40 Winks in 40 minutes for £40,000

Credit:Trish Hamme

Sleep pods will fail to solve a problem that students need to sort out themselves
George Marsden

After the publication of a 30-page report by the Buchanan Institute, so called “nap-pods” will be making an appearance on the Edinburgh University campus in a bid to combat sleep deprivation. Students will be free to use the pods for 40 minute naps at any time. The proposal to introduce the pods won the support of 84% of the student electorate, surely a victory impossible to contest; but, as the previous year has amply demonstrated, folly thrives in numbers.

Four nap-pods have been mooted for two locations on the campus, each at roughly £10,000 each. When one keeps that figure in mind, the Buchanan Institute’s report on the matter becomes a little unconvincing. In the summary we are told that, “while nap pods will not necessarily solve chronic issues of sleep deprivation, our mission is to work…for the benefit of general well-being, happiness, academic performance and productivity of students.”

Firstly, it must certainly be heartening for Edinburgh students to learn that the Buchanan Institute see their task as a “mission.” No hyperbole this; the phenomenon of sleepy students is a menace that must be eliminated!

On a more serious note, their plan is certainly problematic. £40,000 is a high price for a solution that, “will not necessarily solve chronic issues of sleep deprivation.” Just four pods are being introduced, meaning only one per every 7,000 students will be available; unless I’m the only person who finds the idea of queuing for a 40 minute nap absurd, I must ask what on earth was it that convinced Edinburgh students to buy into this scheme? While the “general wellbeing, happiness, academic performance and productivity of students” are certainly laudable aims (especially when government and other institutions seem untroubled by them), these are rather vague goals and I’m not sure £40,000 spent on space-age deck chairs will bring them any closer.

I do not wish to misrepresent what the Buchanan Institute has produced here. It includes a number of summaries of studies conducted by reputable British and American universities demonstrating the negative effects of sleep deprivation, and is definitely worth a read. But its proposal to spend £40,000 on hi-tech sleeping apparatus is ludicrous. If they are serious in their desire to see people napping in public, why not invest in a few hundred beds? A cursory glance at Amazon shows dozens of models around the £100 mark. In their need for innovation they resemble the Americans in the joke about the space-race who spent billions on a biro usable in orbit. The Russians used a pencil.

And yet, we must also consider whether or not a university has any responsibility to help us get more sleep. As with employers, precautions should be taken to ensure that sleep is not needlessly lost because of undue stress or any other unnecessary cause, but to suggest that active measures be taken to help students with their sleeping patterns is another matter.

If adult life (in the dreaded “real world”) won’t let you nap, why acquire the habit at university? Most of us are going to be launched into lives of few jobs, expensive housing and debt, so please let’s not be saddled with the inability to plan our own sleep in our own beds as well. Considering we’ve all managed to go at least 18 years without getting ourselves killed or incapacitated, I think getting to bed a little earlier isn’t such a tall order, no?