Sleep Disorders

26 February 2007

Yes to sleeping on the job

Sleeping on the job goes against the grain of US capitalism, but even US businesses are now flirting with worktime power naps like those taken by more laid-back colleagues abroad.

Sleeping on the job goes against the grain of American capitalism, but even US businesses are now flirting with worktime "power naps" like those taken by more laid-back colleagues abroad.

Not surprisingly, other businesses see the power nap as a money-making opportunity, to sell chairs, cocoons, pods and other devices.

Take Yarde Metals, a firm specializing in metal sales and distribution, whose 640 employees work round-the-clock, many running heavy equipment like fork lifts.

Typical in such companies is a break room with vending machine snacks and coffee. But Yarde has gone one step further - equipping its headquarters in the northeastern US state of Connecticut with a "serenity suite."

Full stress management
"It's full stress management," said spokeswoman Susan Kozikowski. "It takes the nap to the next level."

The room's sky-blue walls and dusky-coloured ceiling and carpets leave nappers feeling like they're floating when they recline in a chaise longue in so-called "zero-gravity" position. Soft sounds from speakers and aromatherapy relaxants enhance the mood.

"Twenty minutes on this Z-lounge is equivalent to two hours of traditional meditation and four hours of sleep," Kozikowski said.

The company feels this is important for night workers: their health, safety and even productivity.

"We run three shifts, people of different ages, some people working more than one job, they have children. For various reasons, for health reasons, they are tired and they need a break," she said.

Good for the heart
A long-term study of Greek men and women published this month in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggested that 30-minute mid-day naps can dramatically reduce heart disease.

"The study makes sense," said Washington University psychiatry professor Peter Vitaliano.

"There is a huge difference in how napping is accepted in Mediterranean countries - like Greece, Italy and Spain – versus the cut-throat, boiler-room pressure to be competitive in the United States," said the Seattle professor.

"Here, if a person naps, people say, 'You lazy slob.' There they say, 'Did you have a good nap?"

Must not be a taboo
Last month, France - always straddling the line between Mediterranean repose and Northern activity - joined the debate. "Why not a nap at work: it must not be a taboo subject," challenged Health Minister Xavier Bertrand, calling for further studies and pledging to back naps if they proved beneficial.

He said one in three people in France, where 68 million boxes of sleeping pills are consumed each year, said they slept poorly, and 56 percent of these felt it lessened their performance at work.

In Asia, napping never went out of style in some countries like China, where foreigners are still surprised to see workers nodding off at their desks for a quick "wu xiu" or afternoon snooze. Even hard-working Japan has revisited the question, with nap salons attracting the lunchtime crowd in Tokyo.

The first US businesses to adopt work-time siestas were transportation firms, airlines and railroads. Some hospitals, universities and publicity agencies have also set aside a nap room.

Concept not understood
"Here in the US it's more work-oriented and they don't really grasp the concept of a good siesta yet as in Europe and Latin countries," said Iarl Grant, executive assistant of Strawberryfrog, a New York advertising agency founded in the Netherlands. Grant said companies give employees 10-minute cigarette breaks but have no place for a 10-minute nap.

Strawberryfrog has been using a sleep pod for a year, with headphones.

"Everyone uses it," he said. "It's a really valuable tool. It's become a natural part of the day."

This specially designed "pod" was created by a firm called MetroNaps specifically for workplaces.

"It blocks out enough light and enough sound to get rest even in a busy workplace," said MetroNaps co-founder Arshad Chowdhury.

"You can nap in a dignified position with some privacy," he said. "It's not flat, so people who take a nap are not lying in a foetal position. Nobody wants to be seen in a foetal position at work," said Chowdhury.

"You don't mess up your coat, your hair, you can get right back to work."

"You won't oversleep," he said, "vibration and a light wake you up."

Chowdhury rents the chairs for 14 dollars (11 euros) for half an hour in New York City's Empire State Building.

Some rules on pod use apply, depending on the employer. "Of course all have one rule in common, which is only one napper per pod." – (Sapa-AFP)

Read more:
Sleep Centre
Siestas protect the heart

February 2007


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Dr Alison Bentley is a general practitioner who has consulted in sleep medicine and sleep disorders, in both adults and children of all ages, for almost 30 years. She also researches and publishes on a number of sleep-related topics both in formal research journals and lay publications including as editor of Sleep Matters, an educational newsletter on sleep disorders for doctors.

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