Research backed napping
I am definitely not the first to discuss the benefits of napping and the idea of implementing napping into the work environment. The topic is often brought up when discussing how napping can be a useful way of increasing productivity in information-intensive work which requires more cognitive effort and complex brainwork.
After going over the numerous research results, by Ron Friedman and Sara Mednick, that indicated the benefits of napping, I wanted to share the ideas with my colleagues at VALA in order to implement napping as a sufficient way of re-energizing one’s self during the day. However, I was sceptic whether napping could be successfully integrated into our culture.
The more scientists study neuropsychology and the complexities of our brains, the more outdated our ways of perceiving efficiency seem to be.
I wasn’t so much worried about how napping would be perceived through the lens of the overall company culture. VALA’s company culture is very relaxed and self-directed. This means everyone has the freedom and responsibility to decide for themselves how, when and where they work. I was more worried about how the idea of napping would be perceived on an individual level because people often communicate how little time they have to do everything on their expanding to-do-lists. Napping might be perceived as more of a hindrance than a solution to this problem.
Changing ways of working require updated attitudes
Everyday office chitchat in Finland seems to often revolve around the topic of haste and the pressure that it causes. People often combine haste and productivity together as if being productive requires being in a constant hurry. Although pressure and haste are usually referred to as negative emotions, it’s as if the feeling of haste is still somehow idealized and perceived as a measure of how valuable a person is.
I believe this model of thinking goes back to the time when most people worked in factories, where the time spent working on the factory floor was directly related to productivity. However, today’s work life is exceptionally different regarding to both the work we do and the way we work.
My underlying protestant work ethic found the idea of grabbing a pillow and taking a nap in the conference room somewhat guilty and unnatural.
Today, much of our everyday work is complicated cognitive work and requires new ways of measuring productivity. The more scientists study neuropsychology and the complexities of our brains, the more outdated our ways of perceiving efficiency seem to be.
In a state of haste and stress, our way of perceiving the world narrows. For example, when we are under constant pressure or in a state of fight-flight reaction, we lose focus on the big picture and reasoning and instead turn our focus to what is straight in front of us. This reaction might be efficient when faced by a python in the jungle, but it is rather unproductive when we are required to use more complex cognitive skills, such as creativity and intricate problem-solving. And it is exactly these skills that are vital in what we do at VALA every day.
In order to use our more complex cognitive skills, our brains require rest and favorable working conditions for different requirements. For example, creativity doesn’t simply turn on the minute we enter the office at 9 AM and work diligently fulltime until 5PM when we close our laptops. Creativity is often at its highest when we are relaxed and able to contemplate issues from a fresh perspective.
Therefore, our offices and working spaces should be turned into environments that nourish our various cognitive capabilities. Thus, building a culture where napping during the work day would be considered acceptable, seemed important. I decided to give a presentation on the topic and hope the idea would stick. Viva la revolución!
Day 1, Friday:
We finish our weeks with a Friday Scrum meeting, in which we go over what has happened during the previous week and what to expect from the following. At the end of the 2-hour meeting, I gave my presentation on the benefits of napping.
To sum up the jist of it, here are the results that show the benefits of taking 20-30-minute naps during a day.
Napping has been shown to:
- Elevate your overall mood
- Enhance creativity
- Improve your memory and concentration while alleviating drowsiness
- Boost productivity and strengthen endurance
- Increase alertness, quicken motor reflexes and heighten perceptions. These are useful skills especially when your work requires high concentrations and you ought to avoid mistakes.
- Improve decision-making
- Lower feelings of stress
- Have a positive effect on your overall health by decreasing the frequency of migraines and ulcers, minimizing the dependence on drugs and alcohol and reduce the likelihood of heart disease, diabetes and cancer risk
- promote weight loss
- If napping substitutes coffee, it reduces heartburn, blood pressure and the browning of teeth
Although I fully believe the listed research results and that the typical work culture needs a bit of jolt from the industrial factory-aged way of perceiving productivity, I was also sceptic. My underlying protestant work ethic found the idea of grabbing a pillow and taking a nap in the conference room somewhat guilty and unnatural. But hell, I had to practice what I preached. I figured, if I wanted to change the attitudes towards productivity and time-management, I should not let too much time pass from my legendary presentation. I ought to seize the momentum while the science-based benefits were still fresh in everyone’s minds. I decided that the next time I felt drowsy at work, I would toss my coffee cup aside and attempt at napping.
Day 2, Monday:
I arrived at work at 9.05 AM. At 12.30, my stomach was still full from our weekly Monday breakfast, so I decided to go light for lunch. I had a salad at Skiffer and thus diverted the typical food coma I usually suffer from after lunch. Although I had slept fewer hours the previous night, I wasn’t mentally quite ready to take a nap. Also, I didn’t want people thinking a rowdy weekend caused me to sleep at work on a Monday. There goes that protestant guilt again.
Days 3 and 4 went by without me even remembering my earth-shattering presentation and revolución.
Day 5, Thursday:
It was almost a week from the presentation. I started to panic that our community would forget and move on from my attempt at revolución. This had happened before when I attempted at infiltrating a custom of compulsory bar gymnastics ”keppijumppa” into periodic recesses. I hadn’t made a big enough effort and “keppijumppa” hadn’t taken off. I didn’t want napping to suffer the same fate as my “keppijumppa” fiasco.
Instead of doing what I usually do in these circumstances (drowning myself with Kaffa Roastery’s Guatemala El Cabro), I grabbed a blanket, dimmed the lights and nestled myself into a Fatboy in the back-conference room. During the first 3 minutes, I kept sneaking a peek to see if my co-workers were planning a prank on me. Luckily, no one seemed to even notice what I was attempting at doing. Maybe they didn’t care. Anyways, slowly I started to feel my eyelids get heavier and my breathing relax. Rather effortlessly, I started falling into the blissful sensation of sleep. 25 minutes later my alarm went off.
After a few minutes of waking, I felt less drowsy and more energized. I was sure to let everyone in the office know how successful my nap had been by interrupting their work and loudly proclaiming how fabulous and invigorated I now felt. I also posted my thoughts on the experiment on Slack to make sure no one forgot.
Day 9, Monday
I couldn’t believe my eyes. A small nest in the corner of the back office. Hidden under a cardigan left by someone from a previous office party, lay Teemu, our Head of Operations quietly sleeping. My revolución had worked and in front of me lay the fruits of my effort: a 27 year-old man snoozing away, probably dreaming of rainbows and leprechauns.
It might be a small step for a man, but it was giant leap in work culture.
Friedman, Ron (2014) The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace. Published by TarcherPerigee
Mendick, Sara (2006) Take a Nap! Save your Life. Pubished by Workman Publishing Company
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