America, It's Time for Your Nap

A workday snooze can relieve sleep deprivation and boost your productivity.

From the WebMD Archives

It's no secret: Americans are chronically sleep deprived. So we're catching up where we can, when we can.

We slip into storage rooms. We sneak to the car. Some lock the bathroom stall just for some shut-eye. And who among us hasn't perfected the computer snooze?

"We're moving toward a 24/7 culture ... life isn't as easy as it used to be," says William A. Anthony, PhD, author of the book The Art of Napping at Work.

By day, Anthony is a clinical psychologist and director of Boston University's Center for Psychological Rehabilitation. He is also a self-described napping ethnographer -- "napographer," as he puts it.

He has uncovered a community of nappers on the Internet. He has surveyed 1,000 randomly chosen Americans, finding that 70% sleep on the job.

People don't nap to recover from last night's party, Anthony says. They nap to make up for early-morning commutes, long work hours, and too many responsibilities at home. After a little nap, they feel more alert and do a better job, they tell him.

Anthony talks to employers about instituting napping policies, and he's serious about it. He's got some well-known experts on his side.

In fact, some American companies are changing their personnel rules to allow a daily nap. The U.S. trucking and rail industries have instituted napping policies. Hospitals are looking into it. In some Asian companies, a nap is required.

"We've had reports from China that there are napping-imposed rules, a time when the lights go down, and everyone has to put their head on the desk and nap," Anthony tells WebMD.

NASA Pilots: Asleep on the Job

Mark Rosekind, PhD, once headed NASA's "Fatigue Countermeasures Program." Today, he is a board member for the National Sleep Foundation and heads up Alertness Solutions in Cupertino, Calif.

"Naps are incredibly beneficial for improving mental alertness," he tells WebMD. "The data are absolutely clear on that."

At NASA, Rosekind led simulation studies about pilot fatigue. During a "flight," each pilot was wired to record brain activity (EEG) and eye activity -- evidence of those split-second periods of "microsleep" that occur when one is dozing off.

  • Pilots who were allowed to take a short nap (40 to 45 minutes) improved their performance by 34% and their alertness by 54%, he reports.
  • In the last 90 minutes of flight, pilots who got naps had 34 microsleeps. Those who weren't allowed to nap had 120 microsleeps.

Such real-world tests apply to us all, he says. "We already know people are sleeping on the job. Their performance and safety are going to suffer if they are sleepy. If we can get performance up by 34% by letting them nap, why not? There's no other motivator, nothing else that pumps up performance that much."