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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

Power Naps Really Do Work, So Why Don't We Embrace Them at the Office?

“Think of napping as a basic right, not a petty luxury,” Malia Wollan wrote this summer for The New York Times in an article titled, “How to Nap.”

While some people claim that they “can’t nap,” most get kind of dreamy-eyed when they talk about it, often sharing stories of that glorious Saturday afternoon catnap or the Sunday doze on the beach. Few, however, consider it a basic right, especially when it comes to the napping at work. Unlike Spain or many countries in South America where I backpacked for a year, here in the States, we tend to stigmatize the siesta, not embrace it. And although I don’t think that the standard two-hour post-lunch lie down is something that we ought to adopt, I firmly believe in the brain-boosting benefit of a 15- to 20- minute power nap.

Because of this, I set out to do what I could in destigmatizing the very thing that science says aids in afternoon productivity and enhances creativity. After reading one too many articles on the power of the midday nap (yes, people, at work, during the day!) and noticing that my colleagues weren’t taking advantage of it (not that I could see, anyway), I decided to do an experiment of sorts and see if maybe I couldn’t play a small part in tossing aside the notion that napping equals laziness.

“Let’s see if the lauded power nap does everything scientists and doctors claim it does,” I emailed my colleagues, noting that people could nap wherever they felt most comfortable—though we were fortunate enough to have a special type of room meant for resting (among other things).

While I initially had a lot of people excited about upping their afternoon work efforts via the mighty nap, in the end, I had few actual participants. The stigma is so rampant that the hard-working, dedicated people around me struggled with the very idea of the brief midday break—citing fears about managers’ disapproval, concern that 15 prone minutes in the middle of the day would make them look lazy, worries that they didn’t have time.

And it’s this last reason that I wanted to focus on. Is a power nap any different—or worse—than the 15 minutes of mindless web surfing many of us resort to when we need to look away from work? How about the 20 minutes you spend running out to grab coffee?

No, but then again, neither is working 11 to 7 instead of 9 to 5 if that’s what works for you, and yet the majority of companies still aren’t sold on the benefits of the flex schedule.

You see, the stigma tied to napping is so strong that even employees with enviable relationships with their managers (plus napping facilities) can’t bring themselves to practice the very behavior that ultimately stands to make them better employees! More efficient, more creative. It’s science.

Of the 16 participants, less than a third managed to take a nap.

But, the bright side revealed that of the few people who got a nap in (all reported one to five naps in the four-week period), productivity levels indeed rose. Not a single person reported feeling worse afterwards than they felt before. That’s great for the participants who turned to sleep when they felt they needed it, but it’s unfortunate that so many never experience the magic. It was, I realized, our own outdated ideas of what it means to be productive (versus looking productive) that held us back.

While my little “experiment” may be over, the option to recharge with a nap obviously isn’t. I doubt many of the people reading this will suddenly begin to embrace napping, and I understand—it’s not easy to make changes that aren’t popular.

To be honest, I’m not sure how we can modify the outdated notion that because napping makes you “look bad or lazy” you should just pretend to look productive or drink more coffee than any one person should have in a day. I understand why leaders and organizations might be reluctant to suggest it as an alternative, but I wish it wasn’t that way.

The good news is that if flex hours and remote working policies can make strides (and they have), so can the midday nap. Because anyone who’s ever taken one knows that all the productivity hype is real—taking that quick little break really can power you through the day. And who can say no to an activity that’ll make you a better worker in as little as 15 minutes?

Photo of woman napping courtesy of People Images/Getty Images.