Sleeping at Work

The notion of sleeping at work isn’t very well received by the industry. Companies equate napping with laziness, and lazy or not, you might get chastised or even fired if you’re caught trying to catch a few winks.But the fact is that today nearly everyone is sleep-deprived, and sleepy workers are irritable, likely to make mistakes and cause accidents, and more susceptible to heart attacks and gastrointestinal disorders.That costs money and disrupts lives.

Famous Nappers

Thomas Edison napped in lieu of sleeping at night. He believed that sleeping was a waste of time, “a deplorable regression to the primitive state of caveman.” But he napped frequently and for long periods.Albert Einstein felt that his daily naps “refreshed the mind” and made him more creative.Winston Churchill scheduled his cabinet meetings around his daily catnaps, during World War II. Salvador Dali napped in his armchair, holding a spoon over a metal pan on the floor below. When Dali hit REM sleep and lost muscle tonus, the spoon would fall from his grip, bang the metal pan, and awaken him.

For hundreds of years in Latin America and in Europe, everyone quit work for a couple of hours in the mid-afternoon and went home for a refreshing nap. However, siestas are becoming a thing of the past. As countries become more industrialized and transportation to and from work more congested, the siesta has all but disappeared. Too bad. Time for change!A coffee or cola break, perceived as a legitimate part of the workday, does provide momentary feelings of alertness. But drinking too much caffeine will be followed by feelings of lethargy and reduced REM sleep that night. A debt in your sleep bank account, the cause of midday sleepiness, is not reduced by these artificial stimulants.Why not attack the problem directly and get some needed sleep? We must strive to recognize brief naps as legitimate, and much more valuable than coffee breaks.The corporate culture will gradually change as information on the tremendous cost of sleep deprivation, and on the biphasic pattern of natural sleep, become more widespread. Accepting the concept of napping will reduce errors and accidents, raise job satisfaction, reduce illness and ultimately improve the bottom line. What your companies lose in time they can make up in increased productivity. It’s a win-win situation that should make sense to everyone.Since corporations have accepted the concept of “power breakfasts,” I coined the term “power nap” to encourage institutionalization of naps at work. A recent survey indicated that many executives take brief naps in the office to recharge their batteries. Why not allow all workers to have the same privilege?In many corporate offices comfortable couches and sleep-friendly office furniture for midday snoozes are replacing hard-backed chairs. Cots are becoming available in lounges off the factory floor. And it’s working wonders. Employees are more alert, more productive and less accident-prone. Napping at the OfficeIf you’ve convinced the boss, or if you are the boss, take a nap on your work break. Here’s how to make naps work:

  • Get rid of all the distractions! Turn off the ringer on the phone, close the door and turn of the lights. Put a sign on the doorknob: “I’m recharging my batteries,” or, “I’m power-napping.”
  • Avoid caffeine after that first morning cup of coffee. Otherwise you may feel jittery and unable to fully relax.
  • Consider your environment. Furniture has recently been designed to aptly suit office naps, including power-nap executive chairs that recline, massage your head and envelop it in darkness. There are desks that transform into cots, and chairs and couches that have built-in audio decks for playing relaxing music and alarm clocks to wake you up.
    • You don’t have to go to extremes. If you’ve got a couch, use it! Lying down is the optimal position. If not, lying back in a chair with your feet up is the next best way. Have a pillow handy so you’ll have a comfortable headrest. Or you can just sit at your desk and put your head down for a few minutes’ rest.
  • Schedule regular rest periods. Just as with nocturnal sleep, it is important to get your body used to napping at about the same time every day, for about the same length of time. Most people tend to feel sleepy about eight hours after awakening.
  • Even on days when you don’t feel particularly sleepy, try to take a rest around nap time instead of taking a coffee break.
  • Limit your nap time. A 15- to 30-minute nap is ideal. Many tired executives worry that if they put their heads down they will fall asleep and not worry for hours. Not to worry. “Power-nap” alarm clocks are available with a one-button preset for naps of specific duration.
  • If your work includes air travel, which can easily contribute to sleep and exhaustion, particularly if you cross time zones, consider napping during your flight. The 20-minute periods you spend not working will pay off in hours of more efficient and productive thinking. A short nap before arrival at your destination is also good, especially if you’re planning to drive a rental car.

Forty million Americans are now working full or part time in the home and a good portion are probably taking naps. The emphasis is going to be on what is produced, not on where you work at what time of the day or how long you work. Napping should not be frowned upon at the office or make you feel guilty at home. It should have the status of daily exercise.Proactive EducationShowing how naps and good sleep strategies can quickly restore alertness, enhance performance, reduce mistakes and accidents, and affect profits is a quick way to grab any CEO’s attention. Talk to your boss, give him or her some literature or tapes on sleep deprivation and performance, or invite a sleep expert to give a seminar at your company.

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