Power Napping and Performance

February 6, 2011 by Ken Nowack

“I usually take a two hour nap between one and four”

Yogi Berra

A few weeks ago, I spent a week working with my business partners in the UK basically trying to adjust to jet lag, my business meetings, and my busy schedule!  I asked my colleague and partner from Spain (gracias Baldiri Pons) if anything had changed about the work patterns and afternoon break that they have in that country.

Well, I am happy to report that at least the siesta still seems alive and well and has very little to do with the current and staggering unemployment rate of about 20.3 percent in 2011. Now I personally don’t tend to take naps very frequently but I do head into NREM pretty quickly when I am sitting on things that move (e.g., I’ve been accused of napping during the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland).

While napping isn’t a widespread occurrence at U.S. workplaces, one-third of respondents in the National Sleep Foundation’s (NSF) Sleep in America poll said they would nap at work if it was allowed. NSF’s  poll found that more than one-third of America’s adults take two or more naps a week, and these last an average of 50 minutes.

My colleague and friend, Dr. Mark Rosekind, co-founder and president of Alertness Solutions in Cupertino and now an esteemed member of the National Safety and Transportation Board (NTSB) has shared some interesting research of his own about how our biological clocks play a role in alertness, productivity and peak performance.

He has shared with me that many people don’t realize is that the body’s clock is set with two distinct dips in alertness within a 24-hour period: one at about 2:00 am and another at about 2:00 pm, corresponding to the midday dip. Fighting off the urge to sleep during these times is tough– especially for someone already suffering from sleep deprivation.

While the Director of the Fatigue and Countermeasures Group at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Mark conducted an experiment in which he instructed NASA pilots to take short naps when possible during long haul flight operations. Mark found that compared to long haul pilots who did not nap, the napping pilots had a 34% boost in performance and a 54% boost in alertness that lasted for 2-3 hrs.

A prominent Spanish think-tank, the Business Circle, said in a report  that Spanish workers in general put in a lot of hours — just below counterparts in Japan and more than people in Canada and Britain according to Proudfoot Consulting, which is part of London-based Management Consulting Group PLC.

Elsewhere across Europe, most government workers are done with work and out of the office by 5 p.m. or 6 p.m., with lunch breaks averaging between 30 minutes and an hour. But under a law that went into effect in 2006, Spanish government ministries will close by 6 p.m. as part of a package of measures designed to help Spaniards balance jobs and families.

The national government has launched a campaign to break the traditional midday meal and nap. The government enacted regulations requiring that all federal agencies enforce a 45-minute lunch break, beginning about 12:30 p.m., and then send their workers home by 6 p.m. The hope is that the private sector will follow suit.

One study of 23,681 individuals who were free from coronary heart disease, stroke or cancer was followed for 6.32 years.   After analyzing the frequency and duration of daily naps the subjects who reported occasional napping had 12% lower coronary deaths, whereas those systematically napping at 37% lower mortality1.

Midday napping (siesta) is common in populations with lower coronary mortality but this is one of the first studies to show a strong relationship with this behavior and long term health (after controlling for physical activity, diet and other factors). Maybe we should do a better job of just listening to our body after all.

So, don’t blame me then when you wind up dreaming about this blog tonight…..zzzzzzzzzzzend….Be well….
[tags]insomnia, sleep, fatigue, depression, sleep disorders, fatigue countermeasures, REM, NREM, circadian rhythms, stress, health, job burnout, kenneth nowack, ken nowack, nowack[/tags]

  1. Naska, A. et al. (2007). Siesta in healthy adults and coronary mortality in the general population. Archives of Internal Medicine, 167, 296-301 []

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist (PSY13758) and President & Chief Research Officer/Co-Founder of Envisia Learning, is a member of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations. Ken also serves as the Associate Editor of Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. His recent book Clueless: Coaching People Who Just Don’t Get It is available for free for a limited time by signing up for free blog updates (Learn more at our website)

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