I work, therefore, I nap.
Consider me wise, not weak for this.
According to Robert Channick writing at the Chicago Tribune, “A small but growing number of businesses are encouraging sleep-deprived employees to grab 40 winks during the workday, providing rooms – or in some cases, high-tech napping pods – to get the job done right. Benefits include a more productive workforce, and, hopefully the end to stealth sales meeting snoozes.”
It’s about time. I have been actively advocating for nap appropriate spaces at work since my first post-college job in 1992. At that job, as a paralegal at large law firm, I would curl up into a ball and take a 15 to 30 minute nap underneath my desk. I routinely worked 10-12 hour days, an a little time out was necessary to keep going.
This was five full years before the practice was put into the popular imagination by a Seinfeld episode titled, “The Nap,” where George Costanza is shown to be a frequent under desk napper in his job as an undefined executive for the New York Yankees.
In my post-grad school job at a marketing research firm on days when I would be moderating focus groups which would extend past 10pm, I’d grab a late-afternoon little snoozle on one of the focus group viewing room couches so I could be sharp through the evening and into the night.
Even now, exclusively working from home, 2-3 days a week I will grab a nap, 15-30 minutes stretched out on one of the beds in the spare bedroom that doubles as my office.
Please know, I am rarely not sleep deprived. I typically get between seven and eight hours every night, waking up naturally with the sunrise, if not a ball of fire, at least sufficiently rested.
The anti-nap stigma is rooted in some unsupportable prejudices that sleeping is a form of sloth, as well as some common American attitudes about diligence and duty which are not necessarily connected to performance and productivity. There are many workplaces where it is deemed preferable to fake the performance of work, even if you have nothing to do, rather than take advantage of the downtime to recharge in order to be more productive when the work arrives.
Attitudes towards looking like you’re working when you aren’t are akin to school policies that require students to perform attention, as though the performance of attention may be linked to actual attention, or even learning. The pretending takes precedence over the actual doing. One of the benefits of dropping mandatory attendance in my classes years ago is not having to witness students struggle to be present when other priorities are pressing.
When we drill down to the value level, though, our anti-nap prejudices should melt away. Working from home, I once felt guilty about napping, but it’s just that some days, usually around 2-3pm, I will find my brain fading, my ability to concentrate compromised, as I’m at my desk literally fighting the urge to sleep. Rather than expend excess energy waging that fight, I give in to the napping urge, and nearly 100% of time emerge from my short rest raring to go.
I’ve also solved many a writing problem during those naps. Having been stymied by something that seemed intractable pre-nap, a fresh approach is suddenly clear having had the benefit of a mental time out. When I’m at my busiest and start thinking I don’t have time to nap, the nap becomes even more vital as a bridge to extending the hours I’m able to work in a day.
Napping increases my productivity. It always has. Having had a nap I can work both longer and more effectively. As the Tribune article makes clear, I am not alone in experiencing this phenomenon.
Given what we know about sleep deprivation among high school students – who need significantly more sleep than crotchety oldsters like myself – there’s a pretty good argument that substituting nap time for study hall would have significant benefits. This is particularly true for today’s student who is likely to stay after school for many hours doing activities, and then have homework waiting for them afterwards.
Of course, the work nap could be abused. George Costanza would nap for hours because he was in a job with nebulous duties even he didn’t understand. He used the nap as an escape from a bad work situation. When I bothered to attend my 1000 student lectures in college, I would often nap, not seeing much point to even trying to pay attention.
For naps to be a tool for productivity, the napper must have something purposeful to do when they’re not napping. Even if I felt like I could use a longer rest, the call of whatever I’m working on gets me up inside of 30 minutes, not just because I’m almost always on a deadline, but because I’m genuinely interested in solving whatever writing-related problem (or problems) I’m tackling on a given day.
Napping is a tool like any other. Our anti-nap prejudice is standing in the way of improved performance.
Nappers of the world unite! Let your sleep flag fly!