There’s a campaign going to educate people about the importance of sleep. Some companies are responding by installing “nap rooms” where employees can catch a few winks during the workday (or the work night).
Napping at work can reduce workplace sleepiness; decrease insomnia among and improve the health of shift workers; and improve learning, memory, and overall performance. What’s not to like?
But access to a nap room at work would not improve my productivity or my health. Nor would it make me less prone to insomnia. What would help (if I were still going in to work everyday rather than working from home) would be the option to work on a flextime schedule in sync with my body clock. Here’s why:
Regularity in Sleep and Wakefulness
I study sleep and insomnia partly to manage my own trouble sleeping, and one thing I’ve realized is that my body thrives on regularity. There’s a reason insomniacs are told to go to bed and get up at the same time every day: it helps keep the forces controlling sleep and waking in sync with one another and with daylight and darkness.
Really good sleepers can get away with sleeping pretty much whenever they want. But if I stray too far from my regular bed and rise times, I have insomnia.
Likewise, I feel better where there’s regularity in my days, and research suggests that having a daily routine is protective of sleep at night. Working, eating meals, exercising, even socializing at the same time everyday helps keep the body’s circadian forces in sync.
A nap room at work wouldn’t help me—and not just because napping now and then would interfere with my regular schedule, or because long naps can reduce the build-up of the sleep pressure that triggers sleep at night. The truth is that except when I’m sick, I simply can’t drop off during the daytime. I may feel exhausted but I’m never sleepy enough to fall asleep.
Work and Circadian Rhythms
I sleep and feel better when I work in the morning, when I’m most alert. But as an employee, often I had to work evening shifts. The effort it took to pay attention at evening meetings of school boards and townships I covered as a reporter (which were usually deadly dull) was so arousing that it took me hours to calm down enough to fall asleep.
Even worse were the split shifts I worked for a year in Mexico. I taught class from 7 to 10 a.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. at night, 5 days a week. This schedule would have been doable for many people—5 hours a day in the classroom, with the entire midday stretch free to kick around town, visit the market, or see friends.
But it was awful for me. In the afternoons, knowing I had to teach again later the same day, I couldn’t fully relax (much less take a nap). Returning home after 9 p.m. and then having to wind down enough to fall asleep and be up for a 7 a.m. class was practically impossible. Insomnia kicked in big time and I was a mess.
“You can’t fight your body clock,” a friend said to me. Even then, before I knew anything about circadian rhythms and preferences, I sensed she was on to something big.
The Flextime Option
As a freelance writer–editor now, I set my own hours. It’s done wonders for my sleep. But not everyone has the option to give up regular paychecks.
Sleep-savvy employers—those who really understand the importance of sleep—will not just give their employees nap rooms. If the work itself does not preclude it, they’ll offer flextime options so that all employees—including the sleep challenged—can work when we’re most alert and most productive. It’s a win–win setup. So why not?
Have you been in a work situation where you had to “fight your body clock”? How did you manage? Were flextime options available? If they weren’t, might they have made a difference?