Catching some Zs

Naps boost productivity but will organizations actually let workers sleep on the job?

New York’s MetroNaps only began selling its high-tech sleeping pods to organizations in September and, since then, about 30 different organizations, mostly American, have purchased the individual recliners for employees.

“Some of our customers are keen to let the world know that they have them and others don’t want anybody to know,” said MetroNaps CEO Arshad Chowdhury.

One of the excited organizations is New York-based marketing firm StrawberryFrog. Employees often work long hours and have to constantly be creative, so the company is always looking for ways to support employees, said Chowdhury.

“Taking naps midday enhances creativity,” he said.

30 per cent productivity boost

Some employers worry napping is a waste of time, but Chowdhury encourages them to think about it as time well used, not wasted. A 15- or 20-minute nap actually boosts productivity, said Chowdhury.

A 2002 study in Nature Neuroscience, “The Restorative Effect of Naps on Perceptual Deterioration,” shows that a short nap increases a person’s ability to learn, increases reflexes, improves her mood and can increase productivity by about 30 per cent.

Sleeping pods

The MetroNaps sleeping pods look like a recliner that elevates a person’s legs with an overhang that covers a person’s head and torso, providing privacy and blocking out noise and light.

“I think they’re fabulous,” said Carolyn Schur, president of Saskatoon-based Alert at Work, a consulting firm that specializes in sleep and fatigue management. “They not only put you in a space to nap, they put you in a more fatigue-reducing position.”

The sleeping pods also provide employees with a location separate from their work areas to nap, so they’re not left trying to catch a few extra winks at their desks or in a toilet stall, said Chowdhury.

Getting away from the work station is the most important part of any napping policy, said Scour. Often an organization will have an ad-hoc policy where managers allow employees to take a nap at their desks.

“I’m not a fan of that because it’s uncontrolled,” said Schur. “You don’t know who’s covering their station, you don’t know when they’ll wake up.”

Scour also warned that workplace naps should refresh and rejuvenate, not make up for lack of sleep at home.

But to benefit from the advantages of napping, organizations don’t have to invest $12,500 US to buy a pod, or $795 US a month to rent one, said Scour.

It can be as simple and cost-efficient as laying down a yoga mat or having a reclining chair somewhere away from the work stations, she said.

Napping rooms

Calgary-based e-finance company Intuit Canada uses a middle-ground approach. The company has three napping rooms, complete with a single bed, fresh linen, a bedside table and an alarm clock.

“Employees are focused on the computer, they’re doing very detailed work, development work, so it makes sense to give them a power-down opportunity to just close their eyes for a moment. The critical thing that we encourage is getting away from their desks…to make sure they’re even more productive when they get back to their desks,” said Cheryll Watson, senior manager of employee and community engagement at Intuit Canada.

The rooms actually came about when the company was redesigning its headquarters six years ago and surveyed employees about what they wanted in a work site, said Watson. The napping rooms are just one component of the company’s overall wellness program, which includes an on-site gymnasium, an employee lounge with recliners and games, windows that open and healthy food options in the cafeteria.

“We try to provide a really well-rounded healthy environment,” said Watson. “We look at it all as the big picture.”

Sleep deprivation takes a toll

Widespread corporate acceptance for napping at work still has a long way to go, but as the effects of sleep deprivation take their toll on society, Chowdhury already sees the tide turning. For instance, it’s now illegal to drive while drowsy in New Jersey, he said.

“North America has very recently become attuned to the costs of sleep deprivation. Most people now know that the Exxon Valdez (the 1989 oil spill off the coast of Alaska) was caused due to sleep deprivation,” he said.

MetroNaps has three sleeping pods at a Vancouver hospital and is monitoring usage and the effects of naps on hospital employees and doctors. As more evidence builds up to support the benefits of naps in the workplace, Chowdhury said he can see the sleeping pods becoming as common place in an office as a photocopier.

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