The Surprising Benefits of Sleeping on the Job

nap pod

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The next time a difficult task at work has you throwing your hands up in frustration or snapping at your coworkers, you might want to curl up under your desk and get some sleep. People who took a short midday nap were less impulsive and could tolerate frustration for a longer period of time than those who didn’t get some shut eye, a small pilot study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan has found.

“[N]appers showed a decrease in self-reported impulsivity and increased tolerance for frustration,” according to the researchers. The results of the 40-person study were published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

The study participants first completed tasks on the computer and answered questions about mood, sleepiness, and impulsivity. Then, a random group of participants took a 60-minute nap, while the other group watched a 60-minute nature video. After the hour-long break, each group again completed the questionnaire and the tasks, which included drawing by hand a geometric design displayed on a computer screen. The people who didn’t take a nap were more impulsive and spent less time on their tasks than those who took a nap.

The findings suggest that companies looking to increase employee productivity and on-the-job safety might want to consider longer break times or even installing workplace nap pods, say the study’s authors. Napping may also be especially helpful for those who have to stay awake for long periods by “enhancing the ability to persevere through difficult or frustrating tasks,” Jennifer Goldschmied, a doctoral student in the Department of Psychology and the study’s lead author, said in a press release.

napping at desk

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Previous research has also linked daytime napping with improved performance in certain situations. A 2002 study conducted by researchers at Harvard University found that a brief nap seemed to combat the burnout people experienced when working on a series of repetitive, visual tasks. And a joint 1994 study by NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration found that long-haul pilots who took 40-minute in-fight naps were less fatigued and more alert.

Despite the benefits that daytime naps seem to have on employee performance, relatively few companies are encouraging their workers to get rest on the job. Just 2% of companies currently offer nap rooms as a perk, down from 6% in 2013, according to a 2015 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), and less than 1% said they plan to add such a perk in the next year. Google, Zappos, and HubSpot are among the few companies that do offer nap rooms.

One reason that many employers may be hesitant to add nap rooms in the office is because they associate on-the-job dozing with shirking. “The employer is not paying for the employee to sleep. Workers should be disciplined for sleeping on the job for all cases unless they have a condition that is considered a disability that is protected by state and federal laws,” Laura Anderson, a human resources manager at an electronics manufacturing company, told the SHRM.

Not surprisingly, a zero-tolerance policy toward napping doesn’t sit well with some sleep experts.

man, sleeping, bed, alarm clock

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“We’ve got great research supporting the fact that naps can help corporations and employees, yet we still feel reluctant to make it an acceptable part of a healthy lifestyle and a healthy workday,” certified sleep expert Terry Cralle told Entrepreneur. “Some large companies have workout areas or gyms on-site and yet we’re turning a blind eye to sleep and it’s a biological necessity.”

With 42% of Americans getting less than eight hours of sleep per night, naps may be happening on the job whether employers like it or not. If your boss frowns on your siesta, you have to find a creative way to rest your tired eyes.

“Tell your boss you forgot about a dentist appointment, or you have to go pick something up, run an errand. Go sleep in your car, not in the employee parking lot,” Cynthia Shapiro, a former human resources executive, told 20/20.

Follow Megan on Twitter @MeganE_CS

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