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The big sleep

Nodding off
iconYou won't catch a bunch of animals staying up late to watch Letterman. Or "Dune," either. They've got this sleeping thing down. Click here, we'll sleep-walk you through it.

Nodding off

December 5, 2000
Web posted at: 5:30 p.m. EST (2230 GMT)

In this story:

The pause that refreshes

Optimum napping


This is the second part of a two-day look at sleep deprivation and work. Today the issue of napping at work, sanctioned or otherwise. Tuesday, we looked at "Hitting the wall" -- the incidence and causes of sleep deprivation in the workplace.

(CNN) -- "There's a huge extent of scientific literature from the laboratory showing that giving people naps helps improve their performance and alertness."

Mark Rosekind's Alertness Solutions advises companies on how to perk up pooped employees.

But the battle for bedtime is uphill. "In the United States," Rosekind says, "we need a pretty significant cultural change for people to acknowledge this is a good thing to do, as opposed to 'You're stupid, lazy or dumb if you take a nap.'"

graphic Have you ever fallen asleep at work?

No! Wide awake! Wouldn't dream (hm) of it!
Well, kind of, maybe, but not really, more like sort of losing focus for a few moments, and no heavy equipment was lost, everyone was released from the hospital after being treated for only minor injuries.
View Results

And meanwhile, there's a low, rhythmic drone humming through American offices. Hear it? Z-z-z-z-z ...

At or under their desks, in their cars, in bathroom stalls -- wherever they can find a little quiet time -- weary workers are napping. It's enough to make you long for kindergarten.

While most employers either don't realize or admit it, this may be a good thing.

Some American employers are beginning to acknowledge the need for flex time, telecommuting and job-sharing to help harried employees achieve some semblance of a work-life balance. But most still adhere to a no-doze policy.

"My sense is that planned, permitted, endorsed napping by management is still rare," says David Dinges, a professor and sleep scientist in the department of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

There's reason to believe Dinges is right.

Only six of more than 600 respondents to a poll of its members conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) said their company had a napping policy, according to the organization's Karen Accipiter. None said he or she expected to have such a policy in the future.

"As a manager, you want to know hidden costs. What would you give for a 5-percent or 10-percent improvement in your bottom line, or in the performance of your workers?"
— Mark Rosekind, Alertness Solutions

"It's possible," Accipiter says, that "there are some employers that allow it on an informal basis, but don't have anything structured," in terms of a formal nap policy. A survey conducted by the nonprofit National Sleep Foundation in Washington seems to support this. In that survey, 16 percent of respondents said their employers allow them to take a nap at work.

"Uncontrolled or covert napping, however, is still probably very common," Dinges says. "One need only move through a building surreptitiously and peek at people to find some subset of sleep at any given time."

Even companies that are pro-nap often are careful not to publicize it, Rosekind says. "They're hiding behind the shroud of 'We think it's good, but we don't want to admit it.'"


The pause that refreshes

That's unfortunate, Rosekind says, because after a nap of up to 45 minutes, workers usually feel more alert and productive. Rosekind was a research psychologist and principal investigator for the NASA Ames Research Center's Fatigue Countermeasures Group for seven years. The program was developed to help pilots and astronauts learn to combat sleepiness.

In one study, Rosekind says, pilots working on long flights were allowed a 40-minute nap, while others got no nap. When compared to the flyers who got no sleep, the nappers turned in a 34-percent higher performance level and scored 100 percent better in terms of alertness, he says.

rabbit Not that they're at their desks as long as you may be, various animals have quite a range of sleep needs and patterns. Check out what happens when it's bedtime for Bonzo and other critters.
graphic They're rolling up those hammocks and saving money on the shutters. Reports indicate that Spaniards -- while creating more jobs last year than other European Union countries -- are getting too busy for those siestas.

"The physiological part pertaining to safety, to alertness -- those things are absolutely clear now," Rosekind says. "The challenge is how are we going to get that embedded into the culture to where it's accepted and it's the right thing to do?"

Rosekind is appealing to company executives' concern with the bottom line in an effort to change attitudes. Letting your workers nap as needed gives you a competitive edge, he argues, because rested employees retain more information and make better decisions.

"As a manager, you want to know hidden costs," Rosekind says. "What would you give for a 5-percent or 10-percent improvement in your bottom line, or in the performance of your workers?"

Employers are beginning to realize the benefits of napping in jobs where safety is an issue -- train engineers, pilots and truck drivers, for example -- but the productivity argument is a tougher sell, Rosekind says.

"One of the things you often get is, 'You want me to pay them to sleep on the job?'"


Optimum napping

The beauty of napping -- as opposed to a full-blown siesta -- is that it hardly interrupts the work day. Rosekind says an afternoon snooze shouldn't exceed 45 minutes, because beyond that time you'll likely go into deep sleep.

When you awake from deep sleep, you're more apt to have sleep inertia -- that groggy, disoriented feeling that's hard to shake for a while, Rosekind says. Even shorter naps may produce sleep inertia, albeit to a lesser extent.

"That's one of the reasons some people avoid napping altogether," Dinges adds.

graphic Bill Anthony, a Boston University prof, has turned his fondness for napping into a cottage industry with wife Camille.

It's not clear how short a nap can be and still leave you feeling more alert. "We know much less about the 10-minute nap," Dinges says. "There've been some studies that have shown there's some benefit there. By and large, sleep scientists will say -- armed with more faith than data -- that it looks like you need at least 10 minutes of consolidated sleep to get the benefits of a nap."

Rosekind adds, "Even five or 10 minutes can make a difference. It takes the edge off."

It's commonly believed that eating lunch is what makes people feel drowsy in the afternoon, but Dinges and Rosekind say that's a fallacy. Humans are biologically programmed to be sleepy in the afternoon, so even if you skip lunch, you may feel sleepy, they say.

Some countries have taken this into account by adopting the siesta, typically a three-hour afternoon break during which workers go home, eat, sleep and relax. In the United Kingdom, Rosekind notes, they favor high tea -- the tea itself high in caffeine -- in the late afternoon.

"Whereas in the United States we pretend this isn't a biological issue," Rosekind says. "We just struggle through. We pay for that."

Even if your employer allows you to nap or you've found a foolproof method of doing so on the sly, there are some caveats. If you nap too long or too late in the day, it may interfere with your ability to fall asleep at night. And if your sleepiness at work is due to a sleep disorder, napping is no solution for dealing with it.

"If people suffer from insomnia, they should avoid napping unless their sleep doc says it's OK," Dinges says.



The big sleep: Hitting the wall
December 4, 2000
Work place injuries and deaths
August 22, 2000
Study bolsters melatonin sleep claims
October 12, 2000
Ferry captain admits he was napping right before accident
September 29, 2000
Surgical treatment can help sleep apnea
September 21, 2000
Sleep deprivation as bad as alcohol impairment, study suggests
September 20, 2000
Are sleep-deprived engineers hurting the Web?
June 12, 2000
More places for truckers to sleep may make highways safer, NTSB says
May 17, 2000

Alertness Solutions
American Sleep Apnea Association
American Sleep Disorders Association
Associated Professional Sleep Societies
The Better Sleep Guide
The Napping Company, Inc.
Fatigue Countermeasures Group, NASA Ames Research Center
The World Nap Organization

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