While it may seem counterproductive to take intermittent naps when trying to increase productivity, research indicates that doing so can yield various advantages.
In recent times, businesses have begun to prioritize the wellbeing of their employees at work. This is because studies reveal that over 25% of Generation Z employees, i.e., individuals born between 1997 and 2012, actively seek workplace benefits that aid them in managing stress. These benefits may include amenities like nap pods, meditation rooms, and massage chairs.
The significance of sleep cannot be understated, as evidenced by a 2018 study conducted by RAND Corporation, which indicates that a country’s GDP could suffer a loss of up to 3% due to inadequate sleep. Many companies recognize the advantages of a restful night’s sleep and have taken steps to promote it among their employees. For example, Nike’s base in Portland, Oregon, is said to provide nap rooms for its staff, while others have implemented lighting systems that regulate the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, making it easier for employees to wind down after work.
Although building naps into the workday has been shown to improve mental wellbeing and attract top talent, most companies still consider the concept of “sleeping on the job” to be unacceptable. Recent advancements in sleep science have confirmed what many people have long suspected: a lack of sufficient sleep can lead to problems with cognitive function and mental health.
A study conducted in collaboration with researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard, and the University of Pennsylvania utilized actigraphs to track the sleeping patterns of approximately 450 adults in Chennai, India who were suffering from sleep disorders. The study revealed that on average, these individuals were only able to sleep for 5.5 hours per night, and the quality of their sleep was subpar. Despite spending eight hours in bed, their sleep was frequently disrupted to a degree comparable to individuals with sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or insomnia.
Over a period of three weeks, we conducted an experiment on office-based data entry workers with flexible working hours. Our aim was to evaluate the impact of various interventions on their cognitive abilities, productivity, decision-making skills, and overall well-being. We collected data on their working hours, productivity, and labor supply, and also conducted surveys to assess their psychological and physical well-being.
The trial group was divided into two sub-groups. One group received nighttime sleep treatments, which included sleep masks, fans, and mattresses to improve their sleeping environment. They were also provided with information on the benefits of good quality sleep, the recommended hours of sleep, and strategies to improve their sleep. The other group was offered financial incentives and promised payment for tracking extra hours of sleep using actigraphs.
In summary, we conducted a study to observe the effects of interventions on the performance and well-being of flexible hour office workers. We monitored their productivity and work hours, and surveyed their psychological and physical health. The trial group was split into two groups, with one receiving nighttime sleep treatments and the other financial incentives for improving their sleep.
Night’s sleep vs. nap: differences in impact on health, cognition, mood
The study found that interventions to increase night sleep duration by an average of 27 minutes did not result in significant improvements in workers’ cognitive abilities, decision-making skills, productivity, or overall well-being. Furthermore, these interventions resulted in a slight reduction in labor supply as employees tended to arrive at work later due to sleeping longer.
However, a separate group of participants who were offered the opportunity to take a 30-minute afternoon nap in a comfortable and peaceful setting experienced significant improvements in several areas, including psychological well-being, cognitive performance, and a 2.3% increase in average productivity throughout the day.
This could be attributed to the fact that the timing of the naps coincided with the usual mid-afternoon drop in energy levels. Additionally, the environment provided during the nap sessions was conducive to higher quality sleep, unlike the interruptions and disturbances participants experienced at home, such as traffic noise and mosquitoes.
As part of our study, we randomly varied the pay rates during different periods, with some participants earning four times more than others. This allowed us to compare the effects of napping with an increase in wages. The results showed that productivity increased by 14%, and taking a midday nap had the same impact on productivity as a 50% increase in wages.
Sleep research tends to focus on nighttime sleep
Current sleep research tends to concentrate on the effects of nighttime sleep on individuals in developed economies, and is largely conducted in controlled sleep laboratories rather than in natural home settings.
However, conducting more research in this area could bring significant benefits to both low-income workers and employers in developed nations. In fact, a more recent article I worked on suggests that conducting field experiments could generate more evidence on the effects of sleep interventions, such as modifying the sleep environment, or implementing social policies like changing work schedules.
Overall, further research in this field can help to better understand the impact of sleep on individuals and society as a whole, and inform the development of effective sleep-related interventions.
The value of napping could be explored by companies through informal experiments involving two groups of employees, with one group allowed to nap and their results compared over time. The introduction of soundproof sleep spaces or “nap pods” could also enhance employees’ productivity and wellbeing at a low cost.
Furthermore, educating employees about the benefits of high-quality sleep and encouraging them to allocate time for it in their daily schedules, particularly in the current work-from-home environment, could result in improved productivity.
While reducing working time during the day may seem counterintuitive, especially with financial constraints and increasing living costs, the long-term benefits to employee wellbeing can increase retention and generate positive feelings towards companies that prioritize employee napping.