Disappear from your desk for a coffee run or a smoke break---that's fine. Spend time on Facebook or Twitter---that's OK, too. Fall asleep at your desk for five minutes---then the boss gets mad.
Napping is generally unacceptable in the workplace, and that's sad because it's the healthiest activity I've mentioned here and the only one that can actually make you a better worker.
Most modern humans push all of our sleep into one big chunk, usually at night, but our bodies still want to have a second bout of sleep in the afternoon. (That's why you get sleepy right after lunch.) Add into the mix the fact that most Americans aren't packing enough sleep into our nights and that napping is common in other societies, and a daily afternoon snooze starts looking quite natural.
Not only is napping natural, but it has numerous benefits. One study compared the effects of napping, caffeine and a placebo and showed that verbal and motor skills decreased after caffeine consumption but visual, verbal and motor skills were enhanced by napping. Another found that blood pressure decreased during an afternoon siesta. Healthy nappers may have lower death rates from from heart attacks and strokes. "Other studies have yielded similar findings for obesity and diabetes. Napping benefits the mind, too; naps enhance creative thinking, boost cognitive processing, improve memory recall and generally clear out the cobwebs," James Maas and Rebecca Robbins, co-founders of Sleep for Success, wrote in the New York Times last year.
I'm familiar with Maas, a Cornell University psychology professor, from my undergrad years at that institution. Every freshman there learns from her Psych 101 class (or from her friends taking it) about the importance of " power naps," those 10- to 20-minute cat naps intended to quickly give you a punch of energy. They're quick enough to not interfere with your regular sleep pattern or make you feel groggy afterwards.
There's also evidence that a longer nap might not be such a bad thing. One study found that a 30-minute nap could halt the irritation, frustration and poor performance (i.e., "burnout") that occurs when learning a new task, and a hour-long nap got rid of burnout entirely. Naps of 90 to 120 minutes, which allow the brain to cycle through all the various stages of sleep, may help with memory recall, mood or just tackling a sleep deficit.
"Napping is a natural medicine; you don’t need special equipment or clothing to nap; there is no need to shower after napping; it doesn’t hurt your joints; no drugs are needed," Boston University sleep expert William Anthony pointed out in the New York Times.
While dozing off at your desk might be adequate for these benefits, lying down is best, say the experts. So with all this in mind, perhaps every office should set aside a small nap room for their hardworking, sleep-deprived employees.