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Last Updated: Friday, 30 June 2006, 10:34 GMT 11:34 UK
Sleeping on the job
By Sean Coughlan
BBC News Magazine

Keyboard/ monkeys
Who won the evolutionary race?

Hot day, stuck in the office? Worried about waking up with your face on the desk? National Siesta Day has the evidence that two sleeps a day is natural and that there's nothing Spanish about the siesta.

Summer time and the living is ... well, if you're stuck at your desk at work it's depressingly similar to the rest of the year, really.

Even though we might be waking up earlier in the summer and getting drowsier in the warm weather, the working day marches on regardless of the rhythms of the seasons.

Your eyes are glazing over in front of the computer screen - but you can't fall asleep. The sunshine is trying to get through the sealed office windows, it's telling you take it easy and relax, but you're still toiling on regardless.

And that's all wrong, say the organisers of National Siesta Day, held this week, who argue that it's common sense and good health to take a nap during the day - because that's the way human beings are designed.

Refreshing the parts

"Most people stay awake all day rather than taking a nap - but they're fooling themselves. If they're tired, they make mistakes and are more likely to have accidents. They can't think as clearly," says Noel Kingsley, spokesperson for Siesta Awareness.

Sleeping on a bench
You know it makes sense

Taking a short nap is the answer, he says. It's a case of "listening to our bodies".

"There is a natural dip in energy, about 12 hours after the deepest sleep; we get drowsy and there's a drop in body temperature. We need a short nap to refresh ourselves."

But why don't we? If you said you were going to pound on a treadmill in the gym for an hour during lunch, everyone would think you were a model worker.

If you said you fancied snoring for an hour, would you get the same approval? Waking up with a keyboard indentation on your face doesn't quite spell management material.

"Falling asleep is associated with laziness and boozy lunches - when it has nothing to do with that. It's responding to what's natural. If businesses were more far-sighted they'd see that it helps people to perform."

Churchill, Napoleon and Da Vinci used to nap
Siesta comes from the Latin for sixth hour
In Japan, employees have desk pillows and napping rooms
Before the industrial revolution, an afternoon sleep was normal in northern Europe

The problem is even more apparent in summer, he says. "A short nap would help us all."

And here's another misunderstanding about siestas. It's not really a Mediterranean invention - it's just that those southern European countries have had the good sense to preserve the tradition.

Before the industrial revolution and fixed working hours, it would have been perfectly normal in northern Europe for people to take an afternoon sleep before a big evening meal.

People wanted to stay sharp for the big social occasion of the evening meal, so they had a couple of hours sleep around 4pm. And then, refreshed and hungry, they would wake for their dinner and then go to bed around midnight, getting up again at daylight.

Sleep deprived

This pattern was a closer match for nature's design, says Jim Horne, director of the Sleep Research Centre at Loughborough University.

Sleeping tiger
In nature, there's no 9-to-5
"We're designed to have two sleeps a day - a big one at night and a small one in the afternoon," says Professor Horne.

And he says that if people are "prone to an afternoon dip, I'd advocate a short nap, up to about 15 minutes, because if you go beyond that it turns into full-blown sleep and is counter-productive, because you end up feeling thick-headed when you wake up".

But for anyone beginning to formulate a demand to management about the biological need for hammocks in the workplace, he also cautions that feeling drowsy could just as likely be caused by going to bed too late, rather than the call of any ancient sleep patterns.

How much sleep do we need? About seven to seven and a half hours, says Professor Horne. And he rejects as a modern myth the claims that our overcrowded lives are causing an epidemic of sleep deprivation.

"It's not true that people slept more 100 years ago," he says.

But he says that sleep can be adaptable. Eskimos used to sleep for up to 14 hours a day in winter. And office workers? Sorry, I was just drifting off ...

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

My line manager actually sent me this link - maybe with some luck I/we can convince the directors that this is a good idea.
Dr Geneva Fox, Yorkshire

I agree strongly with this article. By the afternoon I am counting down the hour until i can go home for a nap before the evening. I can hardly concerntrate and think it is very dangerous for drivers on the way back from work who are exhausted and are in a rush to get home, espeicially on a Friday afternoon! Bring on the hammocks at work!
Lizzie, Horsham, West Sussex

Finally! I thought it was just me who craves an afternoon nap. I can count down to my 2 o'clock "shut down" which lasts until about 3.30pm. I struggle to keep my eyes open and I too find myself trying to nap in the office toilets. Energy drinks and caffine are my saviour but I would love for employers to recognise the benefits of a 20/30 minute nap. My productivity is without doubt affected in the afternoons, I am consumed by thoughts of getting home to have a nap after work.
Bridget Gillyon, Manchester

I sure could use a short nap...and it's only 9am. I hate relying on caffeine to keep me going, hurts my head. I definitely agree with a short "power" nap as a means for re-energizing. I used to take them when I was in college and would love to have a short one in the afternoons during the work week...but that will never happen in the US.
Jeff Maffuccio, Boise, Idaho

How interesting. When I was expecting our son I followed that pattern exactly - giving in to the desire for a 4pm nap when I got in from work. I used to get up pretty much at sunrise and be in the office by 7.30am at the latest, leave at 3.30 & be home at 4 for a nap for around an hour, then normally in bed by about 11pm. I think when you are expecting you don't have a choice but to follow exactly what your body wants you to do! I work part time now our son is here and still 18 months on find I follow his sleep patterns, going for a quick nap when he does at lunchtime. I really miss that time on my work days, it would be in about an hour from now, and am dozing off as I type!
Donna, Brighton

I think that it's a good idea to take a short nap during afternoon hours. In the Saurashtra region of India, all of us do that, and believe me, people here are more productive.
Parikshit Chudasma, Ahmedabad, India

I work in Japan, where an afternoon nap in the staffroom is perfectly acceptable and no-one bats an eyelid!
Jocelyn, Shizuoka, Japan

Sorry but the banking industry in Sydney frowns on this kind of thing. I use to nap regularly but was lectured by my boss and forced not to. The reason...it doesnt look professional. Strange when the managing director of the company use to do this but the lower employees can not? Go figure.
Matt, Sydney

I regularly feel sleepy in the afternoon and occasionally feel my eyes closing while engrossed in deep thought. To avoid embarrassment at the desk I nip out to the toilet, have a few minutes nap and return to the desk and haven't once overslept doing this. All of this takes place within a few minutes and I feel refreshed afterwards.
John, Preston

Wonderful! I've been saying the same ever since visiting Italy. A friend of mine has also tried the Uberman sleep schedule - a 20-30 minute nap once every 4 hours is all the sleep he had for around six months. With 5-6 extra hours per day awake he certainly had a lot more free time to play with. However, because culture dictates so much of our daily routine there have been few long-term studies on this sleeping pattern because it is inconvenient socially.
Paul, Bristol

What's a lunch break?
Colin Cooper, Scunthorpe

Many Chinese take this to heart - I've walked around many a tourist attraction only to see someone taking a nap. Not that I'm criticising as a nap between the lessons I teach keeps me going throughout the hot, hot days where the outside temperature hits 44C.
Oliver Tupman, Xi'an, China

I have the passenger seat in my car in a permanent tilted back position. Every lunch break at work I read my book in the car, then sleep for about 15-20 minutes. It really helps me work better through the afternoon.
Will, Horsham, West Sussex

I work from home and have a 30 minute nap every afternoon after lunch. I wake up feeling refreshed and I have no problems sleeping at night. I used to work in an office where this was impossible, ended up dosing myself with caffeine in the afternoon and being unable to sleep at night. Different people have different body rhythms, good employers should recognise this and increase productivity.
Greg Hoover, London

Coming from an Australian/Spanish background I have to agree that a siesta after lunch is a fantastic idea. I know that after having lunch at work I find that to be able to make some sense of what I'm reading on the computer screen I need to prop my eyelids up with toothpicks and consume obscene amounts of caffeine. Viva la siesta.
Mercedes, London

If only my boss saw it this way! As a result of trying to stay alert all working day, my blood type is coffee.
Evan, London

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