Go take a nap: Can brief downtime help busy small-business professionals be more productive?

People in the tech industry know that sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to shut down for a bit and then reboot.

So it’s no surprise that many tech industry leaders, used to long days and stressful conditions, have chosen that same advice to get their staff up and running again, by encouraging a reboot with midday naps.

Companies like Google, Cisco and Zappos encourage employees who are putting in long, hard days to take short, refreshing naps. The three companies even provide nap space – ranging from nap pods to recliners – to help employees find time to take a reviving snooze.

These tech companies aren’t necessarily sleep innovators. According to the National Sleep Foundation, Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Napoleon, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and George W. Bush were reportedly fans of a midday nap.

Even leaders sometimes need a break.

But the art of the mid-day “lunch” nap hasn’t caught on much in this area. While most people said they could see the merits of catching a little shut-eye during a lunch break, representatives of the Lehigh Valley Chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management said they were aware of no companies locally that have official policies or accommodations encouraging lunchtime napping.

“We don’t see it as far as company policy or as acceptable practice, but I do know some specific white collar companies where it’s done. It’s not being lazy. It’s being done to be more productive,” said Scott Appnel, manager of business development for HealthWorks-Occupational Medicine at Populytics Inc. and a SHRM-LV board member.

There is science behind the need for napping. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that a third of U.S. adults report that they usually get less than the recommended amount of uninterrupted sleep, which is about seven and a half hours. A nap can help ease the fatigue from that lack of sleep.

Dr. Joseph Schellenberg, a pulmonologist with Lehigh Valley Health Network’s Sleep Disorders Center, said naps can certainly benefit a person in the middle of a work day.

“First of all, I’m a big fan of stepping away from the workplace in the midday – anything to break from your brain’s attention to work,” Schellenberg said. “Cat naps can be restorative for many people.”

But Schellenberg cautions there should be limits on lunchtime napping. He said a general rule of thumb is to keep such a nap to under 20 minutes. A light short nap can be refreshing. But a longer nap risks sending someone into a deeper sleep pattern that’s harder to wake up from. And it can leave a person feeling groggy and sometimes more tired than they were before a nap.

He also cautions that anyone who falls into the one third of Americans that don’t get enough sleep at night to avoid using naps as a substitute for that missed sleep. He said naps are refreshing when needed but are not a long-term solution to a proper night’s rest.

Finding the right place to nap can be tricky for those seeking out their 40 winks. An empty conference room or break room might do the trick, or a person can sneak out to his or her car for a break.

There are nap aids out there, but they don’t come cheap.

Nap pods made by New York-based MetroNaps sell for $13,000.

A European company makes portable head gear known as the Ostrich Pillow, which users can put on their heads for cushioning and to block out noise. They sell for $99 each.

The napping itself, of course, is free if taken on lunch break. Schellenberg said tired employees shouldn’t be afraid to take them when they need to recharge.