What are the implications for micro-napping in companies?

Google, Ben and Jerry’s, NASA, Zappos: What do all these companies have in common? They know that well-rested employees are synonymous with happy, healthy and productive employees. They also provide pillows – or at least a comfortable chair – for employees to take a nap.

Sleep as a Brake on Performance

If you don’t already work for a company that encourages napping in its ranks, it may seem like a favor (add to this list: Nike, AOL, The Huffington Post and Congress). About 20% of workers are victims of sleep deprivation and for many, micro-naps can be a real remedy to improve their work performance.

Sleeping at work is still considered taboo, but more and more companies now encourage their employees to take a short nap at midday. And it’s a wise practice: 29% of workers report falling asleep or being sleepy at work, and one study estimates that sleep deprivation costs the U.S. $63 billion a year in lost productivity. To address this problem, a 20-minute micro-nap can boost alertness and improve performance, both of which are essential in the workplace.

A Commitment to QWL: Well-being and Quality of Working Life

Many companies with a strong commitment to employee wellness recognize the benefits of napping in the workplace. “We care about the quality of life of our employees, and providing a dedicated nap space and nap time is just another way we look after our employees,” said a representative from Ben & Jerry’s of Burlington, Vermont. The company, which offers yoga classes and personal coaches to employees while encouraging them to bring their pets to work, also provides a room with a bed and pillows that employees can use if they wish. “If people need a little nap to do the best job possible, we encourage them to do so,” says the representative.

Similarly, Zappos, the online shoe retailer known for its fully subsidized health insurance, has had a lounge at its Las Vegas headquarters since its launch. “It was born out of our desire to focus on the happiness and well-being of employees,” said a spokesperson. “We know how important sleep is to well-being. Furnished with a sofa, two recliners, a footstool and other relaxation accessories, the spaces are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and are particularly popular with staff members who work nights.

Sports giant Nike affirms its commitment to health and wellness in employee benefits. At its corporate headquarters near Portland, Oregon, employees enjoy relaxing areas where they can nap or even meditate during the day. At Google’s offices in Mountain View, California, employees benefit from nap capsules, futuristic lounge chairs that emit soothing sounds so that workers can fall asleep quickly when they need to.

The Micro-Nap as a Lever of Competitiveness

Of course, employee well-being is not the only benefit of the company’s nap program. Another major benefit is improved employee performance. In the 1990s, NASA recognized the crucial role of sleep for astronauts and experimented with short naps during the workday. Not surprisingly, performance skyrocketed; today, micro-naps are common practice among pilots on international flights for airlines such as Continental and British Airways.

At Huffington Post’s New York headquarters, the practice of napping in the workplace is considered to be the source of significant productivity gains. ‘I used the nap room here to rest my eyes for a few minutes and take an energizing nap,’ says Amanda Chan, editor of the Healthy Living Channel. Taking a short (or even extended) rest period helps her stay on top of her game and achieve her goals. According to a company representative, rest areas require reservations and are usually full.

Another workplace nap activist is the CEO of software company HubSpot, Brian Halligan, who described himself as a ‘great nap enthusiast’. David Radcliffe, Google’s Vice President of Real Estate and Workplace Services, said, ‘No workplace is perfect without a nap space.

Change of Culture

Companies started to care about the well-being of their employees about ten years ago, by offering healthy food in the cafeteria or by using fitness instructors. “Sleep, however, hasn’t been taken into account,” said Nancy H. Rothstein, who consults and lectures on the benefits of sleep to Fortune 500 companies. Adequate sleep time is a “risk management issue”, she said. “I’m hearing more and more companies recognizing that sleep can be an insignificant factor in performance.”

As a result, more and more employers are looking for solutions to their employees’ sleep deprivation. Standardization of napping is one of the right approaches. “Relying on employee sleep is an investment that pays off much faster in terms of health and productivity,” said Lindholst, comparing sleep to nutrition and exercise. “If I don’t exercise today or don’t eat well, I can still come to work tomorrow. But if I don’t sleep well, my ability to do things will be severely limited.”

The Ben & Jerry’s ice cream company’s headquarters in Burlington, Vermont, has had a restroom for about 10 years. The room itself is an integral part of the overall corporate culture and the company’s philosophy that a happy employee is a productive employee,’ said spokesperson Liz Stewart.

Benefits of Napping at Work

Even after a good night’s sleep, research shows that a short nap during the day would be very beneficial for many active people. Because of circadian rhythms, it’s natural to feel the need for it, according to a Harvard Medical School report card.

Naptime is the most effective way to improve performance and mood at no cost and with no effort,’ said Boston University Professor Emeritus William Anthony, author of several books on the benefits of napping. Even if a company doesn’t have the funds or the inclination to install a row of MetroNaps EnergyPods at more than $10,000 per device, it shouldn’t penalize employees who want to recharge their batteries with a micro-nap. ‘Employees and bosses should feel comfortable taking a nap during break times, such as lunch time,’ says Anthony.

In some cultures, napping during the workday has always been considered essential for productivity. ‘In Japan, the practice of inemuri, which means “sleeping while present,” makes it legitimate and even positive to sleep at the office: it indicates that the sleeper is involved in his or her work.

In the modern work world, workers must communicate with colleagues who may not necessarily work in the same time zone and at any time of day. According to Rothstein, this uninterrupted work day makes the priority of sleep more important than ever.

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