I am way overdue to confess a dirty little secret about my career: I have long and often committed an unspeakable act. I slept at work. Literally. As in the siesta.
Stopwatch napping was once considered strictly taboo, a stigma that was hard to live with. Nowhere was this attitude more deeply rooted than in the United States, where we pride ourselves on sleeping less than people in other countries, if only to increase our national GDP.
Indeed, chronobiologist Dr. Charles Czeisler coined the term “sleep machismo” in a 2006 article in the harvard business review to reflect how corporate warriors and entrepreneurs routinely resist getting enough sleep in the belief that it’s just a waste of time.
I fell prey to that enthusiastic perception of nappers as slackers in the 1970s, much to my shame today. I regularly spotted an otherwise valued colleague three desks down the hall, dozing slumped at his desk and snoring. I disapproved of this practice as obvious proof of laziness.
But no sooner had I judged my colleague so harshly than I had picked up the exact same habit. Freelancing from home as a 30-something in the 1980s gave me the luxury of going out almost every day with impunity.
Later, sharing an office in midtown Manhattan with a colleague, I also tracked my circadian rhythms. I would resort to pausing on a park bench near City Hall. I then took a job in a suburban office park that required a 50 mile drive. My own office could have served as respite, except my boss insisted on an open-door policy that would have exposed my nap to my office colleagues. So every once in a while at lunchtime I would slip into my car in the nearby garage and doze off in my reclining front seat.
Eventually, I took a leadership position at a global company that allowed me to lock my office door at will. There, I treated myself to naps on the sly without anyone being the wiser, let alone suspicious of my long-term commitment to the bottom line. No loss of earnings resulted. Despite these secret retreats, I eventually received promotions, raises, and even awards.
Other Americans are obviously dozing with me, by the way. According to a investigation According to the Better Sleep Council, 22% of American employees — and 31% of those who work remotely — report taking naps during office hours. And remote workers are twice as likely to nap in the middle of the workday than their counterparts in the office.
No wonder this is so. The traumas of the pandemic have taken their toll, research shows, undermining our sleep quality at night – sometimes leading to nightmares and insomnia – and increasing our need to close our eyes during the day. Plus, with more and more Americans working from home, access to beds and sofas is now easy.
I have been working remotely for 13 years. And my reason for napping in the comfort and privacy of my own home remains highly strategic: I do it to perform better. I am always up at dawn, doing my most demanding work in the morning. After lunch, I willingly surrender to the tyranny of sleepiness and turn off the lights for about half an hour.
Invariably, I wake up with a second wind, rested enough to be more efficient and productive than if I had gone without a nap. Every day almost feels like two days. Plus, if the nap ritual was good enough for geniuses like Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, and Thomas Edison, it’s good enough for me.
The science supporting the physical and psychological benefits of a mid-afternoon nap is now well established. Your heartbeat and breathing slow down, your muscles relax. You are in effect pressing a reset button, giving your day a fresh start and preventing burnout.
But naps can do more than improve your physique health. Research suggests they can also sharpen your concentration, your perceptions, your mood, memory and creativity. In that sense, naps can be good for business, reducing absenteeism, workplace errors, and healthcare costs.
As a result, corporate attitudes have slowly changed direction. No one has named a nap leader yet. Nor do any executives resort to out-of-office messages that admit they’re currently napping. But laying off in certain neighborhoods is an increasingly approved business model, practically a matter of company policy. Nike, Proctor & Gamble, Facebook, Ben and Jerry’s and Zappos have built and designated nap rooms. Google offices have installed veritable sleep pods, with high-tech beds and built-in sound systems.
As luck would have it, I recently moved to Italy, where a midday siesta – sometimes called a gun– is the norm. Every afternoon, offices, markets and restaurants close for two or three hours. So now I’m officially off the hook. I take an Italian siesta, giving in to biology, freed from guilt and finally in tune with the national culture.
Let’s face it: Siesta at Work is overdue for a rebrand. The business case for crashing on our couch before the next Zoom call to perform better is unequivocal. Bosses around the world should treat this reality as nothing less than a long overdue wake-up call.