Power napping for performance

Afternoon at work may never be the same. A new trend aimed less at improving worker efficiency has started to become more popular in Japan — power napping.

Power naps have started to become accepted policy at many Japanese companies, and with good reason. Naps, which employees used to steal at coffee shops, on trains or wherever they could, are no longer being viewed as a sign of laziness or incompetence, but as an essential means of maintaining attention and performance at work.

A large body of research has found that naps help to keep performance levels high and prevent mistakes, especially in the afternoon when many people feel drowsy. When workers feel sleepy, work performance suffers.

A short nap has been found to restore energy, renew focus and improve mood. For those reasons, many companies have begun to encourage their workers to take a short nap in the afternoon, though not yet enough of them.

Cafes and other stores near large companies have started to offer a special discount that includes both lunch and nap time on a small bed or reclining chair. Inside companies, too, rooms divided by gender are starting to become more common, equipped with blankets and pillows. Other companies allow workers to sack out at their desks or work stations.

The possibility of a short afternoon nap is especially important for working mothers, who bear the brunt of housework, shopping and child care at the end of the working day. The right to take a brief nap during the work day would relieve a great deal of their stress and allow working mothers to perform better during the work day.

Japan is also a relatively sleep deprived country. The average Japanese sleep time is shorter than most other developed countries, except for South Korea, whose people sleep the least.

According to a survey of social trends by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Japanese sleep seven hours and 43 minutes a day, about 30 minutes less than the average of eight hours and 19 minutes for all OECD countries. A small nap will never make up for serious sleep deprivation, but it will help.

The Japanese workplace has long been notorious for long hours and high pressure to stay until the boss leaves.

Taking a nap should not become a way to justify more overtime, however. Instead, overtime will be less necessary when workers are able to be efficient during normal work hours.

More studies have also shown that the accumulating effects of inattention, stress and burnout are the worst effects on quality of work. Naps will not resolve all of those problems, but enlightened companies know their best investment is in their employees’ physical and mental health.

Power napping is one extremely cost-effective way to help create better workplaces in Japan since no expense is necessary. It requires just a change in attitude.