As the modern worker strives to achieve that perfect balance between body, soul, and career, new fads have popped up to give them everything they’ve ever wanted – without having to leave the office. No, we’re not talking about sensory deprivation float tanks or conference room speakeasies. The perk that everyone should be talking about is napping at work.

The desire to catch a few extra winks is strong in today’s workforce, and for good reason. The CDC declares seven full hours of restful slumber to be the bare minimum for a fully functioning human to do what needs to be done (eight is better), and yet, only around a third of U.S. residents are meeting that threshold. This means that something has to give in the evenings, when most are helping kids with homework, fitting in a quick work-out, or catching up on their favorite Netflix series.

There may also be another option.

 

Rest Means Business

What if you could break up that excruciating afternoon energy crash (often referred to the 2:30 slump) with something other than a jaunt down to lobby level for a 1,200-calorie caramel coffee dessert? Madrid, Spain has made ripples with the launch of Siesta & Go, a new store that capitalizes on the global trend of offering “nap bars” to customers. For as little as 4 Euros, customers can pop in for 20 minutes of sleep in a hostel-like setting (complete with bunk beds) or upgrade to a private room with a bed for 8 euros. While Siesta & Go clientele will most likely range from those hoping to get in a dedicated power nap to those looking to catch up on a podcast and chill out a bit, the principle this business capitalizes on remains. People need time to decompress during the day, and napping at work is perhaps the best way to do so.

So, where does that leave businesses who have little hope of a nap bar taking up residence in the nearby local strip mall? Innovative thought leaders aren’t waiting on others. The adage that “rest is best” has found its way into many workplaces, either as part of an official corporate wellness program or a more relaxed “do what you need to do” understanding. The results have made a significant difference in helping exhausted workers pay down their “sleep debt” – a real term used by experts to describe the erosion of our restfulness over time due to inadequate sleep habits.

 

Napping at work can boost productivity

“Could you keep it down? I’m trying to be more productive over here.”

 

Incorporating Naps at Work

Fortunately, there are no hard and fast rules on how to get your employees comfy with the idea of taking time away. While it’s possible to create a formal nap program, that often involves more top-down administration (and paid hours to enforce it all.) For small companies, such as UK-based PPC Protect, a system of trust has worked just fine.

“We’re a close bunch who have all been friends for years, so we trust each other with managing their time,” says Osman Karabulut, who works (and naps) for PPC Protect. He acknowledges that larger companies may see abuses of the system, however, and suggests employees keep a log of how long they napped, with a plan to add that time to the end of their workday. It’s also possible to install security cameras in nap areas or to require a time clock for checking in and out of nap stations. It’s preferred, according to Karabulut, to implement an honor system, when possible. “Ideally, it works best when you can trust your employees, but depending on the company that’s not always the case.”

Want to implement a nap program of your own? Your options will vary, depending on the size of your workforce, the available space in your office, and corporate red tape obstacles. Assuming there is full support from upper management, here are some of the best ideas for making it happen:

 

  1. Provide a separate room solely for napping at work. Consider an unused office or even a large storage room or closet. Ensure that the area has proper ventilation and meets applicable health guidelines for use as sleeping quarters.
  2. If room comes at a premium, you can convert a conference room to “rest space” for a dedicated period (1:00 – 3:00 pm, for example). Remember, however, that the need to nap won’t come at the same time for everyone. To truly benefit all workers – and their various Circadian rhythms – you’ll need to have a place for people to go at any time of day.
  3. Don’t feel the need to get fancy with amenities. While a simple couch or futon can work just fine, other offices have found favor with large bean bags that can be tucked away when that space is required for other purposes. Beds are nice, but they need more housekeeping and may detract from the message of a quick nap.
  4. Pay attention to the level of lights in a room. Too much light can disrupt rest patterns but keeping the area safe for employees is a must. Light a windowless room with a lamp on a dimmer switch and choose window coverings that diffuse, but not completely block out, light.

 

Napping at work on a comfy couch

Fancy nap pods or beds aren’t necessary—a simple couch in an quiet room will work fine.

 

Real Rest = Real Results

Will something as simple as a 20-minute catnap make a difference for over-stressed employees? While the proof is largely anecdotal among those we asked, all have considered the experiment worthwhile and would recommend other workplaces implement similar methods.

Aja McClanahan remembers her experience with a nap room while interning at Lucent Technologies over 20 years ago. She credits the ability to catch a short nap in a break room (where employees had put couches) for possibly saving her life while making a 90-minute commute each day. “I’d be up super early and come back home late. I remember almost dozing off a few times during the commute. When I started using the nap room, I felt much better,” she tells us. “I loved it and used it every day!”

Managers have noticed improvements, as well. Karabulut shares that the effects have been positive for his team. “Since implementing the nap area we’ve seen a lot of employees use it regularly. In the past, we’ve caught people sleeping at their desk or trying to catch a few winks without anyone noticing. Now, there’s no shame in catching a nap, and we encourage employees to do so. Not only have we noticed employees more alert in the afternoon, but the feedback we’ve had from the nap area is great. It’s been so good that we’re even thinking of upgrading our beanbags to nap pods.”

 

Conquering the Stigma

Despite the mounting evidence that napping  at work is positive—and can even be the much-needed boost to productivity that your office needs—adopting a sleep policy at work usually isn’t enough. Employees have been trained to equate dozing off with laziness, and it may take more than a casual suggestion to get them to take advantage of even the most formal office nap policies. Is it possible to change the tide on how we see napping at work?

Maura Thomas, TEDx speaker and author of Personal Productivity Secrets and Work Without Walls, suggests decision-makers lead the movement. “If you’re a leader, encouraging your team to enjoy a little shut-eye when they can will lead to more productivity than pushing them to fill every minute with activity. Spread the word that napping at work is acceptable (and encouraged!) and that it’s a lot more effective than the sugar- or caffeine-loading habits that are ingrained in so many office cultures. If that seems a little crazy to you, consider that a smoking break is still acceptable in most professional settings—now does a nap break still seem crazy?”

She goes on to emphasize a significant perk for managers that goes above a more alert employee pool. When used successfully, leaders have a fantastic opportunity to show they care about colleagues, which is essential for creating trust and friendships at work. “Relationship-building is one of the key qualities of successful executives,” she reminds us.

Employees might need guidance in doing naps right. The HR team can take an active role in sharing internal communications that remind workers naps are an option, along with best practices for mastering the power-nap. For reference, Thomas has some tips for anyone hoping to make the most of quiet time:

 

  1. Silence your devices so that no calls or email alerts disrupt your time to refresh and set a timer for 10-20 minutes or so.
  2. Keep your naps to 10-20 minutes. Napping longer than 30 minutes at work isn’t a good idea because you’re more likely to enter REM sleep and feel groggy when you wake up.
  3. Can’t sleep? The thought of trying to cram in a snooze session may make some people too anxious to drift off. Even if you can’t fall asleep during your nap time, you’ll still reap some productivity benefits just from pausing and quieting your mind; resting is almost as good as sleeping.

 

If you're napping at work, make sure you use an alarm clock.

Remember, it’s a nap room, not a hotel. Keep it to 20-30 minutes to avoid feeling groggy while napping at work.

 

It may take some time for American workers to appreciate what their global counterparts have known for years; a well-done nap trumps other methods for its positive effects on well-being and productivity—especially in the workplace. For now, even the most straightforward strategies will have the chance to make a real difference in today’s workplace. Whether you choose to create an official nap pod (complete with aromatherapy diffuser and noise-blocking headphones), or just allow co-workers to crash on a couch, embracing the human energy cycle is something savvy managers should give some serious consideration.