Why napping on the job is good

The Tweet: “Researchers from NASA say the perfect nap lasts for 26 minutes.”

Calls for napping in the workplace following cases of air traffic controllers falling asleepon the job are supported by research that shows short naps improve mental alertness. A ’26-minute nap improved performance 34% and alertness 54%’ according to a study from 1995, conducted between researchers at NASA and Universities in the US. The statistic is often quoted in news stories on napping.

Following incidents of five air traffic controllers falling asleep in the US the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) called for “controlled naps” to be built into night shifts. Mark Rosekind, one of the researchers on the original 1995 NASA study and now at NTSB, called for Unions to push for naps to form part of regular breaks for shift workers.

A lot of research into napping the the workplace focuses on shift workers who report the highest frequency of fatigue. For example, on average nurses report having only 25.7 minutes of break in their entire shift. They also report that they only have a break in which they are entirely free from work every other shift, with most breaks requiring them to keep attending to patients. The opportunity for them to take a nap during a break is therefore limited, and even so, their average break is shorter than the ‘perfect’ 26 minutes.

A study looking at aircraft maintenance technicians who work 12 hour night shifts reported an improvement in performance on the first shift after a 20 minute nap. However, in the following shifts the nap made no improvement, suggesting that once the workers had time to grow accustomed to the work pattern they no longer needed to nap.

Other research also points to the fact that caffeine is a more effective countermeasure to tiredness than napping, producing more consistent results. And the magic figure of 26 minutes could be incorrect. One study found that naps of 30 minutes actually produced detrimental effects on alertness, as the nappers took longer to become fully awake again, and instead pointed to a shorter optimum nap time of 10 minutes. So while researchers disagree on the best length of nap, and even the effectiveness in counteracting tiredness, it’s unlikely we will see napping as a common sight in our workplace.

Image: Bryon Lippincott/ Flickr

This post was first published on The Untweetable Truth (20/01/2014)

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