Consider a Nap for Better Workday Focus

Some American workplaces are embracing the concept of an afternoon siesta, but plan carefully to wake well rested and feel more productive.

Ready for a midday snooze? Don’t feel guilty about it. Napping may just be the answer to a more productive workday.

More companies in the United States are starting to offer on-the-job sleep options for employees, ranging from special napping rooms to expensive sleep pods. Progressive, well-known companies like Google, Zappos, and Ben & Jerry’s are “nap friendly.” Yet can naps really help your concentration and focus?

The key is how much you sleep and when you sleep. A 10- to 30-minute nap taken before the afternoon slump can keep you more alert for several hours, said Robert Rosenberg, DO, medical director of the Sleep Disorders Centers of Prescott Valley and Flagstaff in Arizona. “It can be very effective for workplace productivity,” said Dr. Rosenberg.

For most people, the afternoon slump comes between 1 and 3 p.m. — think about how you might reach for a snack or cup of coffee around 2 p.m. to keep yourself from falling asleep on your desk.

While a longer nap may sound appealing, if you take one, you may experience something called sleep inertia, where you feel groggy as opposed to refreshed, said Dr. Rosenberg. Stick to no longer than an hour.

Midday naps can be a key part of today’s workforce as many of us get less-than-optimal sleep at night, said Christopher L. Drake, PhD, chair of the National Sleep Foundation and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at the Wayne State University School of Medicine. A large number of adults are trying to scrape by on six hours a night instead of the more ideal eight hours.

“You can survive on six hours an night, but you’ll get sleepy,” said Drake. That’s why he also supports the idea of midday naps instead of further skimping on sleep or trying to catch up with sleep on the weekends. “We live in a 24/7 society. One option to help people is to take a nap at work,” he said.

Midshift naps are also crucial for night workers, Drake added. In fact, a 2013 study in the journal Ergonomics found that an hour-long nighttime nap helped night shift workers improve their performance and reduce sleepiness without reducing their daytime sleep.

At South Burlington, Vt.-based Ben & Jerry’s, there’s a nap room with a futon, blanket, pillows, and bedroom-style lamps, said Liz Stewart, a company spokesperson. When one of the ice cream maker’s 110 employees use the room, they put their shoes outside the door and post a sign to indicate the room is occupied.

“The nap room serves different purposes,” said Stewart. Some employees use the room when they feel overwhelmed and need a break or if they’re feeling ill. Still others do indeed use it to catch up on sleep, said Stewart.

Still, that doesn’t mean that employees sit around every day eating ice cream and taking naps. “It’s something you don’t think of every day, but when the need arises, you can take advantage of it,” she said.

Maximizing Your Midday Napping

As Rosenberg suggested, a nap of less than an hour is ideal to boost your afternoon concentration and focus. Here are tips to maximize your midday napping and wake well rested:

Find an ideal place for your siesta. “Instead of your office chair, it’s better to find another space where you can lay down,” Drake said. “You want to be in an environment conducive to sleep.” Perhaps your workplace has a break room or other quiet area where you can sleep (without getting in trouble for it). If you must use your chair, consider wearing earplugs or an eye mask to help drown out your surroundings.

Consider coffee and a nap to keep your snooze short. If you’re concerned you’ll sleep too long, drink an eight-ounce cup of coffee before your nap. “The caffeine will take effect when you wake up,” said Drake. Of course, you’ll want to avoid this idea if the caffeine might keep you up later at night. Drake finds the coffee/nap combination works best for nighttime workers who need a quick sleep.

One word of caution: If you can fall asleep just about anywhere,even after a good night’s rest, talk to your physician. You might have an underlying condition that needs investigating.

By Vanessa Caceres