The Afternoon Nap Attack
In Taiwan, it's perfectly acceptable to sleep with one's coworkers-"sleep" being the operative word.
Brief catnaps after lunch are commonplace in many Taiwanese companies. Typically, all workers take lunch around the same time, from noon to 1:30. After eating, those employees who wish to can flick off their desk lamps, pull out a pillow, and take a snooze lasting perhaps 15 to 30 minutes. Even those workers who aren't napping will usually dim their lights and speak softly until the break is over.
"In Chinese medicine, a rest at noon is considered good for your health," says Violet Cheong, a Taiwanese editor. "It's generally believed that a nap will help workers with alertness and productivity in the afternoon."
There's new research to support this belief. Studies show that the human body is programmed to take a dip in energy at midday, whether food is eaten or not. "Even a nap as short as five minutes can increase alertness and memory skills," says Sara Mednick, a sleep expert at the University of California-San Diego's Laboratory of Sleep and Behavioral Neuroscience. A 15-minute power nap can boost concentration, dexterity, mood, and overall health.
Safety. Drooping eyelids on the job do more than hurt productivity. They can also prove fatal. In her book, Take a Nap! Change Your Life, Mednick notes that sleep deprivation causes countless minor accidents and contributed to some major workplace disasters-including the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Union Carbide chemical explosion in India, and the nuclear catastrophe at Chernobyl. The United States is a "nation of the walking tired," she writes, "so much so that 51 percent of the workforce reports that sleepiness on the job interferes with the volume of work they can do."
That exhaustion can be a costly problem. According to a January 2007 article in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, "workers with fatigue cost employers $136.4 billion annually in health-related LPT [lost productive time]."
So are U.S. employers embracing the benefits of naps? Keep dreaming.
"There is definitely a stigma against napping," says Andrew Moore-Ede with Circadian Technologies Inc., an international consulting firm specializing in work hours and productivity. In its recent survey of U.S. companies that run beyond 9 to 5 (mostly 24-7), fully 75 percent do not allow napping, and many punish workers caught sleeping on the job.
But tired workers can lapse into "microsleeps" of just a few seconds, says Moore-Ede, which can lead to truck crashes or assembly-line mishaps. "It's better to manage napping than to ban it," he says.
A few American companies are beginning to see the light. Yarde Metals in Connecticut has a "Z-Lounge" with a zero-gravity chair that rotates and surrounds the napper with soothing smells, sounds, and images like babbling brooks and crackling fires.
But nap space needn't be so elaborate. Companies should take the hint from Taiwan: Buy employees pillows instead of an espresso machine, and watch the bottom line soar.
This story appears in the March 26, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.