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Why Companies Should Insist that Employees Take Naps (hbr.org)
172 points by bakbak 2258 days ago | hide | past | web | 78 comments | favorite

This article is especially important for places like HN where the "founders never sleep" myth runs rampant.

In "The Promise of Sleep", the author talks about naps and getting tired in the afternoon, and his conclusion is that the only reason people get tired in the afternoon (which is when your clock-dependent alerting is at its lowest) is because they are sleep deprived. If you are well rested and don't have sleep debt, you should not get tired at that time.

Having consciously tried to get enough sleep over the past 2 years or so, I believe he's right. These days, I barely notice any afternoon dip and when I do, it's when my sleep has been disturbed for some reason.

In "SYNC: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order" the author (Strogatz) talks about how in a cave environment, people still take naps a little after noon. People are just as likely to be asleep at 2pm as they are at 4am. Car accidents peak around that time. People fall asleep when their basal temperature is at their lowest, and yup, guess what, people experience a body temperature dip in the late afternoon.

Basically, all the evidence he provides points to a built-in nap time. I, of course, take the physicist's side over the physician's...

Again, Dement doesn't argue against this. There is a tendency to get tired in the afternoon, because clock-dependent alerting (which give us our diurnal sleep schedule) dips at that time. But he's arguing that the reason this is affecting people so strongly is because basically everyone is chronically sleep deprived.

I think lunch can also be to blame for afternoon fatigue, depending on what you eat.

After my surf-and-turf, three-martini lunches, I do tend to get drowsy

That I can handle. It's the afternoon tryst with my secretary that leaves me incapacitated.

I didn't realize we had so many VCs among HN's readership.

Or 1960s advertising executives.

He specifically says that's not the case.

Well even if that's true (n=2 isn't a sample), it doesn't affect the article's claims. The pilots mentioned performed better than the baseline.

Nothing I said implied that the pilots shouldn't perform better than the baseline, unless pilots are a group in society that uniquely carry less sleep debt than average.

So they recommend taking your own time and taking a nap to give your employer more productivity?

I'm all for being productive on company time, but I don't sacrifice my own time for it. And I certainly don't go so far as to hide things I do from the company, like leaving the premises to go take a nap.

I imagine there are a fair number of people out there who are "in the closet" about being nappers -- ie, they take naps in their car during lunch break, etc.

Disengaging in other ways are also very effective.

For example, if you're having trouble with a tough business/programming problem, a stroll through an art museum can be very beneficial. Personally, I like to walk along the lake (Chicago) or walk through parks and let my mind wander.

Am I the only one who cannot nap? If I take a nap in the middle of the day I wake up feeling worse than when I started.

I'm the same. These guys say 20 minutes is the best, but in that case I think we need to choose a better term than "nap", because I won't be asleep for almost any of that 20 minutes. Rest, perhaps.

I thought I was one of those people too... every time I try to nap it seems to end up with me just lying down and trying to fall asleep for 20 minutes. However, after moving in with my girlfriend she has confirmed that I do indeed manage to fall totally asleep during these attempted naps.

I did some looking around and apparently earlier sleep stages can easily be confused for being awake, especially for light sleepers. It may sound weird, but sleep perception is a funny thing. Some people nap quite easily, yet conclude they did not sleep at all because they never perceive themselves falling asleep or waking up.

You'd be surprised. I've been aiming for 20 minutes assisted by the iPod's Timer app, and I've hit 11-minute sessions that should qualify as 'naps'.

I've noticed that if it accidentally turns into a longer session, a sweet snack and a glass of water helps with the irritability a little.

You are probably napping for too long. 20 minutes is best because you are not hitting deep sleep and may catch some REM (20 mins is also not incidentally the polyphasic sleep prescription).

Power Sleep, by Cornell sleep researcher Dr. James Maas, transformed my idea of naps. I highly recommend the book. He recommends short "power naps" to quickly get in some rest. The key is to wake up before your body goes into a deep sleep cycle. For me, this means approx. 15-20 minute naps when needed. It truly is astounding how much this rejuvenates you. These naps were insanely helpful back when I was in college.

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I just wish naps were more accepted in the corporate world. When I have a startup again, I'd love to have a "nap" room for employees. Google has sleep pods: http://www.businessinsider.com/google-sleep-pods-2010-6

I often did this to and from work on the train, it's an amazing quick fix for when you're feeling drowsy.

That doesn't work for everyone. When I let myself sleep on the train, I tend to feel like a perma-zombie when I get off. I think it has something to do with the fact that I wake up at every stop, or stay halfway conscious so as not to miss my stop and therefore don't have a clear delineation between being awake and asleep (and getting off the train doesn't snap me out of it).

My dad is a TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) doctor. He told me that every hour slept before 12AM count as 2 times as effective. I tried it out for a few month going to sleep around 8/9pm. I usually find myself waking up around 1am. super alert and energized for several hours where I will do a lot productive writing and creating till 5/6am. Then I'll sleep for 1 more hour. And for the rest of the day I'm totally energized with no afternoon dip. I do think our current sleeping patterns is a bit limiting.

Here is a TED talk that touch upon the subject as well:


A friend and I have this running agreement that if we ever do a startup together, we will force all employees to take a nap after lunch.

As a college student, I understand how useful naps are. Students live in short bursts of concentration during the day (e.g. when in class), and that 30 minute nap between classes is a life saver. Heck, a lot of our conversations involve talking about naps in its intricate details. Like many great entrepreneurs say, the most important features and ideas will be brought up over and over again over time. And napping is one of those great, haunting ideas.

Not everyone can nap well. I can't sleep in the day. Even when really tired, if I try, I end up half-sleeping, waking up feeling really weird with my heart beating faster than normal. I have fallen asleep before (on a bus or something), but basically always on accident and never when I try to.

Although I guess there are probably few enough people like me that excluding us won't really harm you, it still seems over-the-top to require it. And yes, I imagine you were exaggerating, but just saying.

We obviously won't force people to take naps, but I want an atmosphere where napping (or just resting) is encouraged and not looked down upon.

And you're right, sometimes I can't fall asleep during my naps, but that's OK for me. Then I just make it into a relaxing/meditation session.

I find myself in the same position. I wish naps were more effective for me because I tend to hit a slump around 2:30 or 3PM, but I find that when I nap, I wake up feeling dehydrated, confused, and in a surprisingly bad mood.

It's probably because you wake up when you're in REM (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rapid_eye_movement_sleep). The key is to wake up before you hit REM. I wake up after 30 minutes because I usually will hit REM if I nap for longer.

So do you just always get up after 30 minutes, even if you don't fall asleep for 10 or 15? I find the idea of timing the wakeup difficult otherwise. I guess WakeMate or a similar device might help.

It took me a while, but now one of two things happen during my naps:

1) I don't ever fall asleep. So it's mostly just resting and relaxing with my eyes closed.

2) I fall asleep 10 minutes into the 30 minutes and wake exactly one minute before my alarm rings. My body somehow learned to do this, probably because the alarm sound is so painful. But I can tell that I wake up (I'm not sure who "I" is; it's more of a subconscious thing) right before I fall into a REM sleep.

Cool. I may have to give this a try.

"30 minute nap between classes" -- heh, that's not how I remember it :) I had one class right after lunch, on Special Relativity. I was interested in the subject (it was an elective), but the lecturer's voice was quite monotonous and I rarely stayed awake through the whole class...

In my case, it was Introduction to Computer Science - I slept through the entire class and still aced it, having been introduced to computer science in puberty - but it was right after lunch with the worst lecturer in the department.

They were sweet naps, though.

I have never really napped during my time here in college, but it sounds intriguing. I have always looked as time as a bit of a commodity and napping seemed like a way to lose a chunk of the day.

Lose 45 minutes (30 min nap + 15 min setup/teardown) for oh so much more energy for the rest of the day? It might not work out for you, but try it for a week!

Force? As in medication for those who don't naturally want to sleep then?

When pilots are given a nap of just 30 minutes on long haul flights, they experience a 16 percent improvement in their reaction time. Nonnapping pilots experience a 34 per cent decrease over the course of the flight.

does that sentence make sense?

1. In the middle of a long flight, compare pilots' reaction times just before the nap to just after the nap. Result: After the nap, reaction times are 16% shorter.

2. Over the entirety of a long flight, test pilot reaction times initially, then at regular intervals until the end of the flight. Result: Without a nap, final reaction times are 34% slower than initial reaction times.

Yes, it's a little bit of a factoid soup, and citations would have been nice.

I think what they're saying is that:

"Pilots who nap for 30 minutes on a long haul flight improve their reaction time by an average 16% versus their initial reaction time. Pilots who don't take a nap experience a decline in their reaction times making their reaction to stimulus 34% [?] slower by the end of the flight."

People tend to say a persons "reaction time has decreased" when they mean the time taken to react has increased, reaction time is given as if it's a score rather than a time period.

If these are both "relative to baseline" and not "relative to one another," then yes (except for spelling and grammatical mistakes).

Of course, as stated, not taking a nap apparently gives a greater improvement, so presumably they didn't actually mean "decrease" and instead meant "increase."

What would the baseline be? Not told whether to nap or not? I imagine that's the same as non-napping, because most people don't nap.

Baseline would be the test that you performed prior to the flight.

Take 100 pilots. Test them all right before flying. Instruct 50 to nap during the flight. Instruct 50 not to. Compare each individual's response time after the flight to their response time before the flight. Aggregate by group. Perform a t-test (or another appropriate test) asking whether or not the difference (after minus before) is the same in both groups, or if one group performs better.

The editor should have taken a nap.

Can anyone else here not nap? I've never in my life been able to nap, despite trying. I only ever fall asleep when I'm very very tired and then I have a long deep sleep.

Same. I can't on purpose. Occasionally on a bus or train I have, but I can't seem to induce that state intentionally.

Okay, so do any of these studies control for the number of hours the students - sorry, I mean subjects in the trial - sleep each night? Without looking at the data, I'd hazard a guess that all these studies show is that if you don't get at least 7 hours of sleep or so, you're less productive.

And I'd further suggest that this is only particularly relevant to pilots, where the burst of energy you get following a nap might be worthwhile, since you don't need sustained energy to pilot, only enough to manage the difficult landings and takeoffs.

For programmers, you need sustained concentration, so you need a solid seven hours of sleep per night (and from what I've read, especially for those under 25, 9 hours is a much better figure, and it will significantly improve your capacity to learn.)

"Napping won't begin to take hold in companies until leaders recognize that it's not the number of hours people work that determines the value they create, but rather the energy they're capable of bringing to whatever hours they work."

This stood out to me as the most important statement in the article. The problem is that a large chunk our society is based upon measurable quantities, whether they make sense or not (see: 40 hour work weeks, GPA, etc). Unfortunately, human potential energy is not quantifiable (yet).

>> I wrote at home, in the mornings, in three separate, highly focused 90 minute sessions. By the time I finished the last one, I was usually exhausted — physically, mentally and emotionally. I ate lunch and then took a 20 to 30 minute nap on a Barcalounger chair, which I bought just for that purpose.

>> When I awoke, I felt incredibly rejuvenated. Where I might otherwise have dragged myself through the afternoon, I was able to focus effectively on work other than writing until 7 pm or so, without feeling fatigued.

I actually work on a very similar system except it is 2 3x45 minute sessions instead of 3 90-minute sessions. Like the author though, I find I can't do anymore programming after 4.5 hours of productive work but after taking a nap , I have lots of energy to do other activities that interest me.

I suppose it would get interesting as far as scheduled hours are concerned. Does the 30 min nap have to occur in your lunch our? Is there an extended 30 min attached to the 1 hour lunch? Would that mean that companies would work 30 min less a day or would the work day have to be 30 min longer? Would companies realize that the efficiency improvement would offset a need to have a longer day since people are doing more in 7 and 1/2 hours as opposed to the non-nap 8 hour?

If a company thinks it's meaningful to measure the number of hours you're awake at your desk, naps won't happen anyway.

The idea is that you "waste" 30 minutes, but then get that back in the form of heightened productivity for the last 3 or 4 hours of work.

Here's a very simple algorithm to find your optimal napping time.

1. Buy a device from myzeo.com

2. Go to sleep at night, and review the times that you entered deep sleep

3. Take a nap during the day wearing the zeo, then figure out the time you enter deep sleep. That might be N minutes since you turned the device on.

4. Then, nap for a little less than N minutes.

If you determine that you start going into deep sleep at 30 minutes in #3, then you should set your alarm for 26-28 minutes. You'll feel refreshed.

Unfortunately for me, if I fall asleep in the middle of the day, I am going to sleep for 2-3 hours, sometimes longer. Sleeping for less than that is pointless; it can sometimes take me at least 15-20 minutes to get to sleep. And, I'm not sleep-deprived; I get plenty of rest these days, having already burned my body out on all-nighters coding in elementary, middle and high school. I can't do it anymore.

The refreshing effect even from a very short period of sleep (think nodding off at a lecture) can be surprisingly strong. Try going for a nap and setting an alarm clock to go off after 20 minutes, without any expectation to necessarily fall asleep in the time. I often find that 20 minute daytime naps help a lot even if it seems to take more than 10 minutes for me to start nodding off.

In psychology class we studied various effects on learning (eg: environment, state of mind, etc). One thing that I remember learning was that sleep caused the brain to retain information better, so they recommended napping after studying and other similar things. If you're in a job where you're learning new things often, a nap could also help you learn more quickly and retain the lessons long-term.

Napping is the crucial key for me while handling tough programming problems. Before taking a nap, I try to understand the boundaries and the parameters of the problem and try to visualize the solution I want to arrive. Then I take a nap (20 - 30 mins). When I wake up 90% of the time I have the solution in my head.

I think any startup which encourages its employees to take a nap is at great advantage.

I'd like to attest to the power of naps myself. There were several times when I was assigned an application that had a function with extremely broken code and trying to fix it in frustration. After a meal and a nap, an elegant solution present itself to me almost always, which requires less coding and easier to implement.

I agree with this article, but this seems like a pipe dream in the current corporate environment. In my experience, most corporations demand long periods of work with very few breaks, let alone 60 to 90 minute napping periods.

Let's hope studies like this can spark a discussion within mainstream corporate culture.

I don't think this corporate culture is "mainstream" in the programming world. I mean, yes, there are some backwards workplaces where they have cameras to make sure you are working Really Hard 24/7 (or 8/5, anyway), but this is not the norm. The norm is being able to disappear for hours without anyone even noticing.

Outside of creative fields like programming, I imagine it's a little bit more skewed towards "working hard", but that mostly amounts to showing up to meetings. If you don't have a meeting scheduled, nobody will notice.

(Personal experience: my work-from-home job with a company of 5 was much stricter than my work-in-the-office job at the 5th biggest company in the US. It's not "corporate culture", it's neurotic manager culture.)

I work at an international Chinese company and what surprised me first was that almost all of our Chinese engineers take nap after lunch (even the ones who come for temporary business trip) I have an impression that taking naps is heavily practiced in Chinese corporate culture...

When I worked in Taiwan the office lights were normally turned off for 20-30 minutes after lunch while colleagues napped. I personally was seldom able to manage a nap, however.

Anyone know if taking these short naps during the day affect one's ability to fall asleep at night?

Ever since I read "Brain Rules" by John Medina (which advocates taking an afternoon nap) about a year ago I've been wanting to 'implement' it, but I have failed to do so yet. 3PM is just not a convenient time for a nap at all.

Is there anyone that does take naps in the afternoon?

It's easier for students. When I'm on that schedule, I wake up around 7 a.m. (naturally), nap around 4:30 or 5 p.m., and go to bed around 1 a.m. It's maintainable when I don't have regular late-afternoon meetings, and very helpful during "death march"-type projects because it feels like having two days in one.

As a side effect, dinner shifts later in the day. This is noticeable in places where siestas are common, like Spain -- early breakfast, nothing happening in the mid-afternoon, and then everyone emerges for dinner and night life around 8-10 p.m.

I was raised on essentially this. My (Russian) family and I all (when possible) take ~1 hour nap around afternoon and sleep (all incredibly lightly) for ~3-5 hours at night. If I do not take this nap I feels very tired for the ~2.5 hour window ~5-7 hours after I wake from my ~3-5 hour sleep, and the following night I will require 7-10 hours of "sleep" to feel "fully rested". During these 8-10 hours I will not sleep soundly and spend ~1-3 hours of that time lying in bed unable to sleep but fully weary and exhausted.

Personally I prefer this polyphasic sleep, because I have more functionally active waking hours and I experience very vivid and memorable dreams which, though rarely "pleasant," are always incredibly moving and feel critically important to me

I do not know if this is universal or if it is genetically unique to my lineage, as again, I've noticed many in my family are the same way as me in this regard. I assume others must then be this way as well, though they may not have been raised thinking this behavior is normal or desirable.

The issue comes with scheduling, and this is not always possible. Luckily most of my family is well-off enough to demand whatever they so wish in their vocation. I think most startup founders might be this way also.

Totally agree. This post by daniel tanner http://danieltenner.com/posts/0017-how-to-nap.html should be a practical complement to this.

Marginal result - taking an hour out of an 8-hour day is 12.5% drop right there. Hard to make that up in the remaining time, with a small percentage increase in productivity.

Don't get me wrong - I'd love an excuse for a nap! But its guaranteed to burn the hours involved, for a marginal increase in productivity.

Heaven forbid people be more productive when they could be clocking exactly eight hours like good little automatons.

Read the article again - suggesting its those 8-hour companies that should institute naps.

Reading this has made me sleepy!

I'm interested in this concept of mid-day rejuvenation. However, which works better, naps or meditation? Or does each serve its own purpose?

Asking your employees to waste time in commuting, and then promoting a nap "to improve productivity"? Looks shortsighted to me.

I'm confused how this was submitted because I submitted the exact same article five days ago: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1714358

Regardless, I think space would be the biggest issue. I don't think most companies could afford to have sleeping pods like Google.

really? I mean, maybe not one for every person, but eh, one for ever five or ten should be quite doable (and I bet you don't have that many simultaneous naps.) I mean, even the prgmr.com office has a cot, and you don't get much more poor than us.

20 to 30 minutes doesn't seem sufficient to make a big difference, especially if you're not able to drop right off. And exactly where is your typical office worker supposed to take this nap?

Power naps are great... and have been for eons. Yet Harvard has just figured it out? LOL. Masters of the obvious.

Thank you but no !!

Let me get this straight : you want to force your views and fads upon my lifestyle and make it a formal policy, all the while increasing my working hours because now I have to take a nap during working hours and I still have to put in my 8 hours? And I get no compensation for the increased hours. No Thanks !!1

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