Sleeping on the job

You deserve a nap

Ever had one of those days at work that follows a bad night’s sleep? You sit, trying to focus on your computer monitor, day-dreaming longingly of sleep. Like some sort of addict you think to yourself, “if I could just get a few minutes’ sleep, everything would be all right …”

The good news is that there is a solution. The bad news (unless you live in New York) is that it’s in New York.

Exhausted workers can head to Metronaps, where they can take a quick nap in a one the of the company’s sleeping pods. Tired New Yorkers can sleep for half an hour and are then gently woken by a combination of light and vibration. Or, if they’re really lucky, their company will have rented one of the sleeping pods for the office and they won’t even have to leave their workplace to catch a power nap. (Of course then they’ll miss the opportunity to order the lunch which can be ready for them at Metronaps when they wake up.)

It might sound like one of those harebrained ideas that could only take off in the US (although the Metronaps website does promote international franchising opportunities if you’re a keen Kiwi businessperson), but there is some scientific basis to it.

According to an article on the Inova Workplace Health website, a 15–20 minute nap can “improve alertness, sharpen memory, and generally reduce symptoms of fatigue”. If you’ve ever tried a power nap, you’ll probably agree.

The story quotes a US National Sleep Foundation survey which found that 51% of people said sleepiness at work interfered with how much work they get done. The survey also found that most people didn’t work for organisations that endorsed workplace napping.

Of course the idea of sleeping during the working day wouldn’t even be an issue if people got enough sleep at night. The National Sleep Foundation website says adults need between seven and nine hours’ sleep a night - but many people don't manage that much.

The site says a lack of sleep not only leads to problems with concentration and decision-making but that new research shows it also affects aging and diabetes, makes it harder to exercise and reduces the benefit of hormones which are released while you sleep.

Other new research shows that if you’re feeling burnt out at work it, may be linked to sleep deprivation rather than stress. Even when you’re really tired, if you’re suffering from extreme exhaustion you’re less likely to be able to get the decent night’s sleep you need, according to a Sydney Morning Herald story quoting Professor Torbjorn Akerstedt, from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

“The study showed for the first time that the more tired exhausted people become, the worse their sleep quality … Previously, doctors thought the burnout phenomenon was due to increased levels of stress hormones in the body.”

Want to get a good night’s sleep and thus avoid burnout? Try these tips from National Sleep Foundation website:

  • Avoid caffeine (coffee, tea, soft drinks, chocolate) and nicotine (cigarettes, tobacco products) close to bedtime.
  • Avoid alcohol as it can lead to disrupted sleep.
  • Exercise regularly, but complete your workout at least three hours before bedtime.
  • Establish a regular relaxing, not alerting, bedtime routine (e.g. taking a bath or relaxing in a hot tub).
  • Create a sleep-conducive environment that is dark, quiet and preferably cool and comfortable.

What do you think about workplace napping? Should it be allowed or should people sleep in their own time?

Mills is a Dunedin-based writer. She can be contacted at kirstin_mills@idg.co.nz

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