and happiness,” Cooke said.