Afternoon Naps for the Workplace

12 mins read

This article explains 4 different lengths of afternoon naps and the benefits that can be experienced in the workplace from these naps.

Most of us have experienced that afternoon slump where our energy drops. We lose concentration, our productivity decreases, our learning capabilities diminish, and we just can’t seem to stop yawning. This usually happens mid-day in our afternoon which tends to be after we have eaten lunch and can sometimes affect the rest of our workday. This increasing feeling of pressure to sleep is due to something called our homeostatic sleep drive.1 Our homeostatic sleep drive is low when we have woken up from a good night’s rest, and the pressure slowly increases throughout the day until bedtime when it is time to sleep once again. This can be compared to how hungry we feel the longer it has been since we ate last. So, what can we do in our day when that pressure to sleep has increased to the point where we are no longer performing to our best abilities at work? The solution may actually be to sleep it off!

While taking afternoon naps may not be a common practice in the Canadian workplace, there are many other cultures and companies we can turn to as examples. In Spanish culture, taking a siesta, which is the practice of taking a midday nap, is well known. The Spanish term comes from the Latin phrase hora sexta, or “the sixth hour,” referring to a midday rest 6 hours after waking. Traditionally employees will go home after lunch for a brief rest and come back refreshed for work. Similarly, in modern Italy these afternoon naps are called a riposo, and businesses will close down mid to late afternoon to allow business owners to go home for a rest. Rather than closing down the business, there are many companies here in North America that supply nap pods or nap rooms where they allow employees to take afternoon naps. After implementing the use of sleep pods and nap rooms, many companies have seen an increase in productivity and the work performance of employees. Some of these companies include HubSpot, Cisco, Huffington Post, Google, Facebook, Uber, and even Ben & Jerry’s!

Taking naps is often viewed as a childish activity and not suitable for the workplace2, however, napping can be more beneficial than people think! Let’s take a look at 4 different lengths of naps and the benefits they could introduce to the workplace.3

1. 10-20 Minutes

Naps for 10-20 minutes are sometimes referred to as a “power nap” as they are quick naps that reduce fatigue and increase alertness and performance. With this shorter length of sleep, we stay in one the lighter stages of the sleep cycle sleep known as non-rapid eye movement (NREM),4 which makes it easier to wake up without that groggy feeling.

This is considered one of the most ideal naps to take in the workplace for various reasons, with the first reason being that it doesn’t take an unreasonable amount of time from your workday. 10-20 minute naps could even be taken advantage of during a lunch-hour, which would benefit both the employee and the employer. This length of sleep also provides restorative benefits without drowsiness after waking. Some of these restorative benefits include a boost in focus and productivity – both of which are important for work! Studies have also shown that a 20-minute afternoon nap provides more rest than sleeping in those extra 20 minutes in the morning.

2. 30 Minutes

This length of napping is considered to be the least ideal among studies as it causes the most amount of drowsiness when waking up, referred to as sleep inertia, which can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour. Sleep Inertia is experienced directly after waking and is the feeling of disorientation and grogginess.5 Sleep inertia is primarily correlated with what stage in the sleep cycle we are waking up.

We would consider 30-minute naps to be the least ideal length of nap to take at work, with the main reason being that it may take longer to experience the benefits than the length of the nap itself! It would be more beneficial for employees to take 10-20 minute naps as they would experience the same benefits in the previous section without the negative drawbacks of waking up groggy and having reduced performance for up to an hour.

3. 60 Minutes

Napping for 1 hour starts to introduce more benefits than the previous 2 sections, including improved memory for facts, names and faces. This length of nap usually enters into the 3rd stage of sleep (N3) sometimes referred to as Deep Sleep or Slow-Wave Sleep.

The 2 main benefits that could be experienced from 1-hour naps that will help out during the workday, are being less impulsive and having a greater tolerance for frustration.6 While both of these benefits are related to emotions, most of us understand that emotions can get in the way of work if not managed and regulated properly!

4. 90 Minutes

90 minutes is the typical length of a full sleep cycle, meaning we go through all 4 stages and reach the rapid eye movement stage (REM). REM sleep is typically known as the dreaming stage of sleep, and can lead to improved memory, creativity, and improved response to specific emotions.7

As this length of nap typically avoids sleep inertia, it can be seen as one of the more beneficial naps, however, we understand that 1.5 hours is a lot of time to miss in a workday! The main benefit observed from naps of this length includes avoiding the decrease in episodic learning and memory that occurs generally between the hours of 12pm and 6pm (depending on how long we have been awake). Studies have shown that people who have naps of this length have virtually the same or slightly increased levels of learning and memory after the nap as they had when fully rested during the first half of the day.8 Episodic learning involves storing experiences in our episodic memory, where we then retrieve that information and use it to improve behaviours. Episodic memory is considered a long-term memory used to store events from our past.

Different Nap Lengths for Different Results

As we have read, there are many different benefits and results that can be experienced from naps depending on the length of the nap taken. 10-20 minutes naps seem to be that sweet spot for getting the benefits of being more alert and focused at work, without taking up too much work time or experiencing disorientation from waking up that requires a recuperation period. With that being said, the goals trying to be reached for the nap may be the best indicator of the length of nap required! There are an amazing number of studies out there on naps and their benefits which can help in deciding whether naps in the workplace are a fit for your business!

If this has left you wanting to test out the benefits of napping (like it definitely has for me!), stay-tuned for our article on “5 Tips for a Successful Nap.”

If you are interested in more information on the impact sleep has on our work, check out our 5 part series “Sleep and Its Impact on Our Work.”

Download this resource article Afternoon Naps for the Workplace (pdf).

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1 Fry, Alexa. “Napping.” Sleep Foundationhttps://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-hygiene/napping

2 Alger, Sara, et al. “Challenging the Stigma or Workplace Napping.” https://academic.oup.com/sleep/article/42/8/zsz097/5544708  

3 Milner, Catherine E. and Kimberley A. Cote. “Benefits of Napping in Healthy Adults: Impact of Nap Length, Time of Day, Age, and Experience with Napping.” European Sleep Research Societyhttps://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/j.1365-2869.2008.00718.x  

4 Suni, Eric. “Stages of Sleep.” Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/stages-of-sleep  

5 “Sleep Inertia.” ScienceDirect https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/sleep-inertia

6 Goldschmied, Jennifer, et al. “Napping to Modulate Frustration and Impulsivity: A Pilot Study.” https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0191886915003943  

7 Gujar, Ninad, et al. “A Role for REM Sleep in Recalibrating the Sensitivity of the Human Brain to Specific Emotions.” National Center for Biotechnology Informationhttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3000566/ 

8 Mander, Bryce A, et al. “Wake Deterioration and Sleep Restoration of Human Learning.” National Center for Biotechnology Informationhttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3093247/?report=reader#__ffn_sectitle  

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