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Napping Gets a Nod at the Workplace

Now that a number of companies are offering napping rooms, snoozing at work isn’t so embarassing any more. Photo credits clockwise from top right: Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images; Ziv Koren/Afp/Getty Images; Cynthia Johnson/Getty Images; Rex Usa; Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images; Paul J. Richards/Afp/Getty Images; Antonio Calanni/Ap Photo; Kevin Lamarque/Reuters/Corbis.

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Jascha Hoffmann featured by Bloomberg Businessweek magazine online (August 26, 2010).

To read the complete article, please click here.

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A growing number of companies are encouraging employees to snooze at work—and boost their productivity

From Thomas Edison and Winston Churchill to Bill Clinton and George Costanza, the nap has had many famous champions. And with good reason. Ever since sleep scientist David Dinges helped found the modern science of napping in the early ’80s at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, short periods of sleep have been shown to improve alertness, memory, motor skills, decision-making, and mood. All while cutting down on stress, carelessness, and even heart disease.

With Americans averaging fewer than seven hours of sleep per night—and around 20 percent suffering from sleepiness during the day, according to a recent Stanford University study—many companies have turned to the humble nap in an attempt to stave off billions in lost productivity each year. Following the rise of workplace perks like lactation rooms, gyms, and child-care facilities, Nike (NKE) workers now have access to nap-friendly “quiet rooms” that can also be used for meditation. Google (GOOG), a forerunner in employee perks, has a number of futuristic napping pods scattered throughout its Mountain View (Calif.) campus.

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“Tiny naps are much more refreshing than people tend to realize,” said Jim Horne, director of the Sleep Research Centre at Loughborough University in England. “A short nap in the afternoon will get rid of sleepiness without interfering with nighttime sleep.” That said, it’s best not to depend on napping as a permanent replacement for lost sleep. “On occasion it will get you over the hump, but whether it gets you back to peak is an open question,” says Dr. Roger Rosa, a senior scientist at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. “If you’ve lost an hour of your previous night’s sleep, a nap may be just the ticket. If you’ve been up all night, it may give you a hangover effect” known as “sleep inertia.”

According to Dr. Sara Mednick, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California at San Diego, not all naps are created equal. Mednick believes that naps weighted toward different stages of the sleep cycle confer different benefits. “If you do physical labor, you need more Stage 2 sleep,” says Mednick. “If you are doing memorization or verbal work, you need more slow-wave sleep. And if you do creative or visual work, you need more REM sleep.”
Dr. Mednick has devised an “Optimized Napping Formula” so ambitious nappers can maximize the desired phase of sleep. Napping newbies can purchase a device called Zeo ($199), which promises to track your sleep cycles for you via your brainwaves with a special headband. Those looking for a simpler contraption might prefer the Dream Helmet ($29.95), which serves as mask, pillow, and earplugs all at once.


Napping at work has become acceptable at some companies. Yet pulling off a “productivity nap” at the office isn’t easy. Here are suggestions from sleep scientist Dr. Sara Mednick, author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life.

1. Make time and space
: Twenty to 30 minutes is all you need to reap the rewards of midday slumber. The best time is the early afternoon when your body is tired—so consider reserving the second half of your lunch break for shut-eye. If your employer doesn’t have a nap room, a yoga mat beats a bathroom stall, though the most comfortable option may be a parked car.

2. Set the proper conditions: In the dark our brains produce more of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, so close the blinds, turn off the lights, and consider using a sleeping mask. Keep the temperature on the warmer side. If you must nap sitting up, use a travel pillow to avoid the dreaded “nap nod.” And don’t forget to turn off your cell phone.

3. Careful with the chemicals
: Avoid caffeine for a few hours before a nap. The same goes for nicotine, diet pills, and antidepressants. Although alcohol makes it easier to nod off during the day, it interferes with sleep and should also be avoided. Refined sugars and carbs may keep you up, but meat, dairy, and some nuts have tryptophan, which our bodies break down into melatonin.

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Jascha Hoffman is a journalist who has written on science and culture for The New York Times, Nature, and other publications. He lives in San Francisco and is also a songwriter.

I highly recommend Tony Schwartz’s latest book, The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working in which he focuses much of his attention on rest/sleep deprivation and rest/sleep renewal issues.

You can also check out my blog posts about Schwartz and his work by clicking here.

Friday, November 12, 2010 - Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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