Sunday, February 05, 2012

Why Companies Should Insist that Employees Take Naps

Naps are a powerful source of competitive advantage. Naps are not just physically restorative, but also improve perceptual skills, motor skills, reaction time and alertness.

When Sara Mednick, a former Harvard researcher, gave her subjects a memory challenge, she let half of them to take a 60 to 90 minute nap. The nappers dramatically outperformed the non-nappers. In another study, Mednick had subjects practice a visual task at four intervals over the course of a day. Those who took a 30 minute nap after the second session sustained their performance all day long. Those who didn't nap performed increasingly poorly as the day wore on.

When pilots are given a nap of just 30 minutes on long haul flights, they experience a 16 percent improvement in their reaction time. Non-napping pilots experience a 34 per cent decrease during the course of the flights.

The conclusion is inescapable: the more hours we work continuously, the greater the toll on our performance.

The best time for a nap is between 1pm and 3 pm, when the body most craves a period of sleep. The ideal length for a workplace nap is 30 minutes or less, which assures that you won't fall into the deeper stages of sleep, and awake with that loopy feeling scientists call "sleep inertia."

If encouraging employees to take a half hour nap means they can be two or three times as productive over the subsequent three hours in the afternoon — and far more emotionally resilient — why don’t more companies do it? There is the odd example here and there including Google, which provides napping pods and renewal rooms. That's a good first step, but it's scarcely the norm.

I would be interested in hearing from anyone that has worked in an organisation that is encouraging post lunch napping (besides the House of Lords) in the name of better performance. And/or whether you’ve practised napping yourself and what impact that has had on your performance?

And if you’ve yet to try it in a work setting and you want to, please let me know what happens – to your own productivity and creativity levels – and your working relationships with your colleagues!

1 comment:

  1. I had my first (boss sanctioned) nap at work the other day and it was excellent, I work in a busy environment with lots of travelling and long hours, with back to back early mornings late nights etc.

    After a particularly early morning and some travelling I had a post lunch slump, no concentration, no will to carry on! Rather than stumble on until I could leave at the earliest possible moment I took a nap and return to my desk 20 minutes later restored, saving a whole afternoons work.

    I was lucky enough to have a quiet comfortable place to go and I would also say that I'm a good napper anyway and often take 20 mins on non working days and feel the better for it, I know some people feel rotten after napping so it might not work for them.

    I used to work in a less busy environment with lots of paper writing and I think it's probably even more beneficial to be able to switch your brain off for a refresh when you're quietly concentrating for long periods.

    We sometimes need to remind ourselves we're animals and not machines!