The days are short and cold. The lists of year-end and holiday chores are endless. Rich food and befogging beverages abound. Sounds like it's time for a nap. At least that is the...

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NEW YORK — The days are short and cold. The lists of year-end and holiday chores are endless. Rich food and befogging beverages abound.

Sounds like it’s time for a nap.

At least that is the hope of two young entrepreneurs who are heading into their first holiday season as proprietors of MetroNaps, a space-age snooze station that opened this year at the Empire State Building.

For $14, sagging shoppers and weary workers can put their feet up for a 20-minute power nap in a dimly lit space filled with seven sleep pods, which look like surplus from the set of “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

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One-third of an hour may not sound like much, but a brief midafternoon nap can be just the thing to make the rest of the day productive. A 2002 study by Harvard University researchers found that subjects who napped were better able to process information and learn new skills than those who stayed awake.

“We allow people to do more with their day,” said co-owner Christopher Lindholst, 29. “There’s a natural tendency to be drowsy in the afternoon, but we know that Americans are chronically sleep-deprived. People are leading busier lives, and sleep is the first thing that gets compromised.”

Occupying a 24th-floor office space, MetroNaps has had steady business since its May opening, he said.

Lindholst said the company is scheduled to open its second location soon, in the international airport terminal in Vancouver, B.C.

MetroNaps’ custom-built napping stations resemble lounge chairs with their leg rests extended. Nappers can adjust their leg elevation to reduce cardiac strain, and a spherical hood can be pulled down over the upper body for greater darkness.

Headphones pipe in ethereal electronic music that induces a trancelike state. After 20 minutes, the back of the chair vibrates and lights come on in the pod.

“I wake up early every day,” said frequent customer Janet Rhew, 22, a special-education teacher whose students are preschoolers. “I just find that by early afternoon, after the kids leave, I’m pretty exhausted. It’s 20 minutes, and I’m good to go.”

Co-owner Arshad Chowdhury came up with the idea for MetroNaps while working as an investment banker. In a business notorious for brutal hours, he saw co-workers fall asleep at their desks or sneak off to the bathroom to take a nap.

“There is an unfortunate and outmoded notion of napping,” said Chowdhury, 28, referring to the perception that napping is a sign of laziness. “Our biggest challenge was to repackage napping. We had to reinvigorate it with a new style.”

Sleep specialists say Americans have been getting less sleep ever since Thomas Edison — who took frequent catnaps — invented the light bulb.

A 2001 survey of 1,004 adults by the private National Sleep Foundation in Washington found that 31 percent of Americans get less than seven hours of sleep a night, the minimum amount recommended by sleep experts.

And 40 percent said drowsiness interferes with their work anywhere from a few days a month to almost every day.

James Maas, a Cornell University psychologist and author of the book “Power Sleep,” said lack of sleep can lead to impaired cognitive functioning, accidents in the workplace and an increased risk of heart attacks.

“The main problem is that people do not see sleep as a necessity,” Maas said. “They look at sleep as a luxury. But to be blunt, sleep deprivation makes you stupid, clumsy, and it can shorten your life.”

Still, naps are not a panacea for every yawn. There’s no substitute for the seven to nine hours of nighttime sleep that most adults require, Maas said.

And too long a nap can leave a person feeling groggy and disoriented, according to James Wyatt, laboratory director of Sleep Disorders Center at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center.

That’s because the brain descends into deep sleep after about 15 minutes, the factor that led MetroNaps to establish its 20-minute schedule — five minutes for relaxing, 15 minutes for napping.

Long naps, Wyatt noted, also can set someone up for trouble falling asleep at bedtime.

And napping definitely is not for insomniacs, he said. That will exacerbate sleeplessness.

“Napping is the last thing you should do,” Wyatt said. “You should get the insomnia treated.”

Why a 15-minute nap feels so rejuvenating remains a mystery.

“We can’t explain it fully,” Wyatt said. “It resets the counter a little bit lower. And you do get quite a bit of bang for the buck.”