People should nap more at work

July 3, 2024 | 07:45 pm PT
Trinh Phuong Quan Architect
Even when I worked abroad, I held fast to my Vietnamese routine of taking a quick 15-minute power nap during lunch breaks.

The first time I did this at the office, my colleagues were very surprised.

John, my next cubicle neighbor, told me that he never naps at lunch time. He said almost no one does that in the U.S., where he's from. Typically, after lunch, John spends a bit of time scrolling his phone, watching YouTube videos, or listening to music.

I explained to him that this is part of my daily routine, especially on hot summer days. I typically would have a small cup of coffee before taking 10 to 20 minutes to nap, a method typically called "coffee nap." This helps me feel more refreshed, awake, and less tired, which prepares me for the afternoon work session.

After a short while, John tried the lunch nap. Afterwards he said that his eyes felt less dry, and he became more relaxed.

I did some quick research about the napping culture globally and found many interesting details. Napping is not an uncommon pattern in many countries where the cultures and lifestyles are deeply rooted climates of each region. High temperatures and humidity makes human bodies more tired, which prompts more people to seek lunch naps to refresh themselves.

Napping is not limited to Asia. In Europe, most prominently in the Mediterranean which has generally warmer weather, napping is also part of the local culture. The Spaniards call a lunch nap "siesta," while the Italians calls it "riposo." Around noon, shops and offices in small towns there close for a few hours for people to have lunch with their families and have a quick nap afterwards. Similarly, in Latin America, Mexico and Brazil also have napping cultures.

In most Western countries, however, napping is uncommon, due to the work schedule and the norms of professionalism. But these patterns are changing as more and more research shows that short naps bring health and productivity benefits.

Global technology conglomerates in the Silicon Valley, U.S., like Google, Facebook, and Apple have begun to provide more relaxing spaces for employees, including dedicated lunch-nap areas. In recent years, some technology companies in Singapore, like SAP, Google, and Shopee, have provided napping chairs in offices, while the renowned Nanyang Technological University designed and built a napping cubicle in its library last year.

Sleeping and napping are important. Research in 2018 by RAND Corporation, a U.S.-based global policy think tank, showed that sleep deprivation can result in a 3% decrease in a nation's GDP. Recent research also showed that almost a quarter of Gen Z workers, who were born in the late 1990s and early 2000s, prioritize work perks that can help them cope better with workplace stresses, such as dedicated spaces for napping or meditation, or massage chairs.

In Vietnam, napping takes all shapes and sizes. Corporate workers in Vietnam can nap on their desk, on the chair, or on the ground, as most offices do not really have dedicated spaces for it. It is common to see some corporate workers bringing a yoga mat, a pillow and a blanket to work. Despite their efforts to make naps more comfortable, the lack of dedicated spaces lowers the quality of their sleep.

Therefore, designing dedicated napping space in offices is important to ensure that workers have effective rests while maintaining better privacy. This could potentially improve workers' wellbeing and productivity, which could translate to better work performances.

In terms of space, I think that a napping cubicle should be 1.5 to 2 square meters, and offices should have enough space for its workers to nap sufficiently. These areas should also have specialized temperature, lighting and gender separation.

I understand that not every company in Vietnam has enough resources to have such specialized designs in the workplace. However, all corporations can consider providing some staple amenities, like blankets or pillows, and normalize employees' need for naps.

After the Covid-19 pandemic, many corporations encouraged a hybrid or remote working environment, which has made most offices significantly less crowded. This provides an opportunity for corporations to convert unused spaces into dedicated relaxing spaces for employees.

Balancing between mental wellbeing and productivity of employees should not be a zero-sum game. As workplace pressure and competitiveness increases, corporations should also consider measures to protect the wellbeing of their employees.

*Trinh Phuong Quan is a Vietnamese architect who cares about sustainable design.

The opinions expressed here are personal and do not necessarily match VnExpress's viewpoints. Send your opinions here.
go to top