You snooze, you win at today's workplace

We've all been there.

It's early afternoon. You've just eaten a big lunch and you're sitting at your desk plowing through paperwork.

Suddenly, you're fighting to keep your eyes open. The words on your budget report zoom in and out of focus, and your head begins to bob every which way.

A nap sure sounds good right about now - so does a LazyBoy leather recliner.

Well, a growing number of companies are waking up to the idea of sleeping on the job.

No it's not a dream.

With Americans increasingly sleeping less and clocking longer hours at the office, some employers are warming up to the idea that a little mid-day shut-eye helps boost productivity, creativity, and safety.

Kansas City-based architectural firm Gould Evans Goodman Associates pitched three "spent tents" in a corner of its office - each outfitted with sleeping bag, foam pad, Walkman, eye shades, and, yes, alarm clock.

Deloitte Consulting's Pittsburgh location, at workers' request, put in a nap room when it renovated its office a year and a half ago.

And Lowney & Associates, an engineering consultancy in Mountain View, Calif., touts a "quiet room," where employees can grab a pillow and blanket and stretch out on the couch.

"As workplaces get more competitive around employees and as the work force ages, people will see napping as a legitimate benefit," says William Anthony, a Boston University professor who has just completed a book called "The Art of Napping at Work."

It's no secret that Americans are cutting fewer zzzs.

By some estimates, the average American collects an annual "sleep debt" of 500 hours - subtracting from an assumed norm of eight hours a night.

Two in three Americans get less than eight hours of sleep a night during the workweek, according to a study this year by the National Sleep Foundation in Washington. Forty percent say they're so tired that it interferes with their daily activities.

All that drowsiness costs big bucks - $18 billion annually in lost productivity, the foundation estimates.

"We have a simple message: People should be allowed to nap at their breaks," says Professor Anthony, who rarely misses a nap. "The rationale is a productivity one - workers are sleepy, and when they're sleepy on the job they're not productive."

Lynn Hoffman, an urban planner at Gould Evans Goodman Associates, occasionally climbs into a "spent tent" for a 20-minute power nap during lunch. "It helps you get through the rest of the day," says Ms. Hoffman, who tunes the Walkman to an easy-listening station to drown out office noise.

No one seems to camp out, either.

"There isn't anyone who is always in there," she says. "People just occasionally use them when they think it's necessary."

David Birch, chief executive officer of Cognetics Inc., an economic research firm in Cambridge, Mass., never misses a midday workout followed by a 15-minute nap - sometimes on the company lawn.

"Creativity is important in what we do," says Mr. Birch, who clocks 12-hour days. "If I don't nap, I burn out by 1 or 2 o'clock. Napping doubles the length of my day from a creative point of view."

No doubt, at most companies napping on the job is anything but welcome. In fact, getting caught with your eyes closed can sometimes equal a pink slip.

Still, that doesn't deter some workers from creatively sneaking in a little rest.

"They're napping in their cars, in the bathroom, or in vacant rooms," says Anthony, who has received hundreds of responses to his online survey on the topic (www.napping.com). "Others are trying to hide their naps in their cubicles, putting the phone to their ear, or pretending to write or read something."

His motto: "It's time for nappers to lie down and be counted."

Many famous Americans have relished a good nap, Anthony notes: Former Presidents Coolidge, Kennedy, Johnson, and Reagan were "confirmed nappers." Thomas Edison was known to nod off at his workbench between inventions.

Winston Churchill claimed a midafternoon rest gave him "two days in one."

Some companies are encouraging sleep at work more for safety than creativity. The Metropolitan Transit Authority, which runs the New York subway system and two suburban railroads, is considering power naps for its train operators and bus drivers.

Meanwhile, some worry that corporate naptime, like other perks, is a way to keep people at the office longer. "Those kinds of supports are helpful, but they're designed to help people function at work longer," says Barney Olmsted, co-director of San Francisco-based New Ways to Work.

Still, if you build it, they come and nap.

That's Craig Yarde's theory. The owner of Yarde Metals in Bristol, Conn., is building a new headquarters featuring eight nap rooms, near a soothing waterfall, for 220 workers. The goal, he says, isn't to "get 20 more widgets out the door. We try to make a better environment to work. We don't like turnover."

Who knows, in a few years, napping could be just like casual day - only with a blanket.

Sweet dreams.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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