Balancing act: Napping at work: an idea whose time has come?

Published: Tuesday, May 17 2011 9:00 p.m. MDT

One of my most embarrassing work moments — recently at least — occurred a couple of years ago.

It was a hot day outside, and it was fairly warm in the office, too. About an hour after a larger-than-usual lunch, I started finding it difficult to concentrate. I would stare at my computer monitor, zoning out. Then I started to doze off for a couple of seconds at a time, always waking with a start and looking around to see if anyone noticed.

Finally, I awoke from a slightly longer snooze to find an intern standing next to me, asking a question. I tried to play it cool, but I knew I was busted.

Yikes!

The incident made me wish I had a napping spot under my desk, a la George Costanza in "Seinfeld," complete with a pillow, blanket and little shelf for an alarm clock.

I know that didn't work out well for George in the long run. But still, wouldn't it be nice to have a place at work to catch a few zzz's every now and then?

Chances are your boss doesn't think so. Sleeping on the job is generally frowned upon (especially if you're an air traffic controller, as we discovered earlier this year). But for those of us who don't have life-or-death occupations, some research suggests that an afternoon nap actually can boost productivity.

Boston University professor William Anthony and his wife, Camille, presidents of The Napping Co., founded "National Napping Day" in 1999 to tout the benefits of napping. In a press release from 2005, the Anthonys said scientific evidence shows that napping can improve a person's mood and performance and make him or her more productive.

According to a recent New York Times article, napping on game day is also prevalent among many athletes, especially NBA players.

"In the United States, napping is often stigmatized, seen as evidence of laziness or a lack of purpose," the Times article said. "But in the world of sports, and certainly in the NBA, the attitude is entirely different.

" 'You're nocturnal in terms of what you do, playing at night, so your body adjusts to the rhythm of being up late, getting in early in the morning," said Grant Hill … (of) the Phoenix Suns. 'You're tired around midday. Naps are important. It refreshes you. It gets you ready for competition.' "

But what if you're not a professional athlete? In a Huffington Post blog, Dr. Frank Lipman wrote that "a short, 20-minute power nap has been shown to provide a fresh burst of new ideas and energy and to eliminate the need for caffeine boosts during the workday, and afterward, too. Even NASA research supports the idea that napping improves alertness, creativity and performance in those who make time for a short snooze."

Lipman gives tips making time for a workday siesta. He suggests you find a nice, quiet spot (probably away from the office and those prying eyes of bosses — or interns); pick an early-afternoon time, definitely before 4 p.m.; make sure you have an alarm clock; and get right up when that alarm goes off.

"The best naps are short ones, so keep them short and sweet," Lipman writes. "The optimal time is said to be no more than 20 minutes. When you drift into the 30-minute range, sleep inertia tends to set in, leaving you dragging through (the) rest of the day in a post-nap fog."

What do you think? Have you ever taken a workday nap? Did it leave you feeling refreshed, or did it make you less productive? Do you think businesses should allow for such behavior?

As for me, writing this column has made me sleepy. Maybe I'll crawl under the desk for 20 minutes of slumber — as long as no interns are around.

Email your comments to gkratz@desnews.com or post them online at deseretnews.com. Follow me on Twitter at gkratzdesnews and on Facebook on my journalist page.

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