Sleep at Work: The One KPI No One Talks About

Want to sleep at work to boost performance? We say go for it — as long as you do it the right way. But unintentionally sleeping at work is a different story.
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Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
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Man in suit sleeping on bench outside to boost productivity

Ask anyone if they ever sleep at work and the reactions you get may range from faint disapproval to sheepish admission — depending on who you ask, that is. But is napping at work a straight-up transgression that will send you into your boss's bad books? Or is there more to the story than what society writes off as "laziness”?

To answer the question, let's consider these two scenarios:

  • Scenario 1: You're habitually sleep-deprived to the extent that you find yourself periodically nodding off during work hours. From "resting your eyes" behind your computer screen to full-on snoozing in the stall during your restroom break, you're the poster child for being asleep on the job in more ways than you'd like to admit.
  • Scenario 2: You get enough sleep on a nightly basis but also nap during the workday. Perhaps you're a night shift worker who wants to preempt sleep loss. Or maybe you're a high-powered senior executive who knows that a well-timed power nap can elevate your performance to the next level.

As you can see, there isn’t a hard-and-fast rule that dictates daytime napping during work hours is a massive no-no. In fact, if you sleep at work the right way, you'll be surprised at the myriad benefits it bestows on your work conduct. Read on to find out when and how to nap correctly on the job.

Please note: This post is not intended as medical advice for sleep disorders like sleep apnea and narcolepsy. If you experience any sleep problems, it's best to consult a licensed healthcare provider.

When It’s OK to Sleep at Work

Whether you’re seriously sleep-deprived or have little to no sleep debt (i.e., five hours or less), intentional workday snoozing is more than OK; it's highly recommended and has multiple benefits, as you’ll see later. These workday naps also help to pay down sleep debt.)

But what is sleep debt? It refers to the amount of sleep you've owed your body in the past 14 days relative to your sleep need. Unlike the generalized recommendation of "eight hours of sleep" per night, your sleep need is unique and genetically determined — the way your eye color and height are. Your need likely sits between 7.5 and 9 hours, although a not insignificant 13% of the population needs over 9 hours to feel and function at their best, or as close to it as possible. 

Keen on learning your exact sleep need to determine how much sleep debt you’re carrying? The RISE app can help you with that. It uses sleep-science-based models and the past 365 nights of sleep data tracked by your phone to learn your unique sleep biology and calculate your sleep need in hours and minutes. 

When you carry more than five hours of sleep debt, your sleep deprivation starts to have serious consequences. Think cognitive impairment, a weakened immune system, and greater anxiety levels, to name a few. Suffice to say, a midday siesta in the office won’t be enough to maximize your performance. (That said, we still recommend workplace napping — there are just other ways we also recommend paying down your sleep debt.)

Instead, you're more likely to commit the sin of sleeping on the job unintentionally. Not only do you downgrade your productivity, decision-making, and social skills, but you also likely narrow your odds of moving up the career ladder.

Sleep at Work: The Perks of Napping During Your 9-5

Sleep at work: employee napping on a bean bag at her office

Napping during work used to be seen as on-the-job idling rather than a means for career-thriving. Over the years, we've come to realize that sleep is fundamental to every aspect of our lives, including our work performance — no matter if you're a heart surgeon performing high-stakes surgery or a sales associate dealing with a difficult customer.

While sleep at work isn't the norm yet, more and more companies have recognized that workday napping may be the competitive edge they've been looking for all this while. From Google to Ben & Jerry's, pro-nap companies have invested in nap rooms and futuristic-looking sleep pods to promote snoozing at work. It's all done in the name of better employee well-being that may ultimately translate to a better bottom line.

But is there any scientific proof to it? You bet.

Enhances Your Productivity

Meeting your sleep need means you're already in a good position to put your best self forward at work. But if you need a little extra push to check off the items on your to-do list (and still have the energy to rustle up a home-cooked dinner for your family later), a well-timed midday nap can do wonders for your productivity level.

Science shows that napping enhances vigor, vigilance, and accuracy. On top of that, it reduces confusion, subjective tiredness, and lapses in reaction time. If you have the occasional sleepless night, a 2016 study reported that daytime napping can also help "neutralize the decrease in alertness and performance" induced by sleep loss.

Upgrades Your Memory Skills

Before downing fish oil supplements to boost your ability to learn, think, and recall, sleep is the most effective weapon to sharpen your brain's memory function. At work, this can take the form of a power nap (roughly 10 to 20 minutes) to reactivate memory neurons that went offline when you became worn out from your job's demands.

If you intend to upgrade your skillset or embark on a learning course, napping can help you better absorb and retain the new knowledge. In a 2019 study, "cramming and napping led to significantly better memory than taking a break" when participants were tested half an hour later. Most importantly, the study noted that napping maintained memory retention for a week afterward, whereas cramming without taking a nap did not.

Enhances Your EQ (Emotional Intelligence)

A 4.0 grade point average may help you get the job at a prestigious company. What actually helps you excel in the position, though, is likely your EQ (emotional intelligence). Your ability to read the room or laugh at your client's bad joke may be what sets you apart from the crowd.

Yet, when you're bone-weary tired, it's harder to emulate inspirational leadership or show off your charismatic personality. That's where napping can help as it takes the edge off fatigue to recharge your battery. Post-snooze, you may find it easier to turn on the charm, so to speak.

Improves Your Mood

Happy team high-fiving each other

No one wants to be that coworker. It dampens the office atmosphere, lowers team morale, and makes everyone walk on eggshells.

Thankfully, a 30-minute nap during your afternoon dip elevates joy, relaxation, and mental refreshment afterward. Not only will you be in a stronger position to combat work blues, but you'll also be in a better mood when you clock out for quality time with your loved ones.

Boosts Your Creative Thinking

From graphic designers to office managers, many jobs rely on brainstorming and problem-solving. At times when your creative juices dry up, get some shut-eye to rekindle the spark of inspiration. Science shows that a 60-minute nap comprising time spent in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep can potentially boost your creative thinking by as much as 40%.

Strengthens Your Immunity

We all know how injurious sleep loss can be to our immune system. In fact, anything less than seven hours of sleep per night increases your chance of catching a cold by threefold! With that said, many of us inevitably rack up a sleepless night here and there.

If this sounds like you, sleep at work to help protect you from illness (and avoid bringing the germs home to your kids). A small-scale study found that napping bestows stress-releasing and immune-boosting powers on the sleep-deprived.

Another study also mentioned that a midday nap following short-term sleep loss can "improve alertness and return leukocyte counts to baseline values." (FYI, a high leukocyte count indicates an impairment of the immune system, such as an infection or body inflammation.)

Levels up Your Confidence

Many of us struggle with confidence issues at our workplace. Maybe you're a new hire who's too timid to speak up in meetings. Or perhaps you don't know how to broach the topic of a well-deserved pay raise with your manager. If that's the case, a 20-minute nap at work may give you the confidence boost you're looking for.

There Is a Right Way to Nap

Ready to reap most, if not all, of the above-mentioned benefits? First, read about the right way to nap. Then, head to the RISE app and use our new calendar integration to block off the right time to nap (aka during your afternoon dip) in your Apple or Google calendar.

Step 1: Check Your Running Sleep Debt

Repeat after us: Naps are not meant to be a stopgap for sleep deprivation. If you consistently fail to meet your sleep need at night, you need to look long and hard at your sleep hygiene instead of cozying up in your office's nap pod (more on that later).

The question you need to ask yourself is, “How much sleep debt am I carrying?” Many of us don't know our sleep need and overestimate the amount of nightly sleep we get. We all subjectively adapt to sleep loss. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put it, roughly one-third of Americans are sleep-deprived, which we suspect is a conservative number at best. 

To help you sleep at work for performance rather than doze off uncontrollably due to massive sleep loss, the RISE app keeps track of your running sleep debt. No matter  how much sleep debt is looming over your head, it's OK to nap in your office (provided that you have your boss’s green light).

Step 2: Pick Your Nap Goals and Length

Sleep at work: person sleeping in her office with her feet on her desk

Are you napping to sharpen your mental acuity for a challenging client meeting? In that case, you need what’s called an “appetitive nap.” Or maybe you want to snooze now because you're catching a red-eye flight later. In this scenario, you're using a “prophylactic nap” to preempt sleep loss. Even more commonly, you may be occasionally napping to pay down sleep debt, aka “replacement napping.”

As you can see, there are different types of naps to suit individual goals at work. To help you get the most out of your midday siesta, pick the one that complements your work tasks.

Nap goals aside, you also have to consider the length of your nap. Short naps (around 10-20 minutes) provide an energy boost that usually dissipates after 1-2 hours, with little to no wake-up grogginess being the upside. Meanwhile, new research shows that the longer the nap (about 40-90 minutes), the greater the improvement in cognition and physical performance. Yet, the trade-off is a greater risk of sleep inertia (aka grogginess) when the nap timer goes off.

Step 3: Schedule Your Nap Within Your Afternoon Dip

The best time to sleep at work is during the low-energy trough of your afternoon dip. That's because your daily energy schedule is an undulating wave of energy fluctuations, as pictured in the RISE app (which tells you the exact timing of your energy peaks and dips). As such, energy management, not time management, is key.

Using RISE, you can now see your daily energy peaks and dips alongside your schedule on your Apple or Google calendar so that you can align your energy and activities. Visit your profile — in the latest version of the RISE app — to connect your calendar.

Before scheduling a catnap, though, factor in sleep inertia and your sleepability meter. For wake-up grogginess, recall that the longer the nap, the more likely you'll need some time to transition to full consciousness when you awake. So, add some buffer time to help you be at your best once nap time is over.

Sleepability refers to how well you fall asleep on command. If you have high sleepability, you can pretty much doze off quickly. But if you have low sleepability, you'll need to factor in additional time, say, 10-15 minutes, for the sleep latency portion of your nap.

Step 4: Caffeinate Just Before You Take a Nap (Optional)

While naps are scientifically proven to be better than caffeine at restoring your mental faculties, you can combine the two for a potent duo. The trick to achieving the best of both worlds is to time your caffeine consumption just before you engage in a power nap.

How it works: Once you're asleep for a few minutes, the caffeine kicks in to give you an added energy boost on top of the restorative perks of your nap. So, you’ll wake up with all systems ready to go.

If You Sleep at Work for the Wrong Reasons ...

We've talked about using sleep at work for the greater good — your job performance, client relationships, the company's bottom line, and your overall quality of life. But what if you're sleeping on the job unintentionally? (Cue the microsleeps, when you nod off during work without even realizing your brain has gone offline.)

In many cases, the culprit is a toss-up between high sleep debt and work burnout. Or, even more likely, a mixture of both. The good news is, you can turn the tables around by improving your sleep hygiene and prioritizing your evening wind-down.

Good Sleep Hygiene + Circadian Alignment = Healthy Sleep

RISE app screenshot telling you when to limit caffeine
The RISE app features 16 science-based habits, like the "Limit Caffeine" habit, to help you meet your sleep need.

A lack of sleep is usually due to poor sleep hygiene. This is more than just a case of sleep procrastination that happens just before bedtime (i.e., you binge your favorite Netflix series into the wee hours instead of sleeping). Unhealthy sleep habits can also occur during the day, such as drinking caffeine too late in the afternoon or not exposing yourself to sunlight the moment you wake up.

The secret is to practice good sleep hygiene tied to your circadian rhythm 24/7. That's where RISE can help. With its 16 science-based sleep-promoting habits that are based on your unique chronobiology, you'll find it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep till morning to meet your sleep need.

To learn how to keep sleep debt to a minimum with healthy sleep hygiene, visit our step-by-step Sleep Guide.

Evening Wind-Down: Your Buffer Between Work and Sleep

Most of us are chronically stressed. Not only do we feel burnt out at work, but we also don't know how to disengage from work once we get home. (Working from home takes it to a whole new level, of course.) When your mind is still fretting over work matters at bedtime, you naturally find it harder to relax and for sleep to overtake you.

But there's one technique that can help you get off the never-ending hamster wheel of cortisol and sleep loss. It's your evening wind-down.

Purposefully carving out time to slow down at the end of the day helps transition you into the right mindset for sleep. For the best chance of falling asleep quickly and sleeping through the night, we recommend winding down in the 1-2 hours before your target bedtime, which should preferably be within your Melatonin Window. 

This is the window of time in which your body produces peak levels of the sleep-promoting hormone, melatonin. That’s why RISE schedules your “Wind-down” just before your Melatonin Window, which you can view on your Energy Schedule to find out what time your window starts. 

Physically and mentally winding down helps you avoid the pitfall of hyperarousal that hampers sleep from taking place. On its own, research shows that a wind-down routine helps stave off burnout. Consciously choose wind-down-appropriate activities (like taking a warm bath or shower) over sleep-procrastinating ones (like Instagram-scrolling) for better sleep tonight.

Sleep at Work to Put Your Best Self Forward

Consistently meeting your sleep need at night isn't the only thing you can do to be at your best physically, mentally, and emotionally at the conference table. Slotting in a midday snooze during your afternoon dip can maximize your work gains in more ways than one.

As we've mentioned, there is a right way to sleep at work. For starters, keep track of your running sleep debt (which you can view on the Sleep screen in the RISE app) and aim to keep it consistently low (read: less than five hours). Also, consider your nap goals, length, and timing. Use the RISE app to know when it's the best time to snooze so you can perform better at work today and every day.

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Rise is the only app that unlocks the real-world benefits of better sleep.

Instead of just promising a better night, we use 100 years of sleep science to help you pay down sleep debt and take advantage of your circadian rhythm to be your best.

Over the past decade, we've helped professional athletes, startups, and Fortune 500s improve their sleep to measurably win more in the real-world scenarios that matter most.

Rise Science is backed by True Ventures, Freestyle Capital, and High Alpha; investors behind category winners Fitbit, Peloton, and Salesforce Marketing Cloud.
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