Sleeping on the job

Associated Press

CUPERTINO, Calif. – Al Kirschbaum has been napping on the job for 30 years. For up to half an hour after lunch, he puts a sign on the door of his office at Fremont Investment Advisors, loosens his tie, stretches out on the floor and snoozes.

“It’s incredibly refreshing,” said Kirschbaum, 63, a managing director of highly rated Fremont Investment, which manages $6.5 billion of investments. “If I nap for even 10 minutes, I’m much more energized and alert. It’s like starting the day all over again.”

Kirschbaum is not alone.

King Kryger, managing editor of the medical journal Anesthesia &Analgesia and also 63, finds leaning back in his chair and dozing for a few minutes around 3 p.m. is just the tonic he needs to stay at his best.

Kryger rises around 6 a.m. at his home near El Cerrito and meditates before taking BART to San Francisco. For nearly 30 years, he has been taking an afternoon nap, not to make up for a sleep deficit but to recharge his batteries.

Mark Rosekind, co-founder and president of Alertness Solutions in Cupertino, consults with government and industry about the rewards of napping, namely improved safety and productivity on the job.

He maintains that people are biologically programmed to be sleepy twice a day, typically between 3 and 5 a.m. and 3 and 5 p.m. An afternoon nap of less than 40 minutes helps alertness. If you sleep longer, Rosekind advises, be prepared to awake groggy and disoriented – unless you take a full two hours to allow for rapid eye movement and a complete deep sleep cycle.

Practicing what he preaches, Rosekind, 46, likes to kick off his shoes and take a short afternoon nap on the couch in his office.

Before beginning his consulting company in 1997, Rosekind ran the Fatigue Countermeasures Program at the NASA Ames Research Center. Conducting scientific studies on circadian rhythms, fatigue and performance, his team showed that pilots who were allowed a 40-minute snooze on nine-hour flights were 100 percent more alert and performed tasks 34 percent better in the critical 90 final minutes.

Although the United States has yet to sanction planned naps for commercial pilots on long U.S. flights, Rosekind said foreign carriers such as British Airways, Qantas Airways and Lufthansa have used the research to allow napping.

Major U.S. railroads, including the Union Pacific Railroad and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, also have adopted formal napping policies that allow engineers to take up to 40-minute naps when they are not rolling.

Rosekind said it has been comparatively easy to get employers to appreciate napping as a method to reduce on-the-job fatigue and improve safety.

The productivity argument is “a tougher sell,” he said. “A strategic, or power, nap can be a productivity tool, but most companies say, ‘You mean you want us to pay people to sleep?’ “

Although John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Johannes Brahms, Napoleon Bonaparte, Leonardo da Vinci and a long list of other historic figures reportedly loved to catnap, Rosekind said, “Too often napping is identified with people who are lazy, stupid or don’t have the right stuff. It’s a real shame.”

Kirschbaum acknowledges that napping at work is not the norm. “A stigma is attached to it,” he said. “It’s OK for people to go out to exercise at noontime, but I do that when I get up.”

Kirschbaum began his napping schedule around 1970, the same time he began biking to work in downtown San Francisco from Tiburon. Three times a week, regardless of season and weather, he left home around 5:15 in the morning, and by lunchtime, he was tired.

Fifteen years ago, he gave up biking to the city but still rises before dawn to do at least a half hour of isometric exercises. Three times a week, he also walks a few miles to catch a ferry to the city.

At work, he prefers to eat at his desk, rather than go to a restaurant, then hit the carpet. His alarm is set to go off at 1 p.m., so the length of the nap depends on when he lies down.

While siestas are part of the culture in many countries, the advent of air conditioning and America’s “24/7” round-the-clock mentality have made long work hours and less sleep the norm.

Few studies have been conducted on the link between naps and productivity, but the National Sleep Foundation has estimated that U.S. companies lose about $18 billion per year because employees aren’t functioning at their best.

“The bad news is, far too many adults still sacrifice sleep, which is unhealthy and counterproductive,” said foundation executive director Richard Gelula.

A previous National Sleep Foundation poll last year showed that 40 percent of employees admit the quality of their work suffers when they are sleepy, and 19 percent reported making occasional or frequent work errors because of drowsiness.

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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