Business

Japanese firms starting to encourage employees to take naps at work

Kyodo

Napping on the job is generally frowned upon, but a growing number of companies are offering new services and products to allow their employees to take a quick snooze at work to help manage their health and improve productivity.

Companies are creating special areas for short daytime naps, and some have launched in-house seminars to explain the importance of sleep to employees.

The move comes amid the spread of smartphones and other digital devices, which have been blamed for making people sleep fewer hours than before.

“Sleep debt,” a phrase highlighting concern that a cumulative lack of sleep is harmful to health, was selected as one of Japan’s top buzzwords last year.

Startups including information technology companies are among those at the forefront of the trend. Tokyo-based Nextbeat Co. set up two so-called “strategic sleeping rooms” — one for female and one for male workers — this autumn at its offices and aims to eventually add more rooms.

The IT service provider installed a device that can block sounds surrounding the rooms, which contain sofas and aroma fragrances. Employees are forbidden from using personal computers or smartphones there.

The practice reflected the thinking of company board member Emiko Sumikawa. “Napping can produce favorable effects on work efficiency, just as an appropriate diet and exercise can.”

As part of the self-improvement measures, Nextbeat requests that its employees leave work by 9 p.m. and that they not work overtime late into the night. The company also recognizes 30-minute daytime naps as part of regular work hours.

Engineer Hideyuki Utsunomiya, 31, who sits for long stretches in front of a computer screen, often found himself dozing off at his desk when his eyes got tired. “My work efficiency has improved since I started refreshing myself in the napping room,” he said.

Property developer Mitsubishi Estate Co., which relocated its headquarters in January, established three napping rooms each for men and women.

Collaborating with Neurospace, a firm that supplies sleeping programs geared at companies, Mitsubishi Estate conducted tests on its employees and found that taking naps improved job focus and helped sustain overall motivation.

In fact, employment regulations now state that aside from a one-hour break, workers are also entitled to 30-minute naps.

Neurospace President Hideyuki Kobayashi explained that the conditions for taking an effective “power nap” are doing so six hours after rising, limiting shut-eye to 30 minutes and not lying down.

A human resources official at Mitsubishi Estate said, “Workers refrained from (using the napping rooms) at the beginning, but their use has spread after viewing the results of the experiment.”

Other companies have shown interest in the napping rooms, the official added.

Meanwhile, some companies are hoping to improve employees’ sleep patterns at night. Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Himawari Life Insurance Inc. provided their workers a portable device that can gauge the length and depth of sleep.

Nao Tomono, a sleep consultant who taught seminars for the company in September, said, “Insomnia has worsened through the spread of mobile phones. There is a growing importance to re-examining sleep since low work efficiency and mental and physical disorders lead to big economic losses.”