Why an afternoon nap is seriously good for health. These companies even have sleep pods in the office!

If you’re reading this mid-afternoon and your eyes are beginning to droop, you’re not alone. Research has found that we could all benefit from an afternoon nap to recharge our batteries and keep us alert for the rest of the day. Research further suggests naps can be good for our health, reducing blood pressure and preventing a future heart attack.

The findings of one study into daytime naps and heart health were announced in August this year in London at the European Society of Cardiology’s annual conference. The research involved almost 400 middle-aged men and women with arterial hypertension, and showed that those who had a midday nap had lower blood pressure both when awake and when they slept at night.

Although the difference was relatively small, at around five per cent, it was enough to have a significant impact on rates of heart attack.

Dr Manolis Kallistratos
Dr Manolis Kallistratos

Dr Manolis Kallistratos, the cardiologist at Asklepieion Voula General Hospital in Athens, Greece, who led the research, said: “We found that midday sleep is associated with lower 24-hour blood pressure, an enhanced fall in BP in night, and less damage to the arteries and the heart.

“The longer the midday sleep, the lower the systolic BP levels and probably fewer drugs need to lower BP.”

Better immunity and brain health

In another study into the benefits of napping published this year, Dr Brice Faraut, of the Université Paris Descartes-Sorbonne Paris Cité, was part of a team of scientists looking at ways to develop practical strategies for addressing chronically sleep-deprived people, such as night and shift workers.

“Our data suggests a 30-minute nap can reverse the hormonal impact of a night of poor sleep,” he said. “This is the first study that found napping could restore biomarkers of neuroendocrine and immune health to normal levels.

“Napping may offer a way to counter the damaging effects of sleep restriction by helping the immune and neuroendocrine systems to recover.”

As well as improving our mood, a nap of between 10 and 30 minutes is also said to boost our brains, including improvements to creative problem solving, verbal memory and reaction times.

Google, Facebook, Nike: companies where staff can take a nap
Sleep. Podtime at Facebook Seattle
A sleep pod in Facebook’s Seattle office: tech firms have led the way in allowing staff to take a nap

Such are the benefits that napping is now being positively encouraged in some workplaces. Once seen as an indulgence after a particularly heavy weekend lunch and very much frowned up in the office, taking a short nap of up to 30 minutes is now regarded as a way to help maximise productivity for busy workers putting in long hours.

Napping has become increasingly popular in the tech industry, for instance, where developers are often required to work long hours. Google was one of the first large tech companies to encourage napping by introducing energy pods. The pods wake mid-day nappers with a vibrating alarm.

Here in the UK, Paul Grindrod, partner in Podtime, the London-based maker of sleep pods for exhausted executives, says uptake is mainly from larger organisations that are engaged in fostering a culture of health and wellbeing at work.

Early adopters include GlaxoSmithKline, Nestlé and Nike. Another client, Roche, leased a pod for its wellbeing week and had such good feedback from staff that it decided to buy and install a pod as a permanent fixture.

The cycle of stress, presenteeism and lower productivity

Of course, it could be argued that organisations that introduce pods, nap rooms and meditation zones as part of their wellbeing support for employees are doing so to cut down on absenteeism at work through ill health.

It’s not uncommon now for an organisation to include doctors and dentists onsite, and one law firm recently introduced a pharmacy, perhaps in a bid to stop staff wasting time hanging around at the chemist waiting for a prescription.

Professor Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University and founder of business psychology company Robertson Cooper, found in a study that the number one cause of stress for employees in 2007–2010 was ‘too much change in the workplace’. In 2011–2013 that changed to ‘not enough time to do their job’.

“Our data shows people are experiencing new levels and sources of stress at work and this has led to a culture whereby certain individuals are too afraid to be off sick,” he said.

“It’s a vicious circle that leads to presenteeism, rather than absenteeism, and lower productivity.”

So, while office hours remain long and arduous, take a power nap if it’s offered. You’ll keep your job and hopefully at the same time restore the damage caused by having too little sleep.