I think most people have experienced the dip in energy that happens around 2 or 3 pm. Usually people fight off the urge to nod off at their desk by drinking multiple cups of coffee or eating sugary candy. While this tactic usually works in the moment it is usually followed by an even bigger dip in energy levels later.
Keeping people up, awake, and working is one reason many companies provide unlimited amounts of coffee, cream, and sugar to its employees, but is corporate America missing something? Could it be that allowing employees to take naps instead would actually increase their productivity, health, and happiness?
How Bad is Lack of Sleep?
According to the Harvard Sleep Study, most adults need about 7.5 to 8 hours of sleep each night to function at their best, however, most people get much less than this. As a society we tend to burn the candle at both ends and this is causing us some major consequences.
Mentally, lack of sleep can affect judgment, mood, memory, and increases your risk of accidents and injuries (1). Chronic sleep deprivation (not getting adequate sleep for more than a day or two) can lead to health problems like obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even early mortality (1).
And lack of sleep in the workplace in particular causes reduced efficiency and productivity and an increase in errors and accidents.
Can Naps Help?
One way to combat the declines associated with lack of sleep is to take a nap. According to scientists at the Harvard Medical School, midday is the best time to incorporate a nap because this is when our bodies have a natural dip in energy levels (circadian rhythms). This explains why you feel that major dip in energy around the same time every day.
This is also why more traffic accidents occur during the midday hours than any other time of the day simply because most of us have a dip in our ability to focus and function properly (2).
NASA actually did a study showing that a 26 minute nap increased a pilot’s cognitive performance by more than 34%; furthermore, these improvements lasted for more than 6 hours. Imagine the effect a nap could have on your productivity and energy levels. There isn’t anything that I know of that can improve your performance that drastically in only 26 minutes, not even coffee!
I started implementing naps into my life (as needed) about 3 years ago. They are amazing for increasing my energy and focus. As a writer and researcher, my job is pretty taxing on my brain. I have found that often when I get stumped or have writers block all I need is a 25-30 minute nap and all the answers come flooding in as soon as I wake up!
I used to drink coffee during my afternoon slump and while it did help keep me from passing out at my desk it didn’t give me the mental clarity and focus that naps do. I have since cut back to one cup of coffee per day and my energy levels have been much better. Click here to read about the other changes I made to dramatically increase my energy levels.
How Long is Too Long?
There are two different types of naps, long and short. Short naps should last around 25-30 minutes. This amount of time allows you to get rest and rejuvenation without entering deep sleep. This is important because if you enter deep sleep you will wake up feeling more tired than you were before you fell asleep because deep sleep is very difficult to wake up from.
If you have more time on your hands you can take a 90 minute nap. 90 minutes gives your body enough time to go into and back out of deep sleep so you will wake up refreshed.
If you don’t have 25 minutes to spare, a five or 10-minute “power nap” can still be beneficial. A 2002 study found that 10 minute naps result in greater alertness after a night of lack of sleep (3).
Sleeping on the Job
Innovative companies like Google, Procter & Gamble and The Huffington Post have created “nap rooms” where employees can rejuvenate themselves with a quick nap. I found an article written by the Today Show all about nap rooms and how they increase productivity. Click here to read the article.
My Boss Won’t Let Me Take a Nap. What Can I Do?
If you are like most people, your boss doesn’t exactly look at afternoon naps as a positive thing. I totally get it, I used to work in corporate America too. The best thing you can do when your energy is lagging is get up and move. Pace while you are on calls, walk to the restroom, visit a coworker’s desk instead of sending an email.
Movement is one of the most powerful energy boosters we have. This tactic works even better if you can go outside and get some sun. Sunlight is also an effective energy enhancer so when it is paired with movement it can really help you get over your afternoon slump.
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Epstein, L. (2008). Improving Sleep. A guide to a good night’s rest. A special report from Harvard Medical School.
Medina, J., (2009). Brain Rules (1st Edition). Seattle, WA: Pear Press
Tietzel, A. J., & Lack, L. C. (2002). The recuperative value of brief and ultra‐brief naps on alertness and cognitive performance. Journal of sleep research, 11(3), 213-218.