Do you ever get that tired feeling shortly after lunch? You know that feeling when you’re in a meeting and you just can’t keep your eyes from slamming shut? Or the one where you can’t seem to stay focused on your work or conversations? Well, if you’re an average worker bee in the U.S., you are definitely not alone. In fact, according to one study, 56% of American workers fall asleep at work at least once a week. We are overworked, over stressed, and over tired. And it’s costing us. Current estimates range from $70-$100 billion lost per year in productivity, accidents, and health costs as a result of workers who are over tired.
The question is what can we do to shake that tired, groggy feeling? It’s no secret that other cultures have thought about this issue long before we did. There’s the famous siesta in Spain, as well as other culturally accepted daily day-time nap breaks in countries such as Italy, Greece, Japan, China and Taiwan. But here in the U.S., sleeping during the day or sleeping at work is not only discouraged, but it could very well get you fired.
However, things are beginning to slowly change. Buoyed by corporate and clinical studies (like those performed at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine) which have demonstrated that short periods of sleep improve alertness, memory, motor skills, decision-making, and mood, while cutting down on stress, carelessness, and even heart disease, more and more U.S. companies are recognizing the value of a cat nap at work. In fact, a NASA study of some of its pilots revealed a 35% performance improvement in pilots who took a short 26 minute nap during the day. From the big guns like Nike and Google that have sleeping rooms for their employees to Jawa, a small software company that has built two nap rooms, napping at work is catching on.
Sure, you’re thinking: “But I’d get canned for sure if I slept at work” or “There’s no way my company would go for that”. Well, you’re probably right. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still take a nap during your workday. Here are 10 tips that I’ve personally used to make sure that no matter where I’ve worked, I’ve been able to grab a short “power nap” to keep myself fresh and energized during the day.
- Know your ideal nap zone. Without getting into details, your ideal nap zone is about 12 hours after the midpoint of your nightly sleep. If you go to bed at 10:00 PM and wake at 6:00 AM, your nap zone should begin around 2 PM.
- Keep it short. Sleeping longer than 30 minutes induces deeper sleep zones that can leave you feeling a bit groggy later in the day. Try to keep you naps in the 20-30 minutes range.
- Go to the good place. Make sure you’ve got a comfortable sleeping space. Your desk is not the ideal in comfort and neither is the bathroom stall. Find a quiet place or office where you can lie down. Warmer places make for better sleep as well. I’ve often used my car as a last resort for a quiet, private sleep space. Sometimes I’ll drive to a quiet park, put the seat back and let the sunlight warm up the car for a nice cozy sleeping spot (it kind of makes me feel like my dogs basking in sun spots on cold winter days).
- Don’t forget the accessories. There are lots of things that can improve the quality of your sleep. Some of the key accessories that’ll launch you into a better sleep are a pillow to avoid those neck aches, a yoga mat to make a conference room floor more comfortable, and a blanket to warm your body up. Of course you may want to leave your stuffed animals at home unless you like being the butt of candid office snapshot jokes.
- The dark side is good. Darker is better when it comes to good sleep. Darkness increases melatonin production which induces higher quality sleep. If you can’t find a dark place to sleep, consider picking up a sleep mask to at least cover your eyes.
- Avoid unnecessary chemicals. Sure, caffeine may you give you that energy jolt that you think you need, but the detrimental effects of caffeine on your body are not worth the energy burst you experience from it. In fact, it’s been proven that 20-30 minutes of sleep will provide more energy later in the day without increasing stress on your body the way caffeine does. In general, avoid caffeine, nicotine, sugar, and carbohydrates in the morning if you’re hoping to fall asleep quickly and take that short power nap after lunch. They’ll make it difficult to fall asleep quickly and have a quality sleep session.
- Don’t oversleep! You do not want be late for meetings or calls because you overslept! If there’s one thing that can kill acceptance of workday naps quickly, it’s missing work events because you overslept. If you can’t naturally keep your naps to 30 minutes or less, use your watch, mobile phone or a travel alarm clock to set an alarm to wake you in time.
- It’s all about the transition. When planning your nap time, allow for enough time to wake up, maybe splash some water on your face, and wipe the crusties from your eyes. Also, give yourself some time to transition back to work, both physically and mentally. And use this transition time to recognize your refreshed state. Breathe in and out through your nose, and contemplate your rested state. You may even want to meditate, thinking “I am refreshed. My body is energized. I am ready to create again”.
- Know your corporate sleep culture. Know how your organization reacts to “different” work practices. How your company perceives change or new ideas can have a big influence in how they’ll be likely to view work time naps. If you work in a conservative, risk averse, cubicle farm, chances are you may need to find somewhere else besides your workplace to catch some ZZZ’s. Major metro areas have sleep spas that you may want to consider. Otherwise, as I mentioned previously, there’s always your car.
- Change the corporate sleep culture. OK, this is less of a tip and more of a strategy, but if you’re really passionate about napping at work, work hard to convince others of the benefits and create a groundswell to encourage napping during the day. Maybe you can be the one who sparks a change in your organization’s culture. And who knows, maybe if you work hard enough at it, you can get your company to build nap rooms or maybe even buy you one of these: