Four Women on the Restorative Joy of Napping at Work

"Sylvia Plath once said, "There may be things that a hot bath can't cure, but I don't know many of them." I feel the same way about napping."

by Sirin Kale
Jan 28 2019, 3:13pm

Photo by Sean Locke via Stocksy

As we brace for 2019 and stack up our resolutions, Broadly is focusing on finding motivation for the hard tasks that await us—like getting out of bed. So, throughout January, we're rolling out Getting Out of Bed, a series of stories about all things related to rest and resilience. Read more here.

Offices are many things: places of employment, places of despair, and places of productivity. But properly considered, offices should also be places of rest. Few pleasures approximate the robust joys of a surreptitious office nap, or the blissful peace that settles upon you when you return from a sneaky slumber, your co-workers none the wiser that you were fast asleep while they were inputting spreadsheet data.

Some of my best office naps have been after unexpectedly heavy nights out. The trick? Block out a period in your calendar for an unspecified meeting. Find your office’s disabled toilet, set an alarm on your phone, prop your head against the toilet paper dispenser, and slide into blessed sleep. (A balled up coat or jumper works well as a pillow.)

Properly understood, sleeping on the job is a political act. After all, in today’s neoliberal, late capitalist times, employers everywhere strip employee benefits to the bone in an endless quest for maximum productivity. So why not engage in your own personal act of petty rebellion? Besides, sleep is good for you. Being well-rested makes for a better employee. And as studies show that women consistently get less sleep than men, napping on the job is a way to redress the balance.

But how best to sleep on the job without getting caught and potentially fired? Lie back: we’ve got you covered.

Natalia, 29

I don’t see any issue with office napping if you’re doing it on your lunch break—it’s your time! At the moment I’m working in an office which doesn’t have good napping opportunities, which is a little frustrating. At my previous job they used to have loads of sofas in an atrium, and you’d always see people sleeping there. I’d just lie on one with my coat over me and set an alarm to wake me up in 40 minutes, so I’d have enough time to buy food and take it back to my desk. That’s the perfect amount of time. Any more and you’re really groggy all afternoon.

Whenever I’ve napped during the working day, I’ve got so much more work done. As I’m a night owl, I tend to struggle to wake up in the morning, and often feel exhausted during the working day as a result. It’s a hard world for night owls like me! I think we’d all be more productive if we were allowed to nap.

My favorite nap? Probably the day I was so hungover after my birthday celebrations that I was sick on the way to work. I found a park nearby my office and had a lovely—but cold—al fresco nap.

Stacey, 36

As a freelancer I'm astounded at how little work seems to get done in offices. It seems counterintuitive to make people stay at work for so many hours. Sleep is really important for a wide array of health reasons and I think it should be prioritized more in the workplace. I once worked in an office where I conducted a user survey to try to gauge what employee perks people would enjoy the most. The response? People wanted sleep pods.

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Me, personally, I like to sit on the toilet and rest my head in my hands for a few minutes. The trick is to slide your hands into your hairline, so you don’t get pressure marks. Even five minutes can help if you’ve slept badly the night before. You don’t need to sleep for long.

I have ADHD, which means I’m more alert at night. Being freelance works for me, as I’m able to self-manage my time and make sure I’m getting enough sleep. I’m really lucky that I can prioritize sleep over having a full-time office job.

Irina, 27

I fucking love napping. I nap everywhere. I basically never watch TV—my boyfriend flicks me on the forehead to stop me falling asleep every time we sit down to watch anything.

I’m a pioneer of the toilet roll nap. Basically, you flip the toilet roll holder up, so it’s resting on the wall, put the toilet seat down, sit on it, and rest your head on the toilet roll. Set an alarm to go off in 15 minutes, so no-one knows you’re gone. If your toilet isn’t set up for a roll nap, you can prop your elbows on your knees and put your head in your hands. It’s a decent second option. I never bother with a cover story. People who do are overstating their sense of importance in the office. In reality, no-one cares what you’re up to. But if you do get caught napping, don’t apologize. Explain that napping makes you more productive, and continue to nap as you were.

Alice, 26

One thing people don’t talk about is how exhausting face-to-face interaction can be when you work in an office. Without sounding too misanthropic, it’s energizing to be able to switch off from that for a while.

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I used to freelance at a company that had a long corridor of toilets. That was great, because you could spent a really long period of time in the toilets without anyone noticing. I'd spend half my lunch break dozing in one of the cubicles. I’d put the seat down, sit on it, lean my head against the toilet roll dispenser, and then drift off. I’m not a heavy sleeper, so I never had to worry about setting an alarm or anything. One of my best ever naps was in those toilets, actually. It was a Friday and I was very, very hungover. At lunchtime I went in a cubicle, ate a sandwich, and then fell into a deep slumber.

Sylvia Plath once said, "There may be things that a hot bath can't cure, but I don't know many of them." I feel the same way about napping.