Sleep experts have come out in full support of work naps, after photos of BBC employees sleeping at their desks were published on The Sun’s front page, prompting accusations of laziness.
Speaking to HuffPost UK, sleep experts said work naps are important for businesses to flourish, as they enhance performance and can help us solve problems.
Dr Guy Meadows, clinical director of The Sleep School, says: “When it comes to the workplace, employees should have the opportunity to have a power nap. It shouldn’t be seen as ‘sleeping is cheating’ or ‘wasting time’, it should be seen as a performance enhancer.
“Napping is a fantastic way of boosting energy levels and resetting alertness levels. It can help us creatively solve problems – we’re twice as likely to solve a challenging problem after a 15-minute power nap – and it also plays an important role in helping memory recall.”
Lisa Artis from The Sleep Council says that daytime naps can give someone who hasn’t slept very well the night before as much energy as two cups of strong coffee. But she adds the effects of a nap are longer-lasting than that of a caffeine hit.
It’s worth noting that for people who experience insomnia or poor sleep quality at night, napping may exacerbate the problem. So in these cases it’s not recommended.
“Remember that naps should not make up for continued inadequate or poor quality sleep,” Artis tells HuffPost UK. “If you find you need to nap on a daily basis to get through the day then you need to assess your sleep quality and quantity.”
Both experts agree that 10-20 minutes is the optimal nap time, as it’s “sufficient to turn off the nervous system and recharge the whole body”. They also believe a 30-minute nap is too long as the body enters a deep sleep and then wakes up in a state of sleep inertia, resulting in major grogginess.
Dr Meadows adds that it’s a good idea to nap between midday and 3pm, as if you do it any later it could affect your night’s sleep.
Among night shift workers, napping is essential for remaining alert – but it can also be more difficult.
“People who work shifts, including night shifts, can really struggle with fragmented sleep and may need to nap to be able to function and perform at their best,” says Artis.
That said, it’s not always possible to nap on the job. One way of getting around this, says Dr Meadows, is by taking a quick power nap before starting a night shift or by grabbing a quick nap on a break, earlier in the shift rather than later (“you need to ensure your sleep drive is high enough so you can sleep when you leave work”).
“One of the challenges shift-workers face is that they have to maintain levels of alertness,” he explains. “To add to this, they might be doing jobs which are monotonous so attention may wane or they could make mistakes.
“Having a short power nap can really help boost alertness levels.”
While daytime napping is part of the culture in some countries, the UK isn’t quite there yet. That said, Dr Meadows believes there’s been a sizeable shift in the way employers address sleep.
“We go into corporate organisations to provide sleep education programmes and have seen a huge shift in companies being more receptive to napping in the workplace,” he says.
“I absolutely believe that in the next decade it’ll be one of the most significant changes in the workplace.”
Artis seconds this: “The ability to stay connected at any time means the working day has changed considerably and we may see a move to a more nap-friendly lifestyle, especially in the big cities, to increase productivity and performance.”