“It’s okay, you can sleep!” Whenever my coworker, Nqobile, says these words (usually in response to a yawn from me) I can’t help cracking a smile. Nqobile and I share a small office at the nonprofit we work for, and usually, we are running around, each doing five tasks at once. But sometimes, because the yawns are getting to us or because one of us looks especially tired, Nqobile or I will announce a nap: for ourselves, for the other or for both of us.
As flexible work schedules become more popular, the stigma around naps at work decreases. Industrial capitalism sees wage-laborers as a form of capital, and the easiest way to control that capital is to enforce strict punch-in and punch-out times and have workers follow a set routine, however unhealthy. But, according to the National Sleep Foundation and in line with common sense, tiredness increases irritability and fatigue and decreases creativity and productivity and some US employers are starting to recognize this. Whether your job requires a lot of complicated problem-solving, aesthetic creativity or physical strength, if you are craving a nap in the early afternoon, it might be a good idea to listen to your body.
5 ways to sneak in an afternoon nap.
1. Ask your supervisor to set up a system.
If your employer hasn’t initiated a protocol for office naps — and maybe isn’t the most progressive when it comes to new office ideas — consider emailing them with some literature, such as this study published in Behavioural Brain Research on the benefits of a short nap over caffeine on memory. Politely stress that naps at work are a sign that employees are working hard, not slacking off, and that an occasional power nap is better than an environment of droopy computer eyes, so it might be worth looking into having an office policy.
2. If you have a lunch hour, use it.
Many of us work through lunch. But on an especially yawn-filled day, it may be worth leaving the office for a 30-minute nap in your car, on a bench, in a nearby park or in the hammock that you have stashed for just this reason. If you have an understanding supervisor, you may be able to put up a sign and stretch out in your office or cubicle during the designated lunch hour. According to the study above, running out for a cup of coffee at lunch is better than nothing, but it doesn’t beat a nap when it comes to increasing productivity.
3. Use a necessary commute to squeeze in a nap.
Not everyone is this lucky, but I frequently leave the office to travel to a meeting or event, and I often optimize the taxi ride to get some shut-eye. You must be careful with this: I have used a long commute to sleep and have forgotten to set an alarm. In this instance, I woke up abruptly as we were arriving at an event, causing me to be dazed and confused for the introductions.
4. Practice ways to fall asleep quickly to maximize your power nap.
A power nap at work might seem like a ridiculous idea to the person who takes an hour to fall asleep every night. But this could be an opportunity to try different techniques of falling asleep more quickly. Try changing your bedding and textures around you, along with the lighting and music, and track how long it takes for you to fall asleep under different settings (there are apps that will track this if you leave your phone on the edge of your mattress). Then, identify an element that reminds you of this successful sleep, and build on that association by keeping it consistent every night. Finally, try to recreate this at work (whether through a certain blanket, soundtrack, or eye mask). Even if you can’t sleep, the association with sleep will help your body get more effective rest for 20 or 30 minutes.
5. Just do it.
Not to sound like Nike, but sometimes your situation is unique. While it is easy to say that certain tactics won’t work for you, this doesn’t mean that a power nap at work is off the table. Work environments, jobs and schedules are becoming more and more diverse, and your siesta may just take some creativity.
Why you should let your employees nap at work.
Because there is no good reason not to. A loss in productivity? If we're talking about afternoon naps, we already know that an employee is tired. So, in addition to encouraging good sleep habits, allowing occasional, short naps will increase productivity, not decrease it. A loss of morale? If you are afraid seeing coworkers sleep will make alert employees tired or less motivated to work quickly, request that naps happen behind closed doors. It isn’t going to help to prohibit naps and increase the number of people with their cheeks in their palms. A loss in money? Sleep deprivation costs money!
Findings from the Rand Corporation indicate that loss of sleep actually costs the United States $411 billion and 1,230,000 workdays annually. Allowing naps not only can increase productivity, but, like other flexibility measures in the workplace, it can help employees feel seen as people with human limitations and makes it clear that getting work done in a healthy manner is more important than maintaining a tight time-clock punching routine.
Countries and companies that promote (or at least allow) nap time at work.
Spain’s “siesta” may be the most well-known example of a country weaving afternoon naps into social life. But other countries, whether because of mid-day heat or a belief in well-rested citizens, also have similar practices. These include (but are not limited to) Italy, China, Mexico, Ecuador, Greece and Nigeria, according to the National Sleep Federation.
The most popular example of a “nap-friendly” company is Google. In some locations, Google has offered office nap-pods for workers for upwards of 10 years. But Google is far from the only company that wants its employees to be energized: Huffington Post, NASA, White & Case, Ben & Jerry’s, Cisco and Zappo’s, just to name a few, also promote afternoon power naps for employees.