World Sleep Day: why an afternoon nap is good for your blood pressure
Check out our CEO Neil Henderson in The Telegraph extolling the virtues of having sleep pods in our office for productivity and mental wellbeing. "St Luke’s creative agency in London provides workers with a range of wellbeing-focused benefits, including a quiet sleeping area with two beds."
Any diligent homeworker will tell you that discipline is the key to success. Which is why I head to my office (via the kettle) for 10.30am sharp each morning, ready to catch up with rest of the world, which has already been at work for several hours.
The room echoes with urgent keystrokes until around an hour after lunch when, like millions of other workers, I hit the inevitable post-prandial morass, which makes late afternoons a mire of procrastination. Indeed, tiredness is a national epidemic which costs the UK economy £40bn annually. Yet still we punch through, crossing the 6pm finishing line bleary-eyed and exhausted, our Calvinist work ethic intact.
Like many of you, this was my pattern until I started doing something secretly in my bedroom in the afternoon that is so taboo, even now I feel guilty confessing to it. I started taking afternoon naps. At around 2pm, I quietly snuck upstairs, set the alarm for 20 minutes, and had a kip. Worst of all? They often take place on the loo. Call it my attempt at multi-tasking.
The result of these daily dozes – yes, even the bathroom-based ones – is a miraculous renewal of energy and focus, and a more productive, albeit shorter, afternoon. And last week, a study of 212 patients at Asklepieion General Hospital in Voula, Greece, found that those with high blood pressure who slept for an hour a day saw their condition improve ‘at the same magnitude as other lifestyle changes,’ such as reducing salt or alcohol. So why isn’t everyone snoozing after lunch?
The answer, of course, is that in other parts of the world many are, and thus are enjoying the health benefits thereof. We may raise eyebrows at the Spanish siesta and blame the nation’s sluggish economy on the fact that the shops are shut between two and five in the afternoon, but the fact remains that even though only 18 percent of Spaniards admit to having an afternoon nap, they enjoy a much longer life expectancy at birth than UK citizens – as do Italians, who also take an afternoon ‘riposa’.
There is further research to back this link between loafing and longevity: according to a 2012 report from the Spanish Society of Primary Care Physicians, a regular short sleep after lunch can reduce stress, help cardiovascular functions, and improve alertness and memory.
The fact remains however, that even though we would all benefit from a nice lie down, culturally, taking a nap in the workplace is frowned upon by most businesses. This, argues Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, a sleep expert and author of The Little Book of Sleep, is counterproductive.
“I said 15 years ago that organisations that allow their staff to nap will have a competitive advantage,” she explains. “The human body is not designed to be on the go all the time, but work patterns and technology mean that we are constantly active and bombarding our brains with information. Many people never stop during the day or take breaks and they get home in the evening feeling shattered and exhausted. A mid-afternoon nap is a way to withdraw from external stimulus so the brain can re-balance and the working memory can empty itself.”
She recommends a 20-minute doze between 2pm and 4pm, either sitting or lying down.
“Avoid going into deep sleep as you might come out of it feeling groggy. You want to get to the early state of sleep where you just start to drift off,” she advises. “These short power naps help cognitive performance.”
A few forward-thinking companies now provide ‘nap pods’ and sleeping areas for their staff but, as Dr Ramlakhan concludes, its prevalence remains “a long way off.”
Most likely, we have a long way to go until slumping at desks in the UK is viewed positively, but some firms are keen to practice their own brand of nap-iquette.
St Luke’s creative agency in London provides workers with a range of wellbeing-focussed benefits, including a quiet sleeping area with two beds. Employees each receive their own pillowcase.
Neil Henderson, CEO and owner, says that staff are often expected to work late nights and be in for meetings in the morning.
“Advertising is a demanding industry. If someone’s only had five hours’ sleep because they’ve been working late and had an early start, their productivity will be hopeless for the rest of the day,” he explains. “I can’t always change the times they are needed, but I can provide somewhere for them to go and have another hour’s kip. A power nap mid-morning or mid-afternoon sets you up for the rest of the day. You are much more alert. It also promotes creativity. Sleep and creativity are closely aligned so it helps us get an edge on the competition.”
At a time when over two-thirds of adults in all developed nations fail to get the recommended eight hours of sleep a night, perhaps the answer is simple one. Trust me, you’ll feel all the better for an afternoon nap. Even if it does take place on the loo.
Our reluctance to embrace casual slumber is cultural and for liberation we need to look East, where sleep is more a public affair. Snoozing workers draped over the seats of scooters at the side of roads are a common sight in various cities in Vietnam, while in Tokyo and Hong Kong, it is common to see zonked out businessmen asleep in public places – something the Japanese call ‘inemuri’, which means ‘being present while asleep’ and is symbolised by people literally dozing at their desks, in class and in meetings.
Indeed the Japanese are arguably the masters of casual sleep: dropping off in the day has been recorded as far back as the 10th Century.
For people not used to the practice, it can be confusing and disconcerting, particularly during business meetings, and it is tricky to understand the nuances of when and where it is acceptable.
Dr Brigitte Steger, Senior Lecturer in Modern Japanese Studies at the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Cambridge explains: “In Japan it’s taken for granted that you fall asleep when you are tired. Inemuri describes a social aspect of napping where you sleep while you officially do something else. For that reason, it is not seen as sleep, although physiologically you might well be fully asleep.”
by Nick Harding for The Telegraph
15 March 2019