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You’re heading back to the office. If she has her way, there will be nap time

May 7, 2021, 12:00 PM UTC

It’s Monday afternoon. You downed a sandwich for lunch two hours ago, and your mind already feels foggy. You’re struggling to make sense of a colleague’s email. Make no mistake, you’re dragging. No problem—just pop on the couch for a power nap ahead of your next meeting, due to start in 20 minutes.

The after-lunch snooze, a joy that many of us discovered while working at home during the pandemic, still remains a workplace no-no in many office settings outside of Silicon Valley or Japan—as welcome as greeting your colleagues in pajama bottoms.

Cara Moore, an English life coach and self-described “nap ninja,” is trying to break this taboo of corporate life. She thinks COVID-19 will be the catalyst for that change.

Two years ago, she set up the London-based consultancy ProNappers to convince businesses—from big banks and retailers, to a tech startup in the city—that it’s okay to let workers have a quick sleep if they need to. Furthermore, she says, they should afford plenty of time and space to get it done.

“I know that napping has always been my superpower,” says Moore. “What I want is for naps to become as acceptable as somebody saying, ‘I’m going to go for a run’…If somebody says, ‘I just need to go shut my eyes for 10 or 20 minutes,’ they should be able to do that.” 

If bosses are to ever wake up to her message, now could be the time. Wall Street heavyweights Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase, among others, want teams back in the office, starting next month. The catch: Many workers are deeply ambivalent.

According to one poll, a recent YouGov survey conducted on behalf of workplace analytics firm Locatee, only 7% of respondents wish to return to the daily office grind. Half of them said they would rather be home either every day or most days. Nearly three-quarters cited comfort as the main reason for this.

Please read: Returning to the office? Picture yourself in a “work tent”

Why We Sleep

Moore was inspired by Why We Sleep, a book by neuroscientist and sleep researcher Matthew Walker, which got companies to rethink the importance of rest. It even emboldened some enlightened companies to educate staff on the need to get a good night’s sleep.

Moore didn’t think companies went far enough, however. Even before COVID-19 shut down offices and workplaces around the world, she felt managers should be more open to allowing naps right there in the office, or at least nearby. 

Self-described "nap ninja," Cara Moore of ProNappers.
Photo courtesy of ProNappers

Moore can—and will—sleep anywhere. When she lived in London, she used to hide in churches or the sick room at work for a quick nod. Now she is self-employed, but won’t resist the temptation wherever she is.

“Yesterday I was sitting in a market square, having a coffee with my partner and I said to him, ‘I just have to have a nap,’” she says. “I can nap with my head up. I was fast asleep for about 10 minutes in the sunshine…It was a game changer for the afternoon because I came back to my Zoom calls, and I was listening, I was engaged, and I could contribute.”

There’s plenty of science to back up that claim. A number of sleep studies have shown that daytime power naps can improve memory as much as a regular night of sleep. A good snooze can also boost mood and creativity. Meanwhile, a 2010 study calculated that fatigue-related productivity losses can cost $1,967 per employee annually, a figure that could have easily gone up over the years.

The chief nap officer

ProNappers consists of four managers—chief executive Moore, a chief nap experience officer, a chief nap officer, and a nap ranger—aided by two sleep experts, a clinical aromatherapist, an interior designer, and a mindful leadership coach.

They run in-person workshops and have developed an interactive online course called “nap school.” In nap school, users are given the ABCs on the benefits of napping. There’s also a history lesson. For example, the Spanish word siesta, they instruct, derives from sexta, the term used to indicate the sixth hour after rising, which for ancient Romans was the customary hour for everyone to take a nap.

They also help clients with practical matters—helping them, for example, to set up “nap havens” in the workplace, which may be pods or unused rooms converted into quiet spaces with individual cubicles for sleep. Sleeping on work premises is nothing new for, say, Big Tech firms and in coworking spaces where laptop-toting staff work long days; Facebook and Google feature nap pods in offices worldwide, including London. But for other firms, the idea of dedicated space for staff to catch some z’s is new ground.

So far, ProNappers has worked with 20 companies, including PwC, Deutsche Bank, and Selfridges. PwC tells Fortune they encourage working sustainably, and taking rest when needed. In that way, naps are already in line with firms’ flexible working policy. However, neither PwC or Deutsche Bank have introduced dedicated spaces in their offices. Selfridges did not respond to a request for comment. 

Among ProNappers’ clients is Circulor, a software provider that tracks supply-chain data to ensure products are made sustainably. As it happens in many young startups, employees clock in long hours. Circulor recently installed a MetroNaps EnergyPod with the help of Moore to show staff it were serious about taking a break every now and then.

“It’s okay to fall asleep,” says Magdalena Rychlewska, business manager at Circulor. “And the fact that you’re in the office doesn’t mean that you have to constantly work and cannot take a break.”

Employees, Rychlewska continues, “like the thinking behind it. Treating people like adults, just trusting that they’re going to get work done, and even if they nap during the day, that’s absolutely fine.”

Slacker prejudice

But not everyone is so quick to jump on the bandwagon. Moore reckons it’s because we live in a culture of hyper-productivity, when sleeping on the job comes across as a sign of weakness, as laziness.

Another issue is time and space. Some workplaces can’t physically find the room space to rest. And others seeing the nap as time lost that can never be regained. Moore says they should regard it instead as an investment to do better work later in the workday.

All that said, she’s confident the corporate world is getting the message—if slowly.

“Roll back the clock, everybody smoked in the office. Who would have thought it would have been possible to get all smokers to go outside?” she asks rhetorically.

“Change can happen,” she continues. “It will happen: Naps will become part of the working day. I just hope it will be quite quick.”

Find a nap champion in the office

ProNapper’s managing partner and chief nap experience officer, Sam Ellis, says the goal is to get clients to identify role models within their own companies. She explains the breakdown in this way:

First you need directors to champion the benefits for the whole team. Meanwhile, managers should agree on a “nap window” or designated time so that teams can avoid scheduling meetings in those hours. Ideally, they would also stagger napping time for staff so they can respect one another’s slots.

Then, supervisors who oversee staff well-being should share any napping success stories drawn from staff experience, and promote the idea of individually selected self-care approaches, as well as educate themselves on the scientific benefits of daytime sleep.

Finally, the whole team should be able to recognize their own signs of fatigue and cater to those, instead of being embarrassed about them and powering through the day.

Most importantly, she says, staff needs to the space to nap, and be proud of it.

“If more and more role models come forward and say, ‘I can’t have a meeting now because that’s when I’m having my nap,’ it will just give more of a social permission for other people,” Moore says. 

“If that is the way that they need to recharge their batteries, then you should let them do that. For some people, it will be going shopping, having a run, going out for a coffee with a coworker. But if your thing is to have a sleep, and your well-being policy is truly inclusive, then you should let those people sleep without any shame or stigma.”

Go ahead. Sleep on it.

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