On a plump futon at Ben and Jerry's ice cream company, on the silky grass in the park next to Esprit headquarters, in soft-lit chambers above Levi's Plaza, a growing number of men and women are interrupting the workday to do what comes naturally:
Take a nap.
Like new parents and student doctors, firefighters and kindergartners, corporate America is discovering the restorative power of 20 to 30 minutes of sweet inertia.
And not a wink too soon, say sleep experts.
In a nation where 100 million citizens are seriously sleep deprived, taking a nap has become "a heroic act," says pioneer sleep researcher Dr. William Dement of Stanford University.
Armed with evidence from the laboratory that the human body is designed for not one but two sessions of sleep every 24 hours, Dement and other sleep specialists recently launched "Wake Up America 1994." It's a campaign designed both to boost sleep's image as a positive, even necessary, pastime and persuade more Americans to "take sleep seriously"--especially naps.
Forget Homer Simpson and Dagwood Bumstead. People who break up the workday with a nap are putting to bed the myth that daytime sleep is an indulgence of dull, lazy or unmotivated workers.
In fact, sleep experts say, prudent nappers may be among the more perceptive, organized, and aggressive employees--once they get their Zs.
In his book "Stress and the Power Nap"--billed as "the book designed to put you to sleep"--St. Louis psychologist Dennis Shea calls on big business to embrace the nap as an economical quick-fix for burned-out execs.
While many could benefit from more sleep, those who need it most are workers whose drowsiness could endanger themselves or others.
Sleep deprivation may have contributed to some of the world's most frightening accidents: the poison gas leak at Bhopal, the near-meltdown at Three Mile Island, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle.
When the oil tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground shortly after midnight March 24, 1989, the third mate at the helm, investigators determined, was "asleep on his feet."
The horror stories continue. Sleep or lack of it contributes to an estimated 200,000 vehicular accidents and 10,000 traffic fatalities each year in North America, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
On Aug. 18, 1993, at 4:56 p.m., a Douglas DC-8 plowed into the ground just short of the runway at the U.S. Naval Air Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. That crew--like the occupants of too many other cockpits, sleep experts say--needed a nap, according to a report by the National Transportation Safety Board.
According to a recent report in the New York Times, all three members of a flight crew--pilot, co-pilot and engineer--will occasionally fall asleep while their jumbo jet flies on automatic pilot, a violation of FAA rules.
On one occasion, it was reported, a flight attendant assigned to keep the pilot awake also fell asleep.
"In terms of lost productivity and multimillion-dollar lawsuits, more and more companies are beginning to see the benefits (of naps in the workplace)," says Marvin Miles of Stanford's Sleep Research Center.
Everybody knows the symptoms of dangerous drowsiness: irritability, short-term memory loss and spontaneous loss of consciousness. Unlike most remedies, a nap offers immediate and complete relief. And it can be self-administered before, during or after symptoms appear.
Dement admits he personally does little napping because "my employers don't encourage it."
"So, we still have a long way to go, I guess," concedes Dement's protege Mark Rosekind, who conducts FAA-approved cockpit rest studies for the NASA Ames Research Center at Moffet Field.
Although crew naps are still prohibited on most airplanes, Rosekind's research showed that, "right stuff" or not, pilots score better on take-offs and landings if they are properly rested. Such research comes as no surprise to those in the cockpit, says Rosekind, who is promoting a new sleep education project for airlines and their employees.
"As little pockets of our society become better informed," Rosekind says, "good sleep hygiene will be valued just as much as a good diet and exercise regimen. . . . But we've got to get past casting aspersions when we see somebody sleeping. What we should be saying is, 'Gee, there's someone trying to be healthy and safe.' "
Esprit and Levi Strauss & Co. are in the vanguard of corporations that acknowledge the occasional need for employee naps. Although coffee breaks have long been a part of the workday, companies are finding that a nap or exercise break can be even more refreshing. But even though science now supports the boost in productivity, few companies want to be known for paying workers to sleep on the job.
Even at those companies whose flextime allows naps, image-conscious executives are wary about how their unwritten rest policies may be viewed by outsiders.