It’s estimated that the average person spends up to a third of their lives asleep. But most shift workers aren’t getting anywhere near this amount, and it’s causing major issues in health and wellbeing. We look at one possible solution that’s been promoted to employers – napping at work!

Bed is Best

We all know that a good, long sleep is the best way to recover after a hard and exhausting shift. But the latest research has shown that good quality sleep is also essential for lots of important functions.
From maintaining cognitive skills, communication, memory and creativity and flexibility, sleep has an effect on our ability to do a range of important work-related tasks.
There is a strong relationship emerging between the quality of sleep and physical and mental health. Which means that not getting enough sleep, is having a profound impact on our ability to function at work and at home, as well as significant affecting our long-term health.

Shift Work Sleep Disorder

For most shift workers, sleep is an elusive commodity. Shift Work Sleep Disorder (SWSD) is a well known problem for shift workers, where a person’s natural circadian rhythm is disturbed. The effects include insomnia and excessive sleepiness, work-related stress, illness and higher rates of injury due to lack of alertness at work.

Whose Responsibility is a Worker’s Sleep?

In the UK, it’s estimated that one fifth of doctor’s appointments are caused by people feeling tired. Despite this, there’s a prevailing view that sleep an individual’s responsibility.
Amongst shift workers there is a culture of acceptance – working shifts and lack of sleep go hand-in-hand. If you’re not getting enough rest, it’s your responsibility to do something about it, such as using anything from blackout blinds and earplugs to a mug of warm milk.
Most employers take the view that employees sleep patterns are none of their business, after all, sleep falls outside most people’s working hours.
But for shift workers, who are forced to work unsociable hours and night shifts, there is a growing school of thought that employers need to take more action to help them manage their sleep, health and wellbeing.
This becomes more relevant for employers when lack of sleep begins to affect employees ability to carry out their tasks safely and effectively.

Napping At Work

One solution that some employers have started to introduce is the facility for employers to take a nap at work. For many shift workers, this is purely the stuff of dreams! But some organisations are taking it very seriously.
A study conducted in a public hospital in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with nursing professionals showed that on-shift napping reduced the likelihood of weight gain and other SWSD related issues. The researchers stated that:-
“The results … are in agreement with other research showing the positive effects of napping during night work in relation to recovery from work and hypertension, suggest a potential benefit of napping among nursing workers.”
Sleep experts back up this study suggesting that a short nap at work can lead to improved alertness which will impact on your performance and memory, as well as reducing your stress levels and boosting mood.

Is it really that simple?

Napping might be beneficial, but for many workers, the idea of nipping off for twenty minutes to snooze while the rest of your shift team carries on is just not practical. It’s hard not to be accused of skiving, unless employers have specifically encouraged workers to nap on the job.
This might include introducing a policy which clarifies that absolutely everyone is entitled to take a nap if they feel exhausted, or introducing areas specifically designed to allow for easy resting.


However, not everyone is taken in with the idea, and there is the question of where workers are to nap.
Having a dedicated area might make it easier for workers to drift off, but there is still the overriding culture of “you come to work to work” which will block many employers from even considering napping as an option.

Fix the Overriding Problem

One school of thought suggests that having naps at work may well be a good idea, and might considerably help shift workers in the short term. But that naps are the equivalent of sticking a plaster on a broken leg.
The one thing napping doesn’t do is provide the right support for the chronically sleep-deprived and those suffering from long term shift work sleep disorder. There is even some evidence to suggest that napping might make poor sleep worse.
Most naps do not include REM Sleep and Deep Sleep the two most important stages of the sleep cycle. Which means that a quick nap has benefits, but it’s not a replacement for a full sleep, and there’s a risk that by promoting naps at work employees will only encourage workers to get by on less sleep, thinking they can ‘make it up’ at some point during the shift.

Shift Workers Need More Structured Support

It’s clear that shift workers’ lives outside of work are important. Considering that one in three British workers is chronically sleep-deprived, it’s clear that many of us are failing to prioritise sleep and are suffering the consequences.
Employer attitudes towards sleep do need to change, to make it an important part of working responsibilities. When we allow work to take up such a massive portion of our life, it’s hard to make anything else a priority, but when mental and physical wellbeing are an essential part of being good at your job, sleep needs prioritised highly as well.