Patricia Chaney

Sleeping on the Job: Why Letting Employees Nap at Work Boosts Health and Productivity

Who has time to get a full night’s sleep? Not the average American worker. A recent study broke down sleep shortages among adults by professional industry, and the results weren’t pretty — overall, 36.5 percent of working adults don’t get enough sleep every night. That figure goes up for several kinds of workers, including 43.3 percent of those in nursing and 54 percent for transportation workers.

Seen together, these statistics paint a clear picture: Employed America is tired. To combat this problem, companies like Google, Uber and the Huffington Post have started to allow napping at work. Should your workplace follow suit?

The Costs of Sleep Loss

People stay up late for many reasons, but stress, generational attitudes, busy schedules and being constantly connected to electronics (whether for work or personal use) contribute heavily to Americans’ lack of sleep. This sleep deprivation is causing more than hastily covered eye bags: Research from the Rand Corporation found that sleep loss costs the U.S. economy $411 billion and 1.23 million work days annually.

Most adults should get about seven hours or more of sleep per night. Those who consistently get less than the recommended amount are less productive at work and tend to have more chronic health conditions than those who have healthier sleep habits. The perennially fatigued employee is more likely to face heart attacks, strokes, asthma, arthritis, depression and diabetes. These chronic conditions — combined with a yawn-induced drop in office productivity — can significantly affect employer costs.

The Benefits of Napping at Work

It’s not your responsibility as an employer to make sure people are going to bed on time, but office environments do affect people’s ability to sleep at night. The occasional daytime power nap may help your employees feel healthier and more productive.

A growing body of research finds that a short daytime nap holds benefits for employees and employers. Naps offer improved working memory, better performance and reduced anxiety and depression, among a host of other advantages.

How to Institute Office Naps

When developing a policy for napping, lay out firm boundaries and expectations. First, set time limits. A power nap lasts between 10 and 30 minutes and is all most people need to feel refreshed and focused. Longer than that and people are more likely to enter into deeper sleep stages and feel groggy when waking up. Ideally, if an employee is able to rest for 30 minutes, they will make up for that lost time with increased productivity the rest of the day. Clearly communicate a 30-minute maximum. This can be as simple as allowing employees extra time at lunch if they plan on napping.

Next, designate spaces for employees to nap. Larger companies have invested in dedicated napping areas, couches and even nap pods. Smaller employers probably can’t afford those extras but may be able to repurpose a conference room or unused office space. If you have absolutely no unused space, you can simply support employees’ decisions to rest at their desks or in their cars. In a fairly private office environment, employees might be able to close their eyes briefly at their computer. If you have customers and vendors walking around the office, though, that may not be your most professional look, in which case you may need to ask employees to take their quick trips to dreamland out of sight. Suggest that employees to bring in earplugs, eye masks or other small items that will allow them to take effective naps.

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If you’re concerned about introducing office naps, you can ease into allowing them as a benefit of employment and do a trial run. It will likely take employees some time to get used to the idea of sleeping at work, but try the policy for a few months and survey employees throughout that time to see if they report noticeable effects on their health and productivity.

And regardless of your workplace napping policy, remember to continue promoting positive sleep habits for your employees by reducing work-related reasons for them to miss out on sleep. Let them know that email can wait until the morning. When the office door closes and the sun sets, their job becomes getting a good night’s rest.

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