British push for catnaps at work

Winston Churchill once said that a good afternoon snooze makes two days out of one. His modern-day countrymen don't seem so sure.

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Zzzzzz.... Mmm? Sorry, I must have nodded off. Not a bad thing, actually - in fact I shouldn't be apologizing at all. You see, it's "National Nap at Work Week" here, a good excuse to celebrate one of the most delicious antidotes to an overpacked schedule: the power nap.

JFK and Reagan were apparently big catnappers. So, too, Edison and Einstein, Brahms and da Vinci.

Napoleon dozed on the battlefield, while Winston Churchill napped throughout World War II, enthusing that a good afternoon snooze created two days out of one.

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So we're in illustrious company. Dozing is definitely not just for pensioners and babies.

In fact, sleep experts seem to believe that more and more of us should try to power down for a few minutes at work every day. They point to a large body of research suggesting that the catnap can improve productivity and boost morale in a bleary-eyed society.

Surveys consistently indicate that people feel sleep deprived. A poll this week for Britain's GMTV found two-thirds of people said they had trouble sleeping, and 4 in 5 said they do not feel refreshed after a night's sleep. Only 19 percent said they got the recommended eight hours per night.

On average, people sleep for 90 minutes less each night than their forebears did a century ago, according to Stanford University research. Blame multichannel TV, shiftwork, international travel, caffeine, or the always-on working culture. Or just restless children.

"I have a real down period in the afternoon - by 2 or 3 I'm flagging," says Claire Walker, a working mom who's normally up before dawn and often still working late at night.

She set up a quiet room at her South London consultancy, Firefly, with dim lighting, a big leather chair like the recliners used by dentists, and a set of headphones. People duck in at different times of the day, but not for long, she says. "A quick blast is a way to reenergize for the rest of day."

Sleep experts say deep, lengthy slumber in the middle of the day can prove counterproductive and create an effect akin to jet lag.

Salvador Dali apparently guarded against this by napping with a spoon in his hand, held above a metal bowl. As he descended deeper into the surreal world of REM slumber, the spoon would clatter into the bowl, waking him up.

"You don't go into a deep sleep, but just drift off," explains Jessica Alexander of the Sleep Council, a lobby group. "It helps recharge and can improve productivity."

Some are beginning to catch on. Long-haul British Airways pilots are encouraged to rest in the air to make them more alert on landing. Doctors are calling for nap rooms to help them through night shifts. Britain's round-the-world yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur seems to survive on napping alone while at sea.

And two London business men recently set up Zzed Sheds, a private club where city workers can take naps in sleep pods similar to those set up at New York City's MetroNaps three years ago.

"We know from personal experience that people who work in the city work very long hours and are exhausted a lot of the time," says Nigel Mitchell, a founder of the company that is pioneering the Zzed Sheds, which he says are used mainly from late morning through the afternoon. "If you get to your desk at 6 in morning, by 11 o'clock you are ready to shut your eyes for half an hour."

The idea has caught on in at least a few European cities. MetroNaps pods debuted at Copenhagen airport last year, and Barcelona businessman Federico Busquets is doing brisk business in Spain with his napping-parlor franchise.

Yet it's one thing to nap in a private club with sleep pods, and quite another to doze at work.

Few British employers appear to be entering into the spirit of National Nap at Work Week. Perhaps this is not surprising in a country with the longest working hours in Europe, where the average lunch break is now just 19 minutesand the "siesta" is still something for Continental Europeans - though even among that set, the tradition of long afternoon breaks is fading.

An impromptu (and rather unscientific) Monitor survey of employees at a dozen British companies, small and large, found only one that had a "chill-out room" for power napping. "It's really not the done thing," says Anna Harrison, an editor at a London publishing house.

Professor Jim Horne, director of the Sleep Research Centre at Loughborough University, says there's a good reason for such suspicious attitudes. Workplace napping is easily open to abuse, particularly for people tempted by the many nocturnal distractions outside office life.

"I'm not in favor of napping if you've had a night out for social reasons," he says. "Why should employers provide beds for people who didn't get enough sleep because they've been watching videos or out clubbing?"

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