Sleeping in: Nodding off at work can be a good thing

When Nancy Holdsworth, a mother of a 2-year-old, got too tired during her pregnancy, she laid down on a couch for an afternoon nap.

Holdsworth’s craving for a snooze was nothing unusual, except she was nodding off at the office with the permission — in fact, the encouragement — of her employer, Yarde Metals in Pelham, where she works as a sales support specialist.

Yarde Metals is a distributor of aluminum and stainless steel products, with headquarters in Southington, Conn., and nine service centers around the country.

When employees enter the facility in Pelham, they have to first walk past the comfortable living room furniture surrounded with antiques from old estates.

Steve Rogers, the Pelham office’s branch manager, says that Yarde Metals designed the vintage look because the company wants employees “to be happy when they come in to work.”

A mahogany door off the lobby at Yarde Metals bears a simple sign: “Nap Room.”

Rogers, wearing a casual shirt and shorts, says the room is an opportunity for employees “if they need a refresher to take a quick nap in peace and quiet and get back to work.”

The “Nap Room” has all the basics — a soundproof space, a couch and a dimmer switch.

According to Rogers, the company realized a few years ago that if employees could get some rest during the day, they were likely to be more productive.

A “Sleep in America” poll by the National Sleep Foundation backs up his claim. The foundation interviewed 1,000 Americans over the phone, with more than a quarter of them saying daytime sleepiness takes a toll on their daily activities at least a few days each month.

According to the NSF, the effects of sleep loss on work performance are costing the American economy and employers about $18 billion a year.

And businesses are responding by allowing workers to nap during the day.

“More than a third of Americans say their workplace actually permits napping during breaks,” says Darrel Drobnich, chief program officer of the foundation. “And 16 percent say they [the employers] provide a place to nap. That’s an increase over the past few years.”

Drobnich likens today’s surge of corporate nap rooms to the 1980s trend of on-site fitness rooms to promote wellness. The philosophy behind both is that employees who feel good can concentrate more efficiently.

Many large companies, such as Nike, BNSF Railway, and Google, have incorporated nap rooms. On the West Coast, they’re called “pods.”

Power naps

While nap stations are on the rise, a stigma behind it remains. Many will admit to sleepiness, but won’t acknowledge doing anything about it. Or some will put their heads down for a few winks in the car or private office, crossing fingers they won’t get caught.

Drobnich blames 400 years of the Puritan work ethic for the shame Americans feel over a midday snooze. He also says the Internet, which sets the tone for round-the-clock availability, blurs the lines between work and home.

“As an employer, you’re expecting your employee to be constantly on e-mail and wired into the office,” says Drobnich. “Why not let it go the other way, and have a little bit of home in the workplace?”

According to Sara Mednick, author of “Take a Nap! Change Your Life,” cultures outside the United States are more receptive to what the Spanish refer to as a siesta. Mednick insists the stigma over a few minutes of shuteye is a phenomenon that breeds in America only.

“In Japan,” she says, napping is “a sign of actual hard work that you’re falling asleep at your desk and taking a nap.”

Mednick cautions, however, about sleeping too much during the day. More than an hour of sleep leads you to wake up feeling worse.

Mednick suggests taking a 20-minute power nap. “That’s going to be what’s called Stage 2 sleep,” she said, “which is very light sleep, easy to wake up from and good for your motor memory.”

With fewer people getting enough sleep – the NSF reports that a third of Americans say they only get a good night’s sleep a few nights per month – companies may be wise to encourage workers to resist the caffeine and head for the sofa. It’s a move that can increase alertness and improve the bottom line.