A few days ago the Prime Minister of Spain Mariano Rayo announced a move to cut work days by 2 hours (from 8pm to 6pm) and bring the traditional 3 hour midday “siesta” (break period) to an end. His goal is to align the country to its European counterparts and American standards, to boost Spain’s productivity.

In countries where the siesta never existed, the working day rarely ends before 8pm, and it is a struggle to keep high levels of productivity high throughout a 10 hour (or more) workday.

In the past few years Eastern and Western countries have registered a staggering decrease of employee engagement and productivity. Numbers have never been so dramatically low.
In 2015 Gallup quantified the link between employee feelings and corporate outcomes, reporting that lost productivity due to employee disengagement costs more than $300 billion in the U.S. annually. Imagine how these numbers might add up worldwide.

We are all overworked, stressed out, and often sleep deprived. Negative emotions are common in our societies and are the arch-enemy of well-being and optimal performance. When we are stressed, our hormones (cortisol and epinephrine) trigger the “Fight-or-Flight” effect, also called the “Acute Stress Response" in our brain.

Alternatively, when we experience positive emotions, an opposing brain state called “Broaden-and-Build” occurs, and the brain releases "good" hormones (serotonin and oxytocin). While our brain is in this state, creativity, optimal performance, and productivity are possible; these are key by-products of positive emotions.

The book “Take A Nap, Change Your Life” by Sara C. Mednick, PhD, who is staunch advocate of napping, makes a compelling case for the health benefits associated with napping.

In summary, when we nap 2 major cerebral processes occur: Long Term Potentiation (LTP) for memory and motor learning; Long Term Depression (LTD) during which our brain “prunes our tree of knowledge of its deadwood” in order that it can grow bigger and stronger.

The book reveals hard scientific evidence proving that napping is woven into our DNA and therefore genetically necessary to our ability to function optimally. Napping results in increased stamina, alertness, and a reduction in stress. Other benefits include:

  • Improved perception, decision making, and memory
  • Elevated mood and increased levels of serotonin (the feel good hormone)
  • Broaden-and-Build: Boosts in creativity and positivity 
  • Reduction of dependence on drugs and alcohol
  • Increase in the ease and quality of nocturnal sleep
  • Reduced risk of heart attack and diabetes

Each of us has a different biology and circadian cycle. The perfect nap occurs in perfect storm conditions when our biology is pushing us toward sleep and our environment is piling up with stress.

For the majority of people this happens between 1pm and 3pm. Roger Broughton a famous neuroscientist, calls this “the nap zone”, which is when our drive returns to a state of sleep. This occurs during the traditional “siesta” time.

As Mednick states: “If you ride it for 90 min you score a nap that couldn't be more optimal in its balance of stages”. There is be a perfect proportion (50/50) between SWS (Slow Waves Sleep) and REM (Rapid Eye Movement) which happens only every 12 hours. REM sleep (when vivid dreams occur) increases creativity and SWS enhances alertness and precision. This is the equivalent of a mighty mini-me of sleep.

If the 90 min nap isn’t possible during working hours, often the prerogative of a very few, there are alternative solutions to consider for shorter but yet very effective nap cycles (20 to 30 min).

Based upon specific calculations of one's own circadian cycle (the book provides a useful chart), we can customize, plot and plan our naps depending upon which benefits we most need or desire. For instance if we require more alertness we need SWS; if we desire more creativity, we need REM.
As a rule of thumb, naps taken earlier in the day (before 2pm) result in improved REM benefits and naps taken later afternoon provide for SWS benefits.

Despite numerous studies about the benefits of napping, currently only a few handful of enlightened organizations are creating conditions for their employees to take time out for naps in the office, but the number is increasing.

If you are interested in implementing nap times within your organization, there are many studies that show how organizations that have allowed for this practice in the office recorded actual increases in well-being, collaboration and productivity.

Here are 3 conditions to effectively implement a nap program in the workplace are:

  1. It must be allowed to become part of the cultural fabric of a company by the organization as a whole.
  2. Employees should feel comfortable to take naps. There should be a regulated system and/or policy with guidelines that inform employees how and when to nap for optimal benefits.
  3. The company should designate a specific “nap room” with controlled noise and a calming environment which is separate from working areas and removed from any kind of potential stressors or interruptions.

In light of some of the most innovative studies on productivity and optimal performance, it would be wise for Prime Minister Rayo to carefully reconsider his intent to eliminate the traditional “siesta” period. He would also do well to mind the reaction of its constituents and call for a referendum prior to implementing a change of this kind.

Although the a 2 hour siesta allows for the perfect 90 min nap, a 20 min nap in the work place could equally be a great perk to offer to employees everywhere. Recent scientific studies clearly illustrate that “napping” is an effective tool to boost creativity, collaboration and productivity.

Best-in-class companies like Zappos, Google, Ben & Jerry’s among others, have implemented “napping policies” within their organizations and are already reaping the benefits.

As corporate cultures are becoming more human and equally more tuned with their employees needs, they are realizing that a happy employee is a productive employee. 
In the end ‘napping’ provides for a win-win proposition that pays dividends.

Roberta Ronsivalle Pearce