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Nap pods making a return to UBC after decades of absence

The Alma Mater Society hopes pods will have physical and psychological benefits for students

By Ina Nakyoung Lee , in Feature story Life , on November 21, 2018

The University of British Columbia used to be the only university or college to have a nap room in the province until it was shut down decades ago.

Now, the university’s student society is bringing back sleeping spaces to campus after students advocated for their return at a forum about a new centre for arts students that is being built on campus.

The Alma Mater Society’s directors hope that having napping pods on campus will have physical and psychological benefits for students when the new centre opens in 2021. But this time, they’ll be designed so that they don’t become sex pods — as happened in the 1960s.

Taking a mindful approach

The design of the approximately 10 sleep pods is still a work in progress. The student society is teaming up with the psychology department to figure out the ideal design, to maximize the psychological benefits of the space.

Architecture students will then take on the physical design of the pods in a workshop studio next semester.

“Everybody has a snoozing cycle to step out of their consciousness and drift off. We want to understand it. We might not want to make a sleep pod like a coffin, where you lie straight. Because there’s not enough room and they feel uncomfortable,” said Michael Kingsmill, a manager of the building project.

The hope is the pods will create the ideal conditions for a power nap, a short snooze that lasts less than an hour. Research shows power naps can relieve fatigue, restore alertness, performance, and learning ability.

Michael Kingsmill, a designer and the manager of the arts student centre project. (Photo: Artona Studio)

“We are studying what is the best ergonomics for sleeping and designing the pods.”

The vice-president of UBC’s Arts Undergraduate Society, Jina Marwood, expects the sleep pods will act as a space for students to relax and minimize stress.

“I hope it catches the attention of commuter students, especially ones travelling two to four hours a day and don’t have the same opportunity to go home and take a midday nap like students who live on residence do,” Marwood said.

According to a 2018 AMS survey report, 67 per cent of undergraduate students live off campus.

Learning from the past

UBC’s old student-union building used to have a nap room with a shower facility in the 1960s, but it was shut down a few years after it opened.

“It’s not like somebody got murdered there. The truth was they had boys and girls and they were mixing inside. Just small little social things,” said Kingsmill.

Those involved with the design of the new sleeping space are keeping past concerns around how the nap room was used at the top of their minds.

Marwood said that there will be strict rules around the use of the pods — no food or drink — to maximize cleanliness and minimize distractions.

She said they will also be focusing on striking the right balance between privacy and openness in the sleeping capsules to prevent them from following the path of the previous nap room.

“We’ll have to come up with creative ways to make it public enough so that the issue doesn’t arise again, yet private enough so it remains a quiet space for students to de-stress,” she said.

Students like Mark Daudlin welcome the return of a sleep space to campus.

“I think it can be a useful thing for the students who can kind of lie down, go to sleep for an hour and get back up,” he said.

Canada is the third most sleep-deprived country with nearly a third of the population lacking sleep according to a report from Rand Corporation.

UBC students are no exception. According to the UBC Hospital sleep-disorder program, a majority of UBC students suffer from sleep deprivation.