In honor of National Work and Family Month, I'm coming clean.
I'm a napper. Have been all my life.
I'm sorry to report it was my own parents who got me hooked, putting me down for sometimes as many as two naps a day when I was still just a baby. But irresponsible as that might have been, I can't really blame them for my addiction. That was my fault alone -- the result of the intense high I get from napping.
In high school, in college, in my years as a respectably-employed adult, I have found that there are moments when my mind goes fuzzy, my attention wanders and my eyelids start to drift south. And early on I discovered that a quick fix -- twenty minutes of shut-eye -- is all it takes to bring me back refreshed and alert. It isn't always possible to take a nap, of course, but it is always worth it if I can.
How do I know it's worth it? In part from the incredible kick of creative and physical energy a good nap brings me, but even more so from the times I've needed my nap-fix and haven't gotten it. I've wasted countless sleepy hours sitting upright at a desk, fully aware that I was getting nothing done but powerless to do anything about it. (And don't say "coffee" or "Coke" -- for me their effects are temporary, at best... until later that night, when an afternoon dose of caffeine can keep sleep at bay for hours!)
Now that I work for the most flexible boss I've ever had (me), I can nap pretty much whenever I want to. And while on some days I'm alert from start to finish, on others there comes a moment when I can feel my mind begin to drift and my energy plummet. At those times, no matter how busy I am, I know twenty minutes of sleep will buy me hours more hard work.
A recent New York Times article noted that millions of workers outside the U.S. -- from China to India to Spain -- take afternoon naps. It cited research showing that sleep in large chunks and small "primes our brains to function at a higher level, letting us come up with better ideas, find solutions to puzzles more quickly, identify patterns faster and recall information more accurately." One such study, funded by NASA, found that "letting subjects nap for as little as 24 minutes improved their cognitive performance."
That's why, all kidding aside, I maintain that napping is a work-life issue. If naps can save me hundreds of hours of droopy, drowsy, unproductive time, think what they could do for the millions other Americans who work for employers that don't have the sense to provide for us nappers.
Robin Hardman is a writer and work-life expert who helps companies put together the best possible "great place to work" competition entries and creates compelling and easy-to-read benefits, HR and general-topic employee communications. Her award-winning blog about writing for corporate communicators can be found at www.robinhardman.wordpress.com; see www.robinhardman.com for information about her services.