Sleep pods, nap rooms, rest areas, and meditation zones may sound like a gimmick to attract new recruits, but a growing number of businesses are investing in them in the workplace.
Why? A lack of sleep among US workers is costing the economy approximately $411bn annually. It’s resulting in 1.2 million lost working days per year, according to RAND.
We’re sleep walking into a productivity crisis. In a recent study we conducted with over 3,500 workers, more than a third admitted they’re productive for less than 30 hours a week – they’re losing over a day each week.
Opinions are divided whether napping at work is the solution to this, however. RAND recommend in their report that employers should recognize the importance of sleep, and design and build brighter workspaces with facilities for daytime naps.
On the other hand, does the inclusion of sleep pods at work foster a culture where it’s encouraged to spend more time at work, ultimately affecting levels of productivity in the workplace? We weigh up the arguments for and against promoting a culture of napping at work.
The benefits of getting more sleep are well-known, and can include improved learning, reduced stress and boosted emotional wellbeing.
A short power nap can boost alertness and help an employee regain focus and concentration; the National Sleep Foundation says 20-30 minutes is ideal for improving alertness and performance without leaving you feeling groggy or interfering with night-time sleep, and the benefits can extend for several hours after the nap.
Dr Sarah Mednick, a sleep researcher and author of ‘Take a nap! Change your life’, says a 20-60-minute nap can help with memorization too; it’s just long enough to enter stage two sleep, known as non-rapid eye movement sleep, which helps us remember facts, places, and faces.
Furthermore, researchers found that a short nap could reverse the negative health effects of a night of poor sleep, reduce stress and bolster the immune system. After a two-hour night of sleep, 11 participants in a study had a 2.5-fold increase in levels of norepinephrine – a hormone involved in stress which increases the body’s heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar. However, on days that they napped for half an hour, the levels were normal.
In other studies, researchers have found that a 45-minute nap can lower blood pressure.
In addition, when people are tired they often eat sugary snacks and drink lots of caffeine to get them through the day. If they can take a short power-nap at work to boost their energy levels, they will be less likely to reach for the chocolate bar mid-afternoon which will have a positive effect on their physical health in the long-run.
Finally, unsurprisingly, sleep deprivation impairs your motivation, tolerance and patience; topping up someone’s sleep levels with daytime naps can enhance their mood and sense of well-being.
Grogginess, a detrimental effect on those with sleep disorders and potential procrastination are just some of the reasons why employers might be put off promoting napping in the workplace.
If employees oversleep and go beyond the recommended 20-30-minute nap-time window, they can end up feeling more tired than before their nap. This is due to the body starting to go into the REM (rapid eye movement) sleep mode after more than 30 minutes of sleep. Waking from this deeper level of sleep can leave the napper feeling groggy and lethargic, discounting the positive benefits that a shorter nap would have produced.
Research also shows that daily napping is harmful to people with sleep disorders such as insomnia, as it disrupts their natural sleep patterns further still. A nap room can become harmful to those with sleep disorders, becoming a crutch for someone if they are having trouble sleeping at home who may become to depend on the at-work nap facilities.
Kathryn Pinkham, a sleep therapist from Nottingham, warns that a nap slackens your sleep drive: ‘We are best with one solid chunk of sleep at night, and napping can make this more difficult,’ she told the Guardian.
In addition, are nap rooms seen by some employees as an easy way to avoid getting out of doing a task or putting off a major piece of work? Speaking to the BBC, Nathan Schokker, boss of Talio Group Pty, said he used the company’s nap room a few times as a ‘procrastination tool’ which resulted in destroying his productivity for a few hours.
More sleep equals more productive workers – that’s certain. However, whether squeezing in more sleep at work is the way to go remains to be seen. Some employees may benefit from, and want the option to, get some extra shut eye in the office. Others may feel under pressure to stay in the office longer as a result. HR and People teams need to find out what works best for their employees and their company.
Perhaps you want to promote the benefits of more sleep to your workforce – but maybe you could do this through better flexible working? Or, creating a better culture of not replying to non-urgent emails out of office hours? What about additional support for workers struggling with getting some shut eye such as new parents?
If you really want to boost productivity amongst your workforce, think about how this fits into the bigger picture: are you giving your workforce the experiences they want, and deserve, to get the best from them?
We found that a great employee experience is important to a staggering 92% of workers, when we spoke to them – and boosts productivity too. Yet, just 12% of employees are asked on a regular basis what would improve their experiences at work. Almost half (47%) had never been asked at all.
If you’re considering whether napping at work is best for your employees – why don’t you ask them? They’ll never get tired of being asked what would improve their experiences at work.