And Your Boss Should Really Encourage You To Do So
Fighting Our Bodies
We are living in an age that forces us to fight our most basic instinct, sleep. It happens mainly, at night. 1 in 3 Americans is not getting enough sleep. In the UK, a survey found that 71% of participants blamed binge-watching or the autoplay feature for lack of night sleep.
The modern age we live in has a weird way of looking at sleep. It can be seen as a waste of time. The self-help section at the bookshops is filled with “Sleep Hacks” to make us sleep less and be more productive. An afternoon nap is even more controversial. At best it seems like a luxury, at worst like a sign of laziness, a thing only a person with no aspirations would dare do.
There is always one more thing we just have to get done. There’s always another goal to accomplish. We have to stay on track at the crazy pace dictated by our modern lives. All this time, our bodies are crying out. It needs sleep. The body is actually built in a way that makes it in desperate need of a ‘restart’ right in the middle of the day.
“An afternoon sleep is a very physical thing”, Prof. Giora Filler, an expert in sleep medicine told me. “Our body is built for it. There is a decrease in some of the hormones during the afternoon, our temperature changes, and there’s a decrease in glucose levels. We are usually after a meal so the blood is more focused on the digestive system rather than other parts of the body. It all fits. Afternoon sleep is rooted in our nature and biology”.
While our bodies need midday sleep, most of us do not have that privilege. We drink coffee, we eat sweets, we go out on smoke-breaks, or find any other artificial way to force our body to stay awake and alert for a bit longer.
The Sixth Hour
Midday sleep is rotted in ancient Hebrew and Muslim writings. It was originally aimed to help avoid working at the peak of the day’s heat. The Romans had what is called in Latin ‘hora sexta’ (the sixth hour). Meaning, a break at the sixth hour past dawn, exactly noon. This was passed on to the Spanish, hence, ‘siesta’, the Spanish term for the mid-day rest. From Spain, the custom immigrated through some European countries, all the way to Japan and South America.
Today, some countries still follow the custom, with areas of Spain, France, and Italy almost completely closed for a 2 or 3-hour period in the afternoon. These long breaks have faced much criticism. In Spain, there were plans to scrap the tradition, keep people working at noon, and shorten the workday by two hours. Many people claim that such a long break in the middle of the day hurts productivity and damages the economy.
“Economy is like driving in a car”, public economics expert, Prof. Doron Lavee from the Tel-Hai College in Israel told me. “When you reach a red light you stop and then have to reignite the system. Stopping the economy for two hours damages productivity between 20%–30%. It’s just not suitable for modern-day industries”.
The health benefits of longer naps are also debated. A study done by the American College of Cardiology found that those who sleep more than 40 minutes during the day are at a significantly higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome. The researches also found that being overtired during the day causes health risks.
So, longer midday naps pose health risks and cause economic damage. Fatigue also causes health problems and severely damages the economy. Researchers from Harvard found that lack of sleep costs US companies $63 billion per year.
The solution couldn’t be clearer.
Enter: Power Naps
While the researchers from the American college of cardiology found that long naps and overtiredness might cause harm, shorter naps did not show any increased risk at the study. Moreover, other researches found a number of benefits to shorter midday naps.
A study done at NASA found that a 26-minute nap improved the pilots’ alertness by 54% and job performance by 34%. Reaction time, memory, attention, and mood were all better for pilots who took naps compared to those who didn’t.
Power naps were found to be more effective than coffee. Another study, done on medical residents found that short midday naps improved cognitive functioning and alertness. A study by the University of Dusseldorfin Germany found significant improvement in memory performance after a short nap compared to longer naps or no midday sleep at all. In Japan, researchers showed that short naps helped improve mood and vigilance levels.
The list goes on and on. Health benefits, improvement in productivity, better morale, Enhanced performance, and increased alertness. Many companies have started to discover the power of power naps and are allowing, some actively encouraging, workers to take short midday naps during work hours.
“When we founded the company 17 years ago people thought we were crazy promoting an idea that a manager should pay workers to sleep”, Christopher Lindholst, CEO and co-founder of MetroNaps, a company offering sleeping solutions for workplaces, recalled in our conversation. “Today, managers no longer ask us ‘why should we do this?’ but ‘how should we do this?’”.
Off To My Sleep Break
The term “power nap” was coined by Profesor James Maas from Cornell University. The recommended power nap is around 10-20 minutes of sleep time, but no longer than 30 minutes. This period of time allows the body to regenerate without going into a state of deep sleep. In order to be beneficial, a power nap shouldn’t interfere with one’s night-sleep, which is even more important for our body. And so, the shorter naps should normally allow the body to regularly move towards the sleeping cycle at night.
The short period required for the break also allows the workflow to continue normally. “You can cycle and switch between workers going for short sleep breaks”, added Prof. Doron Lavee. “As long as your office, and the financial system as a whole, is still running than the financial benefits outweigh the possible harm. Definitely”.
The power nap revolution at workplaces was greatly motivated by some big tech companies. Allowing workers to sleep during work hours was initially seen as the Silicon-Valley-type extra perk to help attract suitable candidates in a competitive environment. It is no longer the case. I’ve spoken to a manager of a mattress manufacturing factory, advising his workers to take 30-minute sleep breaks after lunch every day. The low-tech industries are starting to also realize that power naps could be helpful both for the company and the worker.
So bosses, sleep on it. After weighing the pros and the cones you might also decide to encourage your workers to carry a pillow alongside their laptop, briefcase, or uniform.