Falling asleep on the job may be evolving into office protocol—not grounds for termination. A growing number of companies are recognizing the health benefits of a quick snooze, including increased alertness, enhanced brainpower, and fewer sick days. While naps aren't necessary for those who get the recommended eight hours of shut-eye at night, they may be key for those who skimp on sleep. "Most people don't get enough sleep," says Nancy Collop, president-elect of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. "And for those people, a nap will clearly help. The most important factor is duration, and it's well-accepted that short naps are good."
Some companies are offering designated nap rooms or even setting up tents or lofted beds, but at Workman Publishing in New York, employees usually sleep underneath their desks or behind room-divider screens. "You can close your eyes for 10 or 15 minutes and wake up feeling completely refreshed," says Susan Bolotin, Workman's editor in chief, which has been nap-friendly since 2007. "We've seen very positive effects. I keep a nap mat in my office, and I'm still known to lie down, put my sleep mask on, and see what happens." Bolotin has distributed eye masks to her team, and sometimes lends her office floor to those without a private workspace who are in need of a nap. "We have one guy who works here who likes to nap, and you'll walk by and he'll be lying down on a mat like a kid in nursery school," she says. Other companies, including British Airways, Nike, Pizza Hut, and Google, offer reclining chairs and "renewal rooms."
Most employers who allow napping say they do so in the name of their staffers' well-being, which research suggests is a smart idea. People who take daily 30-minute naps are 37 percent less likely to die of heart disease than those who don't nap, according to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2007. Naps can also boost the immune system—theoretically leading to fewer sick days—and propel employees into their most alert, energetic, and creative states, say nap advocates. Plus, a well-rested employee is a cheery employee, Collop says: "If you're sleep deprived, you're going to be moody. And if you have to interact in meetings, or if you're a marketing person and have to convince someone to buy your product, that's going to create a problem."
At JAWA, a software developing company in Scottsdale, Ariz., employees can nap on a cot in a Zen-like room featuring soothing earth tones. Or they can opt for a beach-themed room and snooze in a futuristic "energy pod"—a helmet-shaped chair that only exposes their legs, which are elevated above the heart. The contraption shuts out external distractions and offers a sense of total darkness and privacy, and it vibrates when it's time to wake up.
The nap rooms are popular among the company's nearly 200 employees, and are the brainchild of Brad Owen, director of content development at JAWA. "When I have to get something done and I'm here a little late, I can either take a 15-minute nap and get it done within an hour—or I can just sit and slog through it, and it will take longer and the quality will suffer," he says. "We definitely see people using [the nap rooms] when they're tired, instead of slamming another energy drink and trying to power through." Employees usually nap during their breaks, Owen says, so they don't have to compensate by staying late: "It's pretty much on your honor, and we haven't had much abuse."
Some companies are even outsourcing their napping. Time Warner, Hearst, and Yahoo!, for example, employ Manhattan-based YeloSpa, which offers power naps in private rooms complete with customized aromatherapy, music or nature sounds, and lighting. A 20-minute nap costs $15, and a 40-minute nap is $28. Most of those companies allow employees to visit YeloSpa during their lunch breaks and have negotiated discounted rates. YeloSpa has seen an uptick in nap popularity: Business is up 25 percent from last year and 2009 brought a 10 percent increase over 2008. "We hear from a lot of people who say, 'I don't know what I'd do without you—I don't know how I'd make it through the day without a nap,'" says Michael Hazel, YeloSpa's director of operations. "For some people, it's almost like a euphoria. They wake up and it's a fresh start."
A fresh start, however, is not always the result. Typically, 20 to 30 minutes is best for a midday snooze, since that allows time for only a light sleep—meaning there's a greater chance of quickly snapping back into alertness. Longer naps equate to deeper sleep, making waking up a challenge and inviting grogginess that could linger for hours. Some experts warn of sleep inertia, a hangover-like effect that makes shrugging off sleepy feelings practically impossible. But there's a caveat: For those who have been up all night and are severely sleep deprived, a longer nap—at least 90 minutes—is necessary to catch up, Collop says.
For now, workplace naps remain the exception, rather than the rule. If you want to bring the trend to your non-napping workplace, draft a proposal that views the arrangement through the employer's eyes, says Sara Mednick, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California-San Diego and author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life. Instead of emphasizing personal reasons, like "I want to nap at work because I have insomnia," stress the benefits the company could reap. Explain that napping reduces absenteeism—research suggests employees often miss work because of fatigue—and increases productivity and employee retention. Band together with coworkers and suggest a six-week to three-month trial.
"People are starting to see how beneficial napping is—and how easy and affordable," Hazel says. "The most important thing is let everything go, take care of yourself, and surround yourself in a cocoon."