By Jenny Hills
(Knight-Rider) Sioux City, Iowa. — It’s 1:30 in the afternoon at the North American headquarters of Cobalt Precision Instruments. The computerized assembly lines are running. The computers are humming. The phones are ringing. In many ways, it’s a typical day at the factory. Except for one thing: the hallways and offices are filled with people, but not a single one of them is copying an expense report, waiting for a fax to go through, or chatting at the water cooler. They are all asleep.
Some are nestling snugly inside of sleeping bags. Others are lying on yoga mats. A few are sprawled out on the worn carpet. Snores echo off the thin office walls, and the smell of sweaty bodies fills the air. Navigating the hallways is a treacherous journey over bare hands and naked feet. It is a kama-sutra collection of crooked sleeping bodies.
As for why Cobalt now bears more of resemblance to a daycare center at nap time than to a hustling and bustling workplace, it comes to this: the workers at Cobalt are protesting what they believe is their right to take naps at work, and if their employer doesn’t meet their demands, they will continue to hold these so-called sleepovers every day.
Some say it’s a biological necessity. Some say it’s a psychological need. Others say it’s a political statement. For Wyatt Duvall, the leader of the Slumber Party, it’s a little bit of all three. “The American worker is just plain tired,” Duvall says. “They are overworked, and they need to sleep. And a two-hour break during the day is a good place to start. That’s all that we’re asking for. And until we get our rest, we’re going to stay here and sleep.”
For the past three weeks, the middle managers and assembly workers at Cobalt have been doing just that, at 12 o’clock sharp each and every workday. At 2 p.m., Duvall wakes them, and they return to their duties.
According to a recent study by the Somnambulism Institute, the average American gets only 6.75 hours of sleep a night, significantly less than the recommended eight to nine hours. “Why are Americans sleeping less? The answer is simple: We live in an accelerated age with too many tasks and too many challenges,” says Dr. Jay Hamilton, head researcher at the Texas Institute of Technology’s the Somnambulism Institute. “Companies expect their employees to work longer days. Commutes are getting longer and longer. The kids have their soccer games and dance recitals and Cub Scouts. And then when it’s time to go to sleep, a person needs that downtime, so they end up watching TV until they fall asleep. It’s not healthy.”
Duvall also blames the jet-propulsion, 24/7 lifestyle demanded of most Americans. “You know the saying, ‘Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealth and wise?’ The average American today has completely forgotten the first part. In fact, many of them don’t even go to bed at all,” he says. “It’s rise, rise, rise, all the time. It’s like someone slipped a Viagra into collective unconscious.”
Contrary to the opinions of most business leaders, Duvall believes it’s in the best interest of companies to offer their employees daily naps. “A well-rested worker is a happier, more efficient worker. They make worker faster and make fewer errors,” Duvall says. “When you’re dealing with a factory like the one here at Cobalt, with dozens of industrial presses, precision saws and the like, if your employees are chronically sleep-deprived, the workplace can be as dangerous as parading through the streets of Laramie, Wyo., high on crystal meth with a Superman ‘S’ on your chest and a wooden fence lashed to your back, singing a medley of the Allman Brothers’ ‘Whipping Post,’ R. Kelly’s ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ and ‘The Rainbow Connection’ by Kermit the Frog.”
For Jason Todd, the workplace was indeed a dangerous place. And he has the war wounds to prove it. After a particularly long work day, during which Todd pulled a triple shift, an accident with an industrial press severed two fingers on his left hand. “I was working shift after shift after shift, and I was pulling in some serious overtime because I really needed the money. Christmas had set me back quite a bit,” Todd says. “I wish somebody had just taken me aside and told me to take a nap instead of a handful of pills, but that’s the breaks.”
James Cavendish suffered a near-fatal heart attack during a company team-building exercise at a local ropes course. Alice Goldstein lost her sex drive and her husband. Ron, a human resource office admin, found himself unable to fill out the daily crossword puzzle. Each one believes that being sleep-deprived led to their troubles.
Dr. Hamilton agrees. “Let me tell you a curious fact about sleep deprivation. If an individual is awake for too long, that person begins to experience hallucinations, visual and auditory. They start to have waking dreams, and more often than not, those dreams are nightmares,” the Somnambulism Institute researcher says. “The point is, it doesn’t matter whether these things happened or not. It doesn’t matter if these claims are true. What’s important is that these individuals believe their lack of sleep has negatively affected their lives.”
He adds, “For the sleep-deprived, the evidence of delusion is proof of the disorder. We have no choice but to believe them.”
So far Cobalt executives are refusing to meet the demands of their employees and Slumber Party members. A spokesperson for Cobalt says that the company has not ruled out widespread lay-offs, especially if the Slumber Party’s intimidation tactics continue. Says Cham McMaster, vice-president of human resources, “These little naps, we can forgive. We’ve got more than enough workers to take up the slack. But blocking exits with pillows, that’s a fire hazard. We have to stop this before somebody gets hurt.”
However, the Slumber Party seems unwilling to give up the fight. “Lenin had it all wrong. It’s not time for the workers of the world to rise up. It’s time for them to lie down,” Duvall says. “If there is one thing I want to say to all the tired men and women out there working their fingers to the bone, it’s this: Wake up, America. The Slumber Party wants you to sleep.”