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Take a Nap! Or: Why You Should Sleep at Work

Article March 6, 2019  |  Text by Markéta Miková Text by Markéta Miková

It’s definitely not a sin to fall asleep at work. On the contrary, companies should act in advance to “make your bed” for you during working hours. Or will you head up to your boss yourself and ask them to follow the example of one Japanese company and pay you extra if you sleep at least six hours a day?

Japan is nicknamed “the land of the rising sun.” There’s no mention here of the setting sun, because it’s unimportant for the end of their work days. Dozens of hours of overtime per month are often viewed positively, as an expression of corporate loyalty.

But when workaholism is combined with sleep deprivation, it can have fatal consequences. The Japanese even have their own term for death from overwork: karoshi.

That’s why some companies have decided to combat this “national insomnia competition.” Kazuhiko Moriyama, the president of the Tokyo wedding agency named Crazy, is at the fore of these sleep revolutionaries. He rewards employees for getting enough sleep at home. Six hours a day, five days a week is the minimum. The most active sleepers find a bonus of around 500 Euros “under their pillow” at the end of the year.

WORKING HARD. A solution by Studio NL, a Greek architecture and design studio. When you’re stricken with fatigue, you can lay out your bed right under your desk.

LIKE THE ASTRONAUTS

But you should also sleep at your office, as noted by Matthew Walker, Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. He points out that companies such as Nike, Google, and Facebook are offering their employees flexible working hours to match their individual biorhythm (early bird or night owl) while also letting them sleep right at their workplace. Relaxation rooms with sleep cocoons are scattered around these companies’ spaces, and employees can relax there during working hours. Afternoon naps, Walker notes, infuse a company with more creative thinking and higher productivity, while also cutting down on absences.

The fatigue phase most often arrives right after lunch. And how tired you are can also depend on your lunch items. A large amount of insulin is needed for processing bread, rice, or potatoes, causing a large amount of tryptophan to reach the brain. Tryptophan affects serotonin and melatonin levels. Melatonin, meanwhile, induces sleep. The more saccharides you have for lunch, the sleeper you’ll be.

As your thoughts drift off in the afternoon, you don’t have to try to kick-start them with a double espresso or an energy drink. On the contrary – run off and sleep! We’ve known this for years; studies back in the 80s and 90s showed that even a 26-minute nap improves an astronaut’s performance by 34% and their overall wakefulness by more than 50%.

Based on these findings, NASA allows sleep time not only for its astronauts, but also for its ground staff. America’s Federal Aviation Agency works from similar conclusions. At its recommendation, a number of aviation agencies have implemented preventive naps, especially at the start of long flights, because they effectively reduce microsleep – as well as sleep deprivation at the end of a flight, during the landing process, when there’s the greatest risk of accidents.

METRONAPS. An adjustable chair where you can relax while accompanied by a programmed sequence of lights, music, and gentle vibrations. The price? Roughly 12,000 dollars. www.metronaps.com

BETTER THAN CAFFEINE

The recommended length for an office nap is about 20 minutes; add about 10 minutes to that for your return to full wakefulness. If you nap any longer, you’ll enter a deeper sleep phase, and after the alarm sounds, you’ll be groggier than when you started.

“Short naps are an effective and healthy means for improving mental and physical acuity, even more so than caffeine, which can disrupt sleep,” write the experts in the materials for international WELL certification. This certification defines for how a healthy office should look.

Applicants can gain bonus points if their employees have access to special furnishings for a brief, refreshing nap at the office. WELL’s specific recommendations here are couches, roll-up mattresses with pillows, sleeping boxes/cocoons, fold-out chairs, dream chairs, and hammocks.

All the same, if you really need the highest-quality rest, then sleep regularly for eight to nine hours per day. Not even post-lunch meetings with the Sandman can replace that…

LOYALTY, OR SELF-TORTURE?

According to Natalie Dautovich from the National Sleep Foundation in the USA, sleep plays an important “janitorial” role for the human brain. “It helps to remove metabolic waste and toxins,” she has stated for the BBC.

However, many companies still support employee workaholism, and often employees who write emails until midnight and are back at the office by six are presented as models of workplace morale and loyalty for the rest. Apple’s Tim Cook, who wakes up at 4 a.m., is one “good bad example.”

And yet poor sleep negatively affects human performance. After all, it’s not for nothing that sleep deprivation is among the most common torture techniques.

In his book Why We Sleep, Matthew Walker notes that a lack of sleep systematically harms e.g. creative thinking, intelligence, motivation, effort, emotional balance, honesty, sociability, and the effectiveness of work itself and of teamwork. These are characteristics with a significant impact on a company’s efficiency.

THE LAZY DROWSIES

Research in the 80s showed that sleeping less than eight hours a day means slower work and more time needed to complete basic tasks.

Drowsy employees are lazier, choose simpler solutions, and prioritize routine tasks over innovation. Tests have repeatedly shown poorly rested people to be worse at managing their emotions and unambiguously more dissatisfied and irritable in tense situations with their workmates or customers. And they also had stronger tendencies towards unethical behavior such as lying and passing their work off onto others.

SHOT FROM AN ALARM CLOCK

But more and more companies are starting to realize that a well-rested employee gets more done, faster. For example, Procter & Gamble and Goldman Sachs both offer their employees courses on how to sleep right, and selected buildings at these companies have been furnished with high-quality lighting that helps to better regulate employees’ circadian rhythms and optimize the release of melatonin – the sleep hormone.

One thing that negatively affects sleep quality is flexibility in working hours, because it leads to evening work in front of a computer, whose display can cause insomnia (see the Light at the End of the Day box).

“We’re all hurrying around, and in the evening before falling asleep, we’re still answering emails and finishing what we couldn’t finish during the day. The sound of the alarm in the morning reminds us of a cannonball shot, and we feel like we just went to sleep five minutes ago. We chase off sleep deprivation with a second coffee, a third, and more, and we smoke to chase away our nervousness,” noted Martin Haluzík, the head of the experimental diabetology department at Prague’s Institute of Clinical and Experimental Medicine recently in an interview for DVTV.

5 PRODUCTS + 1 MORE: WHERE TO SLEEP AT WORK