Sleeping On The Job

Katie Young
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Wednesday - January 14, 2009

Having trouble staying awake through the work-day? Can’t make it without a couple cups of coffee and a Pepsi? Wish you could run home a take a nap?

While “sleeping on the job” is, of course, frowned upon, a new study suggests that an afternoon nap may actually improve a person’s physical and mental performance at the office more than a few shots of caffeine.

According to an article in The New York Times, scientists conducted a small study involving 61 people who were trained in the morning in motor, perceptual and verbal tasks. Then, the scientists divided the subjects randomly into three groups. The first group took a nap from 1 to 3 p.m. At 3 p.m. the second group took a 200-milligram caffeine pill, and the third group took a placebo. The subjects then repeated the tasks they had been taught earlier and were scored by researchers.

The article said the study found those who had caffeine had worse motor skills than those who napped or had a placebo. In the perceptual task, those who napped did significantly better than either the caffeine or placebo group. On the verbal test, those who napped were best by a wide margin and the caffeine consumers did no better than those given a placebo.


The lead author of the study, which appeared in the journal Behavioral Brain Research, said that while people think they are smarter on caffeine, his research makes a strong case for taking a nap instead of having a cup of coffee.

For many in Europe, the practice of an afternoon nap, or siesta, was a tradition. The practice was most common in Spain and in other countries where the weather is especially warm.

According to one online site, the original concept of siesta was a midday break intended to allow people to spend time with their friends and family.

According to this same site, some offices in Japan have special rooms known as napping rooms for their workers to take a nap during lunch break or after overtime work.

Of course, the practice of siesta meant that the workday was extended as well, typically pushing quitting time back to 8 p.m. or later.

In 2006, Spain’s government employees altered the siesta-style workday, eliminating the two- or three-hour lunch, cutting it down to just one hour. The change was intended to align the Spanish work schedule with the rest of Europe, and to reduce the time that employees, especially working parents, had to spend away from home.

For many who have a long commute, however, the practicality of driving home at lunch for nap is out of the question. Plus, why waste all that gas?

One European study even found that Spaniards had decreased productivity in the workplace, getting an average of 40 minutes less sleep per night than the average European.

So while this tradition of Spain is slowly disappearing, new evidence in the United States is emerging that suggests there are still many benefits to the afternoon nap for both employers and employees. It seems Americans are addicted to caffeine like no other, but maybe consumption of caffeinated beverages isn’t the way to go if you want to have a sharp mind on the job.

It reminds me of an episode of Seinfeld, where George Costanza built a napping area in his office under his desk, complete with hidden shelves that housed an alarm clock, cup holder and pillow. It was a pretty good deal for him until his boss heard the ticking alarm clock and thought it was a bomb.

But maybe this is an idea worth looking into for some organizations whose employees seem to suffer from the afternoon sluggishness that often accompanies a big plate of chicken katsu and a humid walk back to the office.

I, for one, would be a lot perkier if I were allowed to take even a 20-minute siesta after lunch.

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