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On-the-job naps could be pause that refreshes

Taking a nap
At Burlington Northern-Santa Fe, train crews can nap under certain conditions  
March 26, 1998
Web posted at: 7:41 p.m. EST (0041 GMT)

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (CNN) -- Napping on the job isn't just for Dagwood Bumstead any more. And though Mr. Dithers has always minded, some employers are actually encouraging their employees to nap.

For instance, one year ago, Burlington Northern-Santa Fe, the second largest railroad in the country, instituted a policy allowing sleep-deprived employees to take short naps.

"I think an engineer on a train can operate a lot safer if he's more alert than if he's not quite as alert," says engineer Joe Tucker. "And this nap rule does allow us to take that nap."

While on-the-job napping hasn't exactly taken over in corporate America, a number of firms have similar policies, including a consulting firm in Berkeley, California, and a manufacturing plant in Connecticut. Pilots who fly overseas for Delta Air Lines are also allowed to nap.

Dr. Russell Rosenberg: Drowsy times affect alertness
icon 157 K / 15 sec. AIFF or WAV

Employers are reacting to studies that show sleepiness can interfere with productivity. A new survey from the National Sleep Foundation found that most Americans don't get enough sleep at night, with about one-third so sleepy that it interferes with daily activities.

"The demands are increasing upon us from work, from home, and we're having less time to actually set aside, not only for our own personal time but for our own physiologic needs, especially sleep," said Dr. Russell Rosenberg of the Northside Hospital Sleep Disorders Center.

According to a recent survey, 64 percent of us get less than eight hours of sleep a night, a third gets less than six  

Repaying that sleep debt by napping on the job does not interfere with productivity, as some might assume.

"Actually, we found just the opposite," said Tommy Gibson of Burlington Northern-Santa Fe. "We found that production has gone up since we implemented the napping policy and that we do have much more alert employees." Scientific studies back up that observation.

However, railroad crews are only allowed to nap for 30 to 40 minutes. Sleeping any longer can make a person groggy.

Rosenberg says that contrary to popular belief, nappers are not slackers. Rather, they are responding to a natural tendency to become drowsy near the middle of the day, when our daytime body temperature dips.

Medical Correspondent Rhonda Rowland contributed to this report.


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