Sept. 17, 2010 -- At one time or another, every employee has had that after lunch lull, when it's hard to keep your mind on your work. Some people fight fatigue with a jolt of java. Others take a walk. Many find a distraction on the Internet.
Yet, one solution that some employers say makes a difference is a nap. That's right, sleeping on the job with the approval of the boss. Companies as diverse as Ben & Jerry's and Google have dedicated napping rooms. These quiet spaces provide employees with peace and privacy to take a short snooze.
"We need to recognize in the workplace that more, faster, more continuously is not better," says Tony Schwartz, author of "The Way We're Working Isn't Working!" "And that part of helping a person in a world of infinite demand to be sustainably high-performing, is to value and support intermittent renewal across the workday."
In other words: a nap.
Schwartz created The Energy Project, featuring an "energy audit," which, by answering a few questions about your work and life style, helps determine if you're satisfying your own energy needs to fuel great performance at work.
According to a survey by the National Sleep Foundation, nearly 30 percent of workers fell asleep or became very sleepy at work during a month. And 65 percent of respondents admitted to experiencing performance issues, such as trouble organizing work and difficulty concentrating.
So could a mid-afternoon power nap do the trick? A 2009 study in the research journal Sleep showed that a 10-minute nap produced the most benefit in terms of reduced sleepiness and improved cognitive performance.
I decided to give napping a try by visiting New York's Yelo Spa, a sanctuary for mid-day catnaps. I checked into a sleep cabin with soothing lighting and sounds to attempt a 10-minute snooze. I expected to have difficulty relaxing, and I also worried about feeling drowsy when time was up. Instead, I walked out surprisingly rejuvenated -- even after only 10 minutes with cameras rolling and a variety of other distractions.
"Napping cannot just improve your mood," Nicolas Ronco, Yelo's founder, told me. "But it can also save your life."
Even so, some employers stand firmly by their no-snooze policy. Common responses: I don't pay you to sleep. If you're tired, go to bed earlier at night. I expect you to be well rested when you're on the job. (As an employer, I can relate to all of those objections. While the research is undeniable on the benefits of short naps -- and I experienced it myself—there's no doubt something that can be disquieting about knowing employees are asleep.)
If napping is frowned upon in your workplace, but you're craving some shuteye, you may have a few options.
First, pay attention to the cues of your workplace culture. Since there's still serious stigma connected to sleeping at work -- lazy, slacker, bored, disengaged, and uninterested are just some of the adjectives heaped upon those who dare to nap -- you don't want to risk becoming ostracized.
If you're able, use a portion of your lunch hour for a nap, even as little as 10 minutes. Create a dark space by closing office shades and shutting the door. Use a neck rest like those made for airplane flights so your neck is protected while you lean back in your chair. Or check out the Dream Helmet, a pillow and eye mask device in one that straps around your head for napping. If you worry about falling into a deep sleep or nodding off for too long, set the alarm on your cell phone to wake you after just 10 to 20 minutes max.
And, finally, to build awareness and support in your workplace, carefully share the link to this segment (and a recent BusinessWeek article on the popularity of napping on the job) with colleagues and bosses to tout this unique opportunity to improve productivity. If it's good for Google, then it may get the boss's attention.