1. Archive

Napping is tiptoeing into workplace

Michael K. Lorelli, president of Tambrands Inc., knows some people might be embarrassed to do what he does. But in time, he thinks, it will become accepted.

"It's like when men first started using blow-dryers in the 1970s," he says. "It wasn't macho."

What he _ along with others not inhibited by stereotypes _ likes to do is nap.

Grabbing 40 winks at work sounds like a great idea to a lot of people, but most employers have yet to appreciate napping's rejuvenating effects. Now snooze fans, backed by a growing body of evidence touting the benefits of naps, are nudging the once-taboo subject onto the job site.

"It's important to sensitize people and give them tools to utilize napping," says Lorelli, who schedules a 20-minute nap into every auto trip away from the office and encourages employees to get some daytime shut-eye, too. "I really believe the body was meant to have a siesta."

To make sleeping on the job more palatable, proponents now refer to it as "power napping."

James Maas, a Cornell sleep researcher, has recommended napping to thousands of executives. During the past year, he has given his "Asleep in the Fast Lane" seminar at companies ranging from Eastman Kodak Co. to PepsiCo Inc. and Seagram Co.

Last month, Maas spoke after IBM chairman Louis V. Gerstner Jr. brought together 2,700 top IBM executives for a series of conferences.

"It literally woke up a lot of CEOs," says IBM spokeswoman Cheri Piebes-Schaeffer, who says she occasionally puts her head down on her desk for 15 to 20 minutes. IBM doesn't have a corporate napping policy, she says, "but not because of a lack of caring about these issues."

A few industries are experimenting with napping because of safety concerns.

The Federal Aviation Administration just drafted a policy to approve napping for airline pilots. It looked at a 1994 study by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration showing that pilots who slept for half an hour during the flight were better at landing.

Schneider National Inc. of Green Bay, Wis., a long-haul trucker, is testing a system that monitors drivers' ability to stay in their lanes. If the truck weaves, an alarm goes off, signaling the driver to stop and nap.

Framatome S.A., France's nuclear power company, is in the midst of a one-year trial to allow plant operators to nap, following a study that found increased alertness in night-shift workers who took a one-hour snooze.

The idea of napping nuclear workers is a harder sell in the United States, where it conjures up images of Homer Simpson asleep at the switch.

Richard Coleman, a shift-work consultant, says he has suggested that U.S. nuclear plants let backup emergency crews nap on the job, but "the public would be outraged if they found out about it. It's a perception thing."

Indeed, rest has long had an image problem. Plato said, "No one when asleep is good for anything." Even Thomas Edison, famous for taking 10-minute naps instead of prolonged sleep, considered slumber "a deplorable regression to the primitive state of the caveman."

So some nappers try to hide their habit. Antony Maderal, a convention organizer, slips across the street from his Washington office to nap on a park bench. When it is raining, he tries to be discreet.

"I can get myself in a certain position so that when I hold up some important papers, I'm just out of sight," he says.

Other nappers are shameless.

Jim Lehrer, of public television's McNeil-Lehrer Newshour, closes his office door every day at 12:30 p.m. for an hour's nap, while an assistant holds all calls. Even special correspondent Roger Mudd can't get through; he once left a message for Lehrer saying, "When Snookums wakes up, have him call me."

Nancy Tompkins, a staff lawyer at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, simply lies down under her desk. "My feet stick out like the Wicked Witch of the East," she says. "The last time someone came in, he was so frightened he ran right out."

An unabashed narcophile, Ms. Tompkins says, "Everybody I know wants to nap after lunch. If you're a hard worker, there's no reason you shouldn't do it with impunity."

Increasingly, nappers can claim science on their side. Studies suggest napping is a preprogramed part of our circadian rhythms, those neural timekeepers in the brain that regulate everything from waking times to hormone levels.

The rhythms peak and ebb in regular cycles, and one of the gateways to never-never land is typically between 2 and 5 p.m.

"If you feel drowsy, it's not lunch or wine or boredom," says William Dement, director of Stanford University's Sleep Research Center. "It's just your circadian alarm clock going off."

Napping is "a hot topic in sleep research," says Lee Brown, professor of medicine at University of Arizona and head of a Phoenix sleep-disorder center.

At this month's meeting of the Association of Professional Sleep Societies, one study presented showed the benefits of "pre-emptive napping" for night-shift workers.

Another recent study, from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, found that napping can improve mood, alertness and job performance, especially for the sleep-deprived.

"We've found that you get tremendous recovery of alertness _ several hours' worth _ out of a 15-minute nap," says Claudio Stampi, who studies sleep strategies for astronauts and pilots at Boston's Institute of Circadian Physiology.

"You can get temporary help through stimulation _ coffee, exercise, brighter light, cooler temperatures _ but you're actually fixing the problem by taking a nap."

His lab is testing a product that hopes to cash in on napping, the $4,700 "Relax and Refresh Chair," made by Japan's Matsushita Electric Industrial Co.

The black leather recliner has a built-in massager, a light-blocking hood and a control panel for programing the nap's length. The effect is relaxing _ until the wake-up cycle: a flashing light and blasts of cold air.

"It still needs some work," Stampi says.

Others might consider the $2,700 File-A-Way Desk Bed, introduced in April by Sligh Furniture Co., of Holland, Mich., which features a pull-out twin-size mattress.

The gadgets still may not overcome all the stigma of napping. But some advocates refuse to lose sleep over criticism.

"If people have a problem with it, then to hell with 'em," says the ever-refreshed Lehrer, who started napping 11 years ago after recovering from a heart attack.

"It's the only good habit I ever developed in my life," he says. "And it's the best excuse I've found for avoiding a power lunch."