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Feeling Burned Out at Work? There’s a Nap for That!

Getting enough rest is not only good for your health, it’s a great career move, and a nap can help.

Christian Erfurt
Christian Erfurt

If you Google “coping with stress” or “how to handle job burnout,” you’ll get all kinds of advice, including suggestions like meditation, journaling, aromatherapy and exercise. All can be effective stress reducers and burnout avoidance techniques. But people who are stressed out on the job often respond to a tough day at work with even more work. That can set up a vicious cycle where you work more and get less done, leading to greater stress and burnout, which is not good for your career or your health.

It may seem counterintuitive to respond to work pressures by carving out time for a daily nap, but research suggests that getting enough sleep can do wonders for your mood and productivity, and a short period of rest during the day can help. Sleepless nights are a sign of stress, but even in the absence of job burnout, millions operate with a sleep deficit — more than a third of America adults, according to the CDC. The number is probably higher among people who are feeling stressed or burned out.

The scientific evidence shows that a short period of daytime rest can help workers perform better. Leading sleep scientists say a “power nap” — 10 to 20 minutes of rest during the workday — can significantly improve alertness. One study found that midday naps taken by medical residents (who are typically under enormous pressure to perform well on the job and subject to burnout) improved their cognitive functioning and alertness, which resulted in a 30% decrease in attention failures.

Even if you’re getting enough sleep at night, research shows that napping can improve mood and elevate confidence levels. In one study, scientists observed a group of workers with normal nighttime sleep habits and compared the mood and confidence levels of subjects who took a 20-minute nap vs. a peer group that didn’t nap during the day. Workers who took naps reported a positive effect on their perceptions of their own performance levels and confidence in handling job-related tasks.

Information overload can lead to a stress-and-burnout cycle, and napping can help alleviate that problem too. A study in Nature Neuroscience found that a daytime nap can stop or even reverse gradual losses in visual perception abilities, suggesting that naps can help people manage information overload. And another study found that even a very short period of daytime rest can improve memory function, providing an additional coping skill to combat information overload.

A generation ago, naptime was mostly associated with children and retirees, but today, some of the most innovative organizations provide nap facilities. Safe zones for napping include Google, Samsung, White & Case and Zappos. Maybe it’s a generational shift or the growing scientific evidence of the benefits, but in any case, sleeping on the job is not only okay but encouraged at more organizations than ever.

So, if you’re feeling stressed and burned out from the constant pressure at work, resist the urge to double-down and spend every waking minute on the job. Sometimes, less really is more. Consider a period of short rest instead so you can return to work recharged and more alert and productive. When stress levels rise and you’re feeling burned out because deadlines are looming, your mailbox is full and your phone is blowing up, just remember — there’s a nap for that.

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