Many modern employers have embraced a variety of workplace amenities including open office plans, daily yoga classes, game rooms and ball pits designed to improve productivity by giving workers the chance to take a break and enjoy a quick diversion. While the jury’s still out on the benefits of the company ping pong table, there is one activity that costs nothing, is accessible to every employee and has been scientifically proven to boost performance. That activity is napping.

Why We Need Naps

Experts agree that the previous night’s sleep is the best indicator of work performance during the day. Today, American adults sleep less and less, partially due to an increase in off-hour work duties and the proliferation of sleep-obstructing blue-green light from smartphones and laptops. Regardless of how well rested an employee is, almost everyone suffers from an early afternoon slump marked by sleepiness, difficulty concentrating and reduced productivity. This phenomenon isn’t actually related to food intake (although it can be made worse by a carbohydrate-heavy lunch), it’s an inescapable biological consequence of our natural circadian rhythm. Even night-shift workers who have otherwise acclimated to their schedule have to deal with a “post-lunch” performance and awareness lag.

The Benefits of Napping at Work

Research reveals that even short naps, between 15 to 20 minutes, can improve job performance through a variety of means for up to 3 hours after waking. Learning, memory, reaction times, communication and motor skills are all significantly boosted by a short midday nap. The positive effects of an extended snooze, from 30 to 60 minutes, are even greater and persist over a longer period of time, up to 6 hours after the nap, due to time spent in deeper phases of non-REM sleep. Longer nappers do, however, have to overcome a short period of “sleep inertia” that reduces performance immediately after waking up. For the especially busy professional, even very short naps, of 7-10 minutes, can substantially increase alertness.

Regardless of nap length, these broad improvements in cognitive function translate into measurable productivity gains over the course of the workday. In fact, napping has been shown to directly increase the performance of physicians, nurses, pilots, air traffic controllers and professional drivers, regardless of work schedule. But that’s not all. The benefits of napping extend well beyond cognitive ability and pay dividends in reducing the risk and frequency of illness, as well as driving down cortisol levels and inflammation. By taking a siesta at least 3 times a week workers have been shown to reduce their risk of death from coronary disease by 50%. Naps work to reduce a worker’s perception of fatigue, boost positive thinking and happy feelings. For these reasons and more, employers that embrace workplace napping stand to see gains in productivity and may benefit from a happier, healthier workforce that’s less likely to take sick days and rack up expensive medical bills.

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