Sleeping on the job –a new innovative work practise?

by External14 May 2013

Once frowned upon as a definite no-no, short naps at work are just now being recognised as providing a vital boost to worker productivity - and can provide many other benefits. Christina Sykiotis investigates the benefits.

It’s been going on across the globe for years, a little afternoon downtime. In Spain, Portugal, Greece, Patagonia and the Philippines it’s called a siesta. If you are in your early school years it’s a rest, and in the US and the UK it’s referred to as a power nap. A growing number of companies now believe that sleeping on the job is good company policy.

Evolution dictates that we require nine to 10 hours sleep per night, which suggests that most inhabitants of Western countries are officially sleep deprived. Western World inhabitants sleep on average for about seven hours. How many people do you know currently sleeping for seven hours per night?

The term power nap has been attributed to Winston Churchill, who credited his regular afternoon kip with affording him the clarity of thinking that enabled him to win the war. Other partakers include Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt and Johannes Brahms.

Fast forward to 2013 and several companies have integrated “nap rooms” into their organisations, decking them out with recliners and speakers that play calm, soothing and relaxing music. Other organisations have gone so far as to purchase “Energy Pods”, chairs designed specifically for the purpose of a “cat nap” or “power nap”. The Energy Pods have been used in 20 countries and by organisations like Google and Proctor and Gamble.

And the benefits?

Research from NASA on the sleeping habits of astronauts, suggests that cognitive ability is dependent on how much sleep is had over a 24 hour period and not simply measured by the amount of sleep had in one night. This sits well alongside the fact that business can now be conducted 24/7, with anyone, anywhere, thanks to the Internet and high speed broadband.

The results of the NASA research project indicate that cognitive ability increases with an afternoon nap. The brain becomes clearer (less foggy) and the neurons fire off their messages with increased effectiveness. There is evidence that the afternoon nap increases our ability to remember and prepares the brain for memory tasks.

An increase in energy levels was also reported, indicating the ability of the participant to actually perform at a higher level for a greater period of time. This brings to mind certain battery driven bunnies…

Interestingly, there was a correlation between an afternoon “nap” or “kip” and the prevention of heart attacks. In 2007 the Archives of Internal Medicine found that in countries where the afternoon siesta was common, there was a 37% lower risk of heart related death.

Physiological benefits of a nap include reduced levels of stress hormones and lower blood pressure.

It almost sounds too good to be true. In exchange for a 10-20 minute nap, an organisation benefits via a refreshed, productive, happier, less stressed, more engaged employee who is likely to live longer.

An afternoon nap does come with a warning. Don’t turn the “nap” into a “sleep”. Any longer than a 40-minute shut eye could result in that groggy, disoriented feeling that leaves you doughy and unable to be productive for at least one hour.

About the author

Christina Sykiotis is CEO of Ideation at Work. To contact her phone 0425 236 156


  • by Kate Boorer 18/05/2013 11:06:59 AM

    Great article around the importance of sleep on sustainable performance - often the first thing to be sacrificed when we get 'busy'. Studies come out of the neuroscience world are showing that naps between 26 & 45 mins are having significant impacts on cognitive performance for up to 6 hours after the nap.

    The interesting thing on sleep pods- is whilst some organisations are starting to encourage it - in a high performing culture how accepted is it to actually use them or take the 'nap'

    (Check out chpt 7 on Sleep in Brain Rules for more interesting reading)