Sleeping on the job? That phrase evokes the famous Seinfeld episode, “The Nap,” in which an exhausted George Costanza, the classic slacker, decides to take a nap underneath his desk. The plan is foiled when New york Yankees owner, Mr. Steinbrenner, enters George’s office and seeing it empty, takes a seat to wait it out for George to return. What does George do? In a panicked attempt to get his boss out of his office, he convinces Jerry to phone in a bomb threat, which drives Steinbrenner straight under George’s desk to seek cover.
Historically, napping has not been viewed as a positive behavior for on the clock employees. Rather, much akin to George with his lazy tendencies, it has been perceived as an indicator that an employee is unproductive, unambitious, sluggish and on and on.
But what if the exact opposite were in fact true? What if naps were not “only” for the lazy, the very young and the elderly? What if taking a nap was an indication that a person is committed to higher performance, alertness, creativity and competency.
Science seems to side with the pro-napping camp based on a recent study in the research journal Sleep and in other well researched publications. Data shows that just a 10-minute nap produced measurable benefits in terms of improved cognitive performance, alertness and memory, emotional regulation and more. Another study reported in the Journal of Sleep Research that reaction time, logical reasoning and symbol recognition increased after a nap. Results of a study conducted by NASA on military pilots and astronauts further proves that some shut eye can reduce mistakes and accidents while increasing alertness.
All this is good news considering about 30 percent of US workers report falling asleep or becoming very sleepy at work. Furthermore, employees’ lack of sleep costs the United States an estimated $63 billion annually in lost productivity.
The following are just some of the benefits to be gained by letting your employees nod off on the job.
Rather than dishing out cash on endless espresso capsules, consider that a nap is better than caffeine for improving verbal memory, motor skills, and perceptual learning according to a study by Sara C. Mednick, Denise J. Cai, Jennifer Kanady, and Sean P.A. Drummond. Dedicated napping rooms or energy pods may be a wise investment. This scientific data has been taken to heart by some of the biggest name companies like Zappos, Uber, British Airways, Huffington Post and Google which have implemented dedicated nap spaces or energy pods to encourage employees to nap during the day. “Everybody agrees that if you are sleep deprived, you can’t learn, perform or think very well,” states Jerome Siegel, PhD, director of the Center for Sleep Research at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Anyone who is short on sleep knows that it is a challenge to be upbeat, calm and relaxed the following day, especially when faced with the time constraints, stressors and taxing cognitive tasks that come with most jobs. Even for those who are not sleep deprived, taking a nap is still an inexpensive, easily accessible, fast, safe and simple way to sneak in some much need relaxation and rejuvenation in an otherwise slam-packed day.
Results from a University of Michigan study, reported by the The American Psychological Association, indicate that a midday nap rendered people less impulsive and with a greater tolerance for frustration than the test group which did not nap. All CEOs know that having a more rational, less emotionally reactive and happier workforce is a clear benefit to the business’s bottom line.
According to Sleep.org napping can help lower tension, leaving nappers calmer than their non-napping peers. The American Psychological Association reports that “Sleep is so crucial that even slight sleep deprivation or poor sleep can affect memory, judgement and mood…and can contribute to health problems, from obesity and high blood pressure. Elevated stress levels are also linked to a plethora of ailments from physical illness to anxiety and more. Contrary to what was once thought, naps can indeed make up for lost sleep at night, leading to workers who are less stressed out.
Isn’t a more cheerful, less stressed and better functioning and performing workforce better for business and exactly what every CEO wants? It looks like there is something to learn from self-defeating George afterall.