Napping on the job is usually grounds to be fired. But today many companies are encouraging employees to nap to improve safety and increase productivity. Naps are catching on in a range of workplaces, both service and manufacturing-based.
A railroad company, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, allows train conducturs and engineers to take naps of up to 45 minutes long. [For more about this, read "The Little Engine that Could (Take a Nap")]
The chemical company, Nova, which operates facilities 24-hours-a-day, built recovery rooms for its production workers to nap and so did Deloitte Consulting for its daytime staff.
Another consulting company called 42 IS even has a reservation book for its nap room because of the high demand.
Still, many employers don't approve of workers getting any sleep while on company time. More than 80 percent of employees report that their employers don't allow naps, according to the National Sleep Foundation's 2000 Omnibus Sleep in America Poll.
Yet almost 40 percent of the workforce takes naps at work but does it covertly, according to the research of Professor James Mass, of Cornell University.
Experts say napping at the workplace is especially effective for shift workers who sleep at irregular times.
Bill and Camille Anthony, authors of "The Art of Napping," report that power naps from 20 to 30 minutes long give workers new energy that can last over several hours. But employees should avoid nap times, the Anthonys say, that are between 40 and 60 minutes, because waking up from them can interrupt deep stages of sleep, called REM, and result in drowsiness. However, naps which are 90 minutes or longer are effective in reducing grogginess.
Conductors and engineers employed by Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF) can take scheduled naps of up to 45 minutes when the train is stopped and as long as one crew member is on watch.
Approved nap-time is part of the company's broader fatigue countermeasure program, developed by both the company and its union workforce, including representation by the United Transportation Workers and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers.
Fatigue is a problem throughout the rail industry. One study of train operators found that 11 percent fell asleep on most or all night shifts, with five percent reporting to have fallen asleep on most or all early morning shifts, according to a 1993 study by the National Commission on Sleep Disorders Research commissioned for the U.S. Congress.
Federal law limits train operator shifts to twelve hours. But operators have been known to work shifts 15 or 16 hours long when relief crews couldn't reach trains, says Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers Spokesperson John Bentley. Many operators work on-call based on customer demand, rail traffic and bad weather.
In the mid nineties, BNSF piloted in Spokane, Washington, a range of new work schedules to curb fatigue. By 1997, BNSF implemented a nap policy, along with assigned days off and shorter windows of time when train operators could be called to work.
The unions continue to work with the company to educate BNSF employees across departments on the importance of the new policies. The company has ongoing workshops on sleep for employees and their spouses.
The National Sleep Foundation poll was a nationally representative telephone survey of 1,154 adults in the U.S. Error range of plus or minus 3 percentage points.