If you’ve ever been caught snoozing at the office, you’re not alone: Roughly one in ten Americans say they’re likely to fall asleep at an inappropriate time and place, such as during a meeting, according to the National Sleep Foundation’s new 2012 poll. Though politicians may stop getting into cheating scandals before your boss makes siestas company policy, sleeping on the job may actually be a good thing for the company’s bottom line. The biggest benefit may be that it makes you a more productive employee. “Daytime drowsiness can affect mood, productivity, and creativity, but a brief nap may provide greater alertness for several hours to help improve attention, concentration and accuracy,” says David Neubauer, M.D., associate director of the Johns Hopkins Sleep Disorders Center. Another napping perk is that it may mean less sick days for you and lower healthcare costs for your company. “Sleep-deprived workers are also at greater risk for chronic conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and depression.” So do yourself and your boss a favor, and follow Dr. Neubauer’s four steps to sneak in naptime at work.
Step #1: Find the perfect location. Look for a relatively quiet space or somewhere that feels private so you can relax. If you’re lucky enough to have your own office, close the door and hang a “back in 15 minutes” sign. You might also try wearing sunglasses and stretching out in your car or driving to a local park on your lunch break. If dozing in your cubicle is your only option, set your screen saver to flash a spread sheet or other frequently used document to fool passersby into thinking you’re hard at work, and master dozing in the “chin in hand” position, where you’re leaning over your desk with your head balanced atop folded hands, which could be mistaken for deep thinking. Just don’t drool on your TPS report.
Step #2: Timing is everything. The trick to getting the most from your nap is all about when you do it. “Power naps should be relatively early so it doesn’t interfere with your ability to fall asleep at bedtime,” says Dr. Neubauer. For most of us, our inner body clocks start to make us feel drowsy around siesta time—or somewhere between 1 and 4 p.m.—so aim to fit in a nap during these hours.
Step #3: Have sleep props handy. To make quick naps a daily ritual, doze off faster by bringing something you associate with sleep to work (think: fuzzy socks or a relaxing soundtrack on your iPod). This will help you get into the sleep mindset more quickly.
Step #4: Set an alarm. Catnaps of 10 to 20 minutes are key because longer naps have the downside of greater sleep inertia, or that sleep hangover feeling you get when you first wake up from a deep sleep. Plus, a quick 10-minute snooze may be a better sleepiness buster than dozing off for three hours, according to a study in the journal Sleep. To avoid snoozing too long and waking up groggy, set your cell phone or another device to go off after about 15 minutes. You’ll feel recharged enough to tackle your afternoon agenda and still hit the gym after work.