Miércoles 27 de Junio de 2007, Ip nº 196

Caught sleeping on the job? No worries
Por Craig Silverman

Sylvain Tremblay has had the unusual experience of oversleeping while at work.

"I slept for an hour and only meant to go for 20 minutes," Mr. Tremblay said a bit sheepishly.

The senior software engineer at Intuit Canada in Edmonton, blamed it on forgetting to set an alarm clock, but he didn't apologize for his extended workday snooze. And his employer wouldn't think of asking him to. The company encourages employees to take naps and has created three specific rooms outfitted with single beds, pillows, sheets and alarm clocks.

Sleeping on the job used to be a firing offence. But a growing body of research is extolling the many virtues of a midday doze. A Harvard School of Public Health study this year found that Greek men and women who took regular naps had a 37 per cent lower risk of heart-related death than non-nappers.

U.S. space agency NASA found that naps can have a positive effect on the memory and overall output of astronauts.

Then there's the issue of worker fatigue: A study published in the January issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found it affects nearly 40 per cent of U.S. workers.

In response, a small but growing cadre of progressive companies are shopping for mattresses, selecting sheets and finding just the right soothing shade of paint.

Kilpatrick Stockton LLP, a law firm with offices in Raleigh, N.C., has a designated sleeping space it calls the Power Room.

Gould Evans Goodman Associates, an architecture firm in Kansas City, Mo., has installed "spent tents" - indoor camp tents equipped with pillows, blankets and other sleeping amenities.

Nike, British Airways and Pizza Hut also all reportedly encourage nap time.

At Intuit, the nap rooms were requested by employees. "The nap rooms don't stand out in our environment because we have so many other amenities," said Cheryll Watson, the company's senior manager of employee and community engagement.

The idea fit in with the company's overall wellness plan, which includes a gym and a five-kilometre walking trail.

The same is true at Business Objects, a global developer of business intelligence software. Its main Vancouver offices feature a 7,000-square-foot wellness centre with exercise and recreational facilities. It also provides an open area featuring couches and a crackling fireplace for nappers. A separate building a block away has an enclosed room outfitted with two La-Z-Boy recliners.

During her pregnancy last summer, Dorit Shackleton, a public relations manager with the company, often ambled over to the open area. "I took naps a handful of times, especially as I got [further into my pregnancy]," she said. "I would take the time to take care of myself and my body."

Still, the concept of the company nap area requires a worker to be comfortable with his or her sleeping habits coming under observation.

"I've definitely seen people passed out with a newspaper over their head in front of the fire," said James Thomas, the company's senior director of corporate product marketing.

In an open area, a raucous snorer or habitual drooler will naturally be open to ridicule and, one assumes, office pranks. None of those interviewed would cop to any nap time high jinks. Some expressed shock at the suggestion that a nap room might be used by more than one person at once, or for anything other than an entirely professional purpose. And no one had seen a co-worker change into their pyjamas or bring anything besides wholesome reading material into closed nap rooms.

All say that there are rules to the company nap room, even if they remain unspoken: Change the sheets; make the bed; limit your activities to napping or relaxing; and do it alone.

Experts also say there is a correct way to take a midday nap: It should be between 15 and 30 minutes, usually between 1 and 3 p.m. After 30 minutes, the body enters a deeper stage of sleep, making it more difficult to wake up feeling refreshed and ready for work.

At St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver, nurses, doctors and other staff were already in the habit or trying to grab a bit of sleep during long shifts. But "they weren't napping safely," said Stephanie Hennessy, St. Paul's leader of occupational health and safety. "Nurses and other staff were bunching their breaks into an hour and taking a long nap," she said.

In November, the hospital was given three EnergyPods, specially designed leather recliners with a white hood that shields the sleeper. The recliner can play soothing music or feed it from an iPod. After the appointed amount of sleep, it gently wakes the napper with subtle vibrations.

When the Pods failed to take off among travellers at the Vancouver airport, MetroNaps, the manufacturer, donated them to the hospital. It's hoping the results of a staff usage questionnaire will help sell them to other hospitals, which typically use inflatable mattresses or couches for workers to nap.

In most workplaces, however, there's still a negative reaction to the idea of sleeping on the job.

"It's great that our company does recognize people need rest to be their best," said Ms. Shackleton, as she walked past a Ping-Pong table at Business Objects. "My husband is a banker, and when we were in London, his boss would even say, 'Lunch is for wimps.' "

  04/06/2007. The Globe and Mail.