A friend of mine was the youth director for a church. His job, as you might imagine, included many late nights, weekend trips, and even early morning breakfasts. During one stretch, he had been going without adequate sleep for several days. As he sat in his office at church, trying to get some written work done, he felt his eyes closing and his mind losing focus. So my friend put his head down on his desk to take a short nap. He awoke a few minutes later, reenergized and ready to finish up his paperwork.
What my friend did not know was that during his brief nap, a leading member of the church walked by his office and peered in his open door. This member was distressed that my friend was “sleeping on the job.” But she didn’t wake him up to tell him this. That would have been far too direct and healthy. Rather, she made it her business over the next several days to tell dozens of church members that my friend was “unprofessional” and “lazy” because of his in-office snooze. This event caused such a storm in the church that it ended up as a black mark in my friend’s personnel file.
Was he out of line to take a nap at work? Given the culture of that particular church, he probably should have known that “sleeping on the job” would be frowned upon. He certainly could have shut his office door and pulled the shades to hide his cultural infraction. So one might fault him for a lack of wisdom. But, given that my friend was salaried and not an hourly worker, and given the crazy hours he worked, it seems that he was entitled to a brief nap. Moreover, there’s a growing body of evidence that suggests that my friend was likely to have been increasing his productivity by taking a few minutes to rest his eyes.
In a study published in Nature Neuroscience, researchers tested subjects on their perceptual performance four times throughout the day. Performance deteriorated with each test, but subjects who took a 30-minute nap between tests stopped the deterioration in performance, and those who took a 60-minute nap even reversed it.
If you’re looking for more data about the value of napping, check out this piece from Entrepreneur: “Will You Actually Be More Productive If You Take a Nap Every Day?”
To be honest, I don’t need scientific data to convince me that napping improves my professional productivity. I know this from personal experience. Since I began full-time work over thirty years ago, I’ve probably taken over a thousand naps in my offices. Sometimes I’ve been blessed with a comfortable couch on which to doze. Sometimes I’ve simply laid out for a few minutes on the floor.
Though I think napping at work is a fine idea, I recognize that not everyone has the freedom to recharge in this way. There are other ways, of course. A brisk walk can restore our attention. So can an afternoon latte. But, if you’re feeling sluggish and have the opportunity to do so, I’d recommend a short nap. Fifteen or twenty minutes will make a big difference.