Updated: Mar 30
The Spanish tradition of an afternoon nap dates back thousands of years, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Historians believe it originated to give farmers time to rest and restore energy in hot climates, but now Spain, Italy and other European countries use the midday pause to go home, eat a leisurely lunch with family and often nap. Early afternoon is a time when many people’s bodies naturally get tired, so some sleep experts suggest siestas for people in other countries, including the US.
The Japanese practice of inemuri, or sleeping while present, allows people to multitask, according to the New York Times. Dozing is sometimes done on a park bench or a commuter train, at a dinner party or even during a meeting at work. In a culture that values diligence, napping in public is taken as a sign that a person is tired from working hard but still wants to participate in their current situation.
So if the hardworking Japanese can nap, why do so many people in the US think it’s a sign of being lazy or a slacker? For one thing, many cultures in which people take naps in the middle of the day do so because it's too hot at that time of day to do much else where they live, which is not the case for most of the United States.
Secondly, most employers, and people in general, in the US have very different, and incorrect, ideas about sleep and productivity. People get tired in the afternoon, but most folks in the US think that it's due to eating lunch when that isn’t exactly correct. Your body’s circadian rhythm – otherwise known as your sleep/wake cycle – is basically a 24-hour internal clock that is running in the background of your brain and cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. While this varies from person to person, most of us have a natural energy “lull” between 1 and 3 in the afternoon.
As a result, napping should NOT be equating as slacking! It’s natural for our bodies to want a break during the middle of the day. Fortunately, offering employees a space to catch a mid-day siesta is now becoming a common amenity for companies looking to position themselves as progressive, dynamic places to work – almost as attractive as the office coffee machine, yet perhaps more beneficial. In fact, a 2008 study demonstrated that a power nap is more effective than caffeine.
Although napping is becoming a more popular employee perk in some industries, there’s still a great deal of resistance in the corporate world towards sleeping on the job, according to Terry Cralle, a certified sleep expert. “I’m still surprised that people are put off by napping," she states. "We’ve got great research supporting the fact that naps can help corporations and employees, yet we still feel reluctant to make it an acceptable part of a healthy lifestyle and a healthy workday."
Indeed: On many occasions when I’m writing or editing and have a hard time concentrating on the task at hand, I find that a short nap will leave me refreshed and ready to go again. What makes more sense, not getting much done because we’re too drowsy to be productive, or taking a little siesta and being able to step it back up a notch for the remainder of the day? Even coffee can only do so much.