Science says sleeping on the job should be part of work

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Lack of sleep and the resulting fatigue are common symptoms of modern life. Science estimates we are sleeping
 one to
 two 
hours
 less 
a 
day
 than
 we did 100 
years ago.

One way to improve performance, according to the latest research, is to sleep on the job. There are immediate benefits.

Apparently those who can get a little shut eye in the office are better able to solve problems, have better concentration and are more tolerant to frustration.

Researchers at the University of Michigan, writing in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, say nap pods and extended break times make for more productive and happier employees.

Previous research has shown it’s becoming increasingly common for people not to sleep through the night, contributing to increased fatigue, lower concentration and poor memory in the work force.

In the latest research, those employees given a 60 minute break to snooze later reported feeling less impulsive and were more prepared to spend more time trying to solve a task without getting frustrated.

Research in Australia has measured better performance from workers who get a nap.

Sleep expert Melinda Jackson says sleeping on the job can improve productivity, especially for shift workers.

“There is mounting evidence that napping during a shift can improve alertness and help maintain performance in the early hours,” says the psychologist from RMIT University. “But critical to the beneficial effect of the nap is the length of the sleep and working out the best times to take a nap.”

She says fatigue played a role in major disasters such as the Chernobyl nuclear power plant meltdown in Ukraine, the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger and the grounding of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker shortly after midnight on March 24, 1989.

All of those tragedies occurred during the early hours of the morning when the controllers were working through a night shift.

Jackson was part of a team of researchers whose work at the Washington State University revealed how sleep loss impacted people making critical decisions.

Sleeping on the job is already encouraged in some industries.

“In the aviation industry for example, pilots rostered on a long-haul flights have nap opportunities fixed in to their rosters,” she says. “In industries like hospitals, doctors on long shifts are actively encouraged to sleep. And in Australia where long distances are the norm, power naps are to be actively encouraged by people driving long distances.”

Sleep and rest are vital to health and wellbeing.

Stuart Taylor, founder of the Resilience Institute Australia, also recommends a nap, especially after lunch.

He says technology, among other factors, has disrupted our body clocks and the first step to getting a good nights sleep is understanding the science behind it.

A study measuring the resilience of 16,000 people across 250 organisations found that 43.3% ranked high on questions relating to tiredness and fatigue.

“We are perpetually desynchronised by artificial light, heating, electronics and sleep debt,” says Taylor. “We are not exposed to adequate blue light in the early part of the day.”

Many studies reveal the significant cost of employees coming to work while physically or mentally unwell.

A recent study based on Australian workers shows the association between poor sleep, in terms of quality and quantity, with loss of coordination, attention, decision making and impulse control.

Taylor has 12 tips to improve sleep:

  • Commit to a regular wake up time – preferably around dawn
  • Get 
vigorous
 exercise
 early in the day

  • Take power naps – 15 minutes after lunch
  • Avoid caffeine after 2pm
  • Have
 a n
early and
 light 
evening 
meal
  • Limit alcohol and protein intake
  • Ditch
 TV,
 laptops 
and
 gadgets 
after 7pm (or at least 2 hours before bed)
  • Cool,
 darken
 and
 quieten
 your
 bedroom
  • Remove TV,
 phones
 and laptops 
from
 bedroom

  • Develop 
a 
relaxation 
routine
 before
 sleep
  • Discharge sleep debt by going to bed early (rather than sleeping in)

  • Aim for 7 to 8 hours sleep per night

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