Sleep Your Way to a Better Business

In recent years, there has been a push for eating better and exercising more. However, the third pillar of health is often shortchanged: getting enough sleep. Adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep each night, and 40.6 million workers get an average of 6 hours or less of sleep. Roughly 74% of employees over 30, who reported inadequate sleep, said that their sleepiness affected their work. This problem has raised an interesting solution in the past decade or so, which is letting employees nap at work.

Napping at work? Really? Many people find this concept hard to grasp, since when you go to work, you're supposed to, well, work. There is burgeoning research on the effectiveness of midday naps at work. Of course we're not talking slipping into the deep stages of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, but rather a quick 20-30 minute nap. (Longer naps make some people feel even groggier afterward: this is called sleep inertia.) These power naps can help employees sharpen their skills, keep ideas flowing, and maintain alertness throughout the day.

The benefits of napping have been enumerated by several researchers. Naps can improve employees' productivity, creativity and their overall performance. It helps employees get past that afternoon drowsiness. Some people won't sleep during the afternoon because they're warned that napping can ruin nighttime sleeping. While this is true for severe insomniacs, most other people do just fine. A nap might be just what employees need. In a Harvard university study, participants were observed as they worked through 4 training sessions throughout the day. Researchers found participants' performance decreased as the day wore on. However, participants who took a 30 minute nap after the second session maintained their performance in the later sessions.

For employees who want to take advantage of these benefits, it might be problematic to find where to nap. Offices are not built to accommodate sleepers, so it can be hard to find a comfortable sleeping environment. There are inexpensive solutions such as cots, futons, or just sleeping on the floor. A versatile option is an air mattress since they're many brands and sizes to choose from. Air mattresses can cushion you against the floor and set up quickly. Also, look for possible sleeping situations in your office. Sometimes a conveniently placed couch can be a good place to rest for awhile.

Once employees find where, they need to look for when. Employees can take some time from a lunch break for a quick snooze. Some jobs offer other breaks throughout the day workers can take advantage of. To help improve the quality of sleep, employees should avoid drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverages. It may take a while, but fostering an environment where naps are acceptable will help employees to sleep better and feel more refreshed. The feeling that napping is unacceptable can prevent employees from fully relaxing while they nap.

This feeling exists for a reason of course. Not every employer is on board with the idea of napping. A poll by the National Sleep Foundation found that only 34% of the 1,508 adults polled said their employers allowed them to nap at work. Only half of those employers have designated napping areas. It's fair to wonder why more employers don't allow naps at work. Generally, napping is a discouraged activity at work, even if you're on a break. In Spain and other Latin American countries, it's normal to take an afternoon siesta. In the U.S. and other places, most people resort to grabbing a cup of coffee to make it through the day. This is easier and more socially acceptable than trying to find a place to take a nap, but caffeine can actually disrupt sleep in the long run. People don't want to appear lazy, and some employees might feel their employers don't support napping. Other worries can stem from how it looks to visitors in the office building.

This wasn't a worry for Craig Yarde the founder of Yarde Metals. Initially a small company when it started in 1976, it began in a basement office in Bristol, CT. Yarde has been described as having an “out-of-the-box business philosophy”. In 1995 when he caught some employees napping on the job, he built the first nap room for his company. At the time what was considered unusual, today Yarde still insists improves employee productivity. Now, Yarde Metals boasts 700 employees and $500 million in annual revenue with various locations in the U.S., each with its own napping room.

Other companies have re-examined this natural way to increase productivity and satisfaction (Nike, Zappos.com, Continental Airlines, British Airways, Newsweek and Time Warner Cable to name some). It's healthier than constantly fueling your workers with caffeine, and it doesn't cost the company any money. Employees don't have to feel like they're constantly struggling to stay awake, and their productivity can remain high throughout the afternoon. Of course it's hard to say whether more traditional companies will follow suit.

Sleep Your Way to a Better Business Infographic