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The power of a quick nap in the middle of your workday

The art and science of taking a brief snooze at work to keep your productivity up and stress levels low

Twenty minutes is a good nap duration to heighten efficiency without entering deep sleep stage.(iStockphoto)

By Jayanthi Madhukar

LAST PUBLISHED 22.01.2024  |  07:30 AM IST

For many people, a cup of coffee is the perfect pick-me-up to help them sail through office hours. By afternoon though, energy levels drop. Should you go for that second cup now, or push through?

Take a nap.

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There’s growing evidence on the benefits of taking a short nap during office hours to recharge, increase efficiency, boost memory and generally, feel better. A 2023 study by the University College London, concluded that brief afternoon naps could be restorative as well as re-energising—and beneficial to brain health.

They can even improve alertness and the speed of your work by providing rest and relaxation, adds Shobha N., a consultant neurologist at Bengaluru’s Manipal Hospital, Malleswaram. “Even physical performance can improve with slumber. It also helps reduce stress levels and boosts the immune system. Some studies have shown that naps twice a week were associated with lower risk of cardiovascular diseases," she says.

Also read: Let’s talk about the quality of air you breathe at office

The physiology of powernaps or short naps is where one transitions from non-rapid eye movement (NREM) stage 1 (the first sleep stage when you are nodding off; heartbeat, eyes, brain waves, and breathing begin to taper down) to NREM stage 2 (light sleep; heart rate slows, body temperature drops) and wakes up before slipping into NREM stage 3 (deep sleep stage). During the NREM stage 2 sleep, muscles start relaxing and body functions slow down.

The art of taking an afternoon nap is not that simple, though. There are several aspects to keep in mind. For instance, ensure that you are taking a break in a comfortable place where nobody disturbs you. Keep your phone on silent. Secondly, don’t expect too much from the snooze. A 2021 study, in the journal Science Advances, concluded that “the brain activity common to the twilight zone between sleep and wakefulness (nonrapid eye movement sleep stage 1 or N1) ignites creative sparks". Thirdly, try to not let the daily things of the day crowd your mind.

Twenty minutes is a good nap duration to heighten efficiency without entering deep sleep stage, says Dr. Shobha. And try to do it in the afternoon. Post lunch, there will be increased blood supply to the digestive system and reduced blood flow to other parts of the body, including the brain which leads to somnolence. This is linked to one’s circadian rhythm, the body’s internal clock that follows a 24-hour cycle. Within this cycle are two peaks, one at night, and the second, early afternoon.

Management consultant Sreejith Sreedharan, author of Future of Work: AI in HR—The Paradigm Shift, is a big believer of nap breaks at office—one nap refreshes him—especially considering rising levels of stress in employees. According to data collected by health and security risk company International SOS, burnout rates among employees across the world have almost doubled in two years. It increased to 20-40% from 11-18%, states the report, which was based on a survey of 675 professionals globally. High stress levels or burnout is linked to absenteeism, which impacts an organisation’s performance in the long run, Sreedharan says. “That’s why there’s an urgent need for management to look into different ways to address stress at the workplace, like incorporating interventions like nap breaks."

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Rajesh Murthy, an independent productivity adviser and corporate trainer agrees: “Picture this: post mid-day meal, employees don’t reach for another cup of coffee; instead, they gravitate towards dedicated nap spaces equipped with comfy beds. It’s not just a quirky trend but a strategic move towards enhanced productivity and employee well-being."

In his decades-long career, Murthy has seen some of his clients encourage employees to take power naps. “Some IT giants (like Razor Pay, Simplilearn, Wakefit Solutions, Nike, PWC, and Google) have taken it a step further, inviting sleep experts to coach their workforce on the art of ‘recharging your batteries’ through a nap," he says. “It’s not just about hitting targets but recognising the importance of hitting the snooze button for a while."

WHY TAKE A NAP

Rajesh Murthy, an independent productivity adviser and corporate trainer, on why employers should include encourage nap breaks

Health-wise

Sick days are any employer’s nightmare. Regular naps have been scientifically proven to boost the immune system.

More creativity

Memory retention and creativity on the go—these are just some of the many benefits of a short afternoon nap.

Productivity hack

Corporate wizards who seem to have cracked the code to a seemingly endless day have mastered the art of power nap. It's not just about squeezing a quick nap between meetings; it's about unlocking a time-warping phenomenon. Corporate employees who nap get two days in one—one before the nap and another after it. It's a productivity hack that puts you ahead of the crowd caught in stressed mornings and frazzled evenings.

Jayanthi Madhukar is a Bengaluru-based writer.

Also read: Why afternoon naps are good for you