• Robb G. Best

Sleeping on the Job

For most of us, the thought of getting caught sleeping at our desks is stressful enough to send our brains a zippy little wake-up shot of cortisol. For others, napping at work might bring to mind one of those hyper-trendy companies, the kind with yoga and juice bars, and an almost disturbing zeal to replace desk chairs with exercise balls, or treadmills, or kiddie pools filled with salt water and live tropical fish. (Give it time; it’ll happen.)

And indeed, firms like Google, Ben & Jerry’s, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Zappos have all invested in creating a space specifically for employees to close their eyes and take a mid-day snooze. In fact, according to a 2015 article on Inc.com, roughly 6% of employers now offer an onsite nap room of some sort.

As with many trends in the U.S., we didn’t invent the nap break so much as we borrowed it from other cultures. In Spain, businesses famously close from 2 to 5 to accommodate a daily “siesta” for workers—although ironically, our increasingly global economy has started to squash this tradition. The “riposo” is the Italian equivalent, while “nap bars” near executive centers in Shanghai offer soft music and alarm clocks for a quick slumber, and the Japanese Health Ministry recommends that workers take a 30-minute afternoon nap—to name just a few worldwide examples.

While it may be easy for the more cynical among us to scoff at, say, startups buying specially designed “nap pods” for their offices, the business benefits of snagging some afternoon shut-eye are no joke. According to the National Sleep Foundation, “A study at NASA on sleepy military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness by 100%.” Simply put, the brain needs rest, and most of us are failing to achieve the recommended 7 to 9 nightly hours. Researchers have found that the average U.S. employee loses the equivalent of 11.3 workdays each year to sleep deprivation.

While we should all try to get to bed earlier, numerous studies suggest that a workplace nap can go a long way to closing that gap. Besides boosting your alertness, it’s been shown to aid creativity, problem-solving, and the ability to catch mistakes. And that’s not even getting into your mood and social interactions; imagine how much more patient and pleasant you could be with a nap waiting for you on your calendar every day. Heck, maybe your crabbiest co-worker could be an angel if only they were a bit better-rested.

So maybe it's time to catch up with those hip, cutting-edge corporations—and much of the rest of the world. And hey, a brand-name nap pod will only run you about $13,000…


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