Sleeping on the job has been frowned upon since the Industrial Revolution when workers (even children) pulled 12 to 16-hour shifts, six days a week. Somewhere along the line, sleep and rest became a luxury rather than a necessity for workers, and this belief has persisted in cubicles and assembly lines for centuries. In November 2019, the U.S. government even banned naps at work. The General Services Administration issued a statement that said all persons are prohibited from sleeping in federal buildings, except when such activity is expressly authorized by an agency official.
Sleep is One Third of your Life
The problem is, we are a sleep-deprived nation. The State of Sleep Health in America 2022 reveals that 70% of adults report that they obtain insufficient sleep at least one night a month, 25% report insufficient sleep at least 15 out of every 30 days, and 11% report insufficient sleep every night. It’s estimated that sleep-related problems affect 50 to 70 million Americans of all ages. Lack of sleep has been linked to numerous health problems, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and strokes, along with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
It also affects productivity in the workplace. A 2016 analysis by the Rand Corporation estimates that the U.S. sustains the highest economic losses due to sleep deprivation, up to $411 billion a year, or the equivalent of about 1.23 million working days.
That’s why more private companies are encouraging their employees to take quick naps during the day, and research backs those siestas. A study published in Nature Neuroscience shows that subjects who took a 30-minute nap were able to stop deterioration in their work performance. Those who took a 60-minute nap were even able to reverse it. Experts say any type of nap can help to cut through the brain fog that creeps in during the day.
Napping Not Taboo Anymore
The odds of being sleep deprived (less than 6 hours a night for adults) have increased significantly in recent years as the lines between work and home have become blurred and the brain burden of constant tech has increased.
But while napping at work was once a workplace taboo, the pandemic has changed all of that. The Harvard Business Review reports that during COVID, 33% of people working from home have reported taking a nap during work hours. Without being tied to a time clock, remote workers have the freedom to decide when and if they rest.
Another survey of 1,000 American workers done in October 2021 found that napping at work was more common than not, with more than two in three respondents saying they have napped at work before. Gen Z’ers were most likely to admit taking workplace naps at 80%, compared to 70% of Millennials. Here are some other interesting stats from the survey:
- 55% of nappers worked in a managerial role, compared to 41% of non-nappers.
- 53% of nappers had also received promotions in the last year, compared to 35% of non-nappers.
Power Naps as an Asset
There’s been a movement by workers to destigmatize the nap at work, and some companies are starting to catch on, offering nap rooms, flexible hours and childcare. Big tech firms like Meta and Google have “nap pods” in offices which are quiet spaces with individual cubicles for people to sleep. Ben & Jerry’s was one of the frontrunners that allowed employees to nap on the job with a special room. After Huffington Post’s founder Arianna Huffington collapsed from exhaustion, she saw it as a wake-up call and wrote a book titled The Sleep Revolution. The Huff Post’s New York City office now has two napping rooms.
London-based consultant group ProNappers was formed in 2020 to show businesses that a quick nap can be beneficial to the workplace. CEO and Founder Cara Moore tells Fast Company she feels that bringing naps to the office could help people transition from telecommuting back to the traditional work environment more easily and being able to shut their eyes without shame for 10 to 20 minutes in the day could make all the difference.
A report from the nonprofit Better Sleep Council from July 2021 shows that 87% of people who nap find them “refreshing.” But it’s important to note these naps are typically pre-planned blocks of time intended to find some restoration in the middle of the day. An executive coaching client of mine shared with me that when he first started working remotely from home, he couldn’t beat the tiredness he experienced in the mid-afternoon every day. He tried exercise, eating more protein at lunch, even adding a cup of coffee, but nothing worked. So, he finally laid down in bed and set his alarm for 20 minutes. He couldn’t believe how refreshed he felt after such a short time of sleep. His naps allow him to return to work in the afternoon with the same amount of focus he has in the mornings.
Leaders who trust their employees to get their work done on time won’t have an issue with napping because they understand it’s not a sign of laziness but rather an effort to perform better. It’s the equivalent to pressing a restart button, adding a new start within the day to help avoid burnout. In fact, some leadership teams have started giving employees one-hour, post-lunch breaks that are meant for anything – exercise, TV, childcare, even naps.
Other Ways to Recharge your Batteries
If your office isn’t yet nap-friendly, start the conversation with your leaders. In the meantime, there are other ways you can give your body some rejuvenation while at work.
1. Meditate: Refresh with a restorative 20-minute meditation session, which can equal up to eight hours of good sleep. Rutgers University researchers discovered that melatonin levels for people who practiced meditation were boosted by 98% on average. Meditation effectively rebalances the biological markers in the brain.
Not sure how to meditate? Try Muse, a headband that engages you in guided meditations as it provides real-time feedback. You can set reminders to help build a consistent practice.
2. Breathe Deeply: Engaging in deep diaphragmatic breathing is the fastest way to slow your body’s physiological response to stress. Breathe in through your nose, concentrating on filling your belly with air like a balloon. Hold your breath for a count of 2, then, exhale slowly through your mouth until your belly flattens. Breaths should be at a ratio of 1:2, with exhales about twice as long as inhales. Try counting to 4 as you inhale, hold for the count of 2, then exhale to the count of 8. Start by doing this for two minutes each afternoon when you start to feel tired.
3. Get Outside: Spending even five minutes a day engaged in physical activity outside in the natural world benefits your mental and physical health. Take a break when you start to feel yourself dragging in the afternoon, and go outside for a quick, brisk walk.
Will we see a Chief Nap Officer in the c-suite one day? Only time will tell, but there’s definitely a shift happening in corporate attitudes toward napping especially in our new hybrid workplace world, and I think it’s a long-overdue wake-up call for corporate America.