Should You Allow Your Employees to Nap at Work?

by Kevin Casey on December 14, 2010
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If a salesperson came knocking with a no-cost, scientifically proven way to help your employees be more productive, would you answer the door? If that person then told you to let your staff — and yourself — take a nap during business hours, would you send them packing?

That’s precisely what William Anthony, Ph.D., encourages employers to do: Embrace the workplace snooze. I spoke with Anthony, who is Executive Director of the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation at Boston University and a noted napping expert, about the benefits of catching 40 winks at the office.

“The laboratory has confirmed what our mothers have always known: If you lie down and take a nap, you’ll feel better and act better,” Anthony says.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, research has shown that inadequate sleep not only hinders attention span, reaction time, and memory, but can also increase the risk of diabetes, heart problems, obesity, and other serious health consequences. Translation: Sleep deprivation is bad for you, bad for your employees, and bad for your bottom line. Studies have also shown the positive effects of napping, especially on those who aren’t getting their eight hours of shut-eye at night.

“The benefits are empirically proven,” Anthony says. “It helps your attention, persistence, and mood.”

A workplace nap program is painless for most smaller employers to implement. All you need is a simple policy that empowers staff to nab a quick nap and includes some common-sense guidelines for when and where. According the Anthony, the policy should cover these three points:

  1. An employee won’t lose their job or their reputation for taking a nap.
  2. Naps should be taken during approved break times or lunch hours.
  3. Employees should find a private place for their snooze.

That last point is important for professional appearances — “You don’t want to be sitting at the cashier booth and sleeping,” Anthony says — and for small business budgets. In fact, workplace naps cost next to nothing to add to your employee benefits package. You don’t need a large HR department to handle the program, nor facilities set aside for your employees (or you) to recharge.

“Nappers are creative people — they’ll find places to nap privately,” Anthony says. Most people find 20 to 30 minutes the perfect nap duration, though some — including former President Bill Clinton — report they can feel refreshed in even less time.

If you’re thinking of George Costanza — in an episode of Seinfeld, George borrows Jerry’s contractor to build a sleep shack under his desk in the front office of Yankee Stadium — you’re not too far off. Anthony and his wife, who co-authored The Art of Napping and The Art of Napping at Work, found that about 70 percent of the nappers they surveyed dozed in secret. “They felt they had to hide their nap,” Anthony says. “The reason most people can’t nap is they feel guilty, when in actuality it is one of the healthiest things you can do.”

Not surprisingly, Anthony says that some employers he has talked to worry about how workplace napping looks, or that it will hurt business. But he says those fears are unnecessary and far outweighed by the benefits of well-rested employees.

“We’re not talking about sleeping on the job,” he says. “We’re talking about napping on a break.” Anthony points out that some commonly accepted break-time activities, such as drinking coffee or smoking cigarettes, are less likely to improve overall health and well-being.

Our conversation was something of a treat: Anthony doesn’t grant many interviews these days, and he and his wife have shuttered the side business they started, The Napping Company. He has stepped back a bit from the interest generated by his work on naps to focus his time elsewhere: “I would rather nap than talk about napping.”

The holiday he founded — National Workplace Napping Day — continues to take place on the first Monday after Daylight Saving Time begins each spring, when workers could use it most.

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