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The Men Who’ve Mastered the Art of Sleeping at Work

Sleeping at work will never not be frowned upon. So what can we learn from these brave on-the-job dozers, risking a pink slip for a few precious minutes of shuteye?

A few years ago, I worked in a windowless basement, where I used to get extremely sleepy right after lunch. So sleepy, in fact, that I’d send Slack messages and grumble things in meetings that I’d later not remember saying — even though, by all accounts, I seemed completely awake. 

To shake it off, would I dip into one of our cavernous conference rooms to squeeze in 10 minutes of shuteye on a couch? Of course not. The closest I ever got to actually committing to an on-the-job nap was sitting on the toilet for 10 minutes with my pants on. Because no matter how many companies make a big show of allowing naps — and no matter how many pro-nap studies come out, extolling the increased productivity and mental-health benefits of a 20-minute midday snooze — the workplace nap will always be frowned upon, or come with the expectation of working longer hours. 

So perhaps the only way to truly sleep at work is to undertake the covert nap, George Costanza-style. How, though, does one become a furtive office napper? I spoke to several well-rested masters to find out. 

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‘I’ll head out to the car, put on public radio and get 40 minutes of shut-eye.’  

Josh, a 46-year-old father of four in Indiana, drives Uber on the weekends and works in insurance during the week. Josh’s wife runs a daycare as well, so he makes sure to take care of the household chores and “shoo the kids back to bed” when they wake up in the middle of the night. 

Needless to say, Josh is tired — very, very tired. Luckily, he says, his boss “is pretty chill” about him needing occasional naps. “As long as the work gets done, she’s fine with it,” he tells me. “Plus, she’s a smoker, so she’s usually on a number of 10-minute smoke breaks throughout the day.” 

Still, Josh makes a point to only nap during his lunch hour. “It’s my lunch break so technically I can do whatever,” he says. “Sometimes I grocery shop. Sometimes I’ll go for a walk. And sometimes I’ll head out to the car, put on public radio and get 40 minutes of shut-eye.” 

Otherwise, if he starts nodding off at his desk, he employs my old strategy: “I’ll excuse myself, head to the bathroom, sit down on the lid with my pants on, close my eyes and just rest for a few minutes. That gets me through the day. It’s like a quick jolt of energy.” 

‘I lock my office door, line up three guest chairs and snuggle up to doze for 30 minutes’

Andy, a 35-year-old in the military, says it’s almost impossible to work the hours he does without a nap — particularly since he’s currently stationed in a place where the heat and humidity “sucks the life out of you.” Or, as he puts it, “If I don’t get my nap, I’d fall asleep at my desk and get QWERTY-face.”

At previous jobs, Andy would use his lunch break to nap, but his current job doesn’t offer a dedicated midday break. And so, when exhaustion hits, he walks into this office looking busy and flustered before locking the door, as if he’s about to focus very hard on some important work. Next, he says he “lines up the three guest chairs and snuggles up to doze for 15 to 30 minutes. I wake up feeling fresh and work until I’ve completed my schedule for the day.”  

“Everyone naps; it’s like Spain, but no one admits it,” he continues. “You simply can’t expect people to work a normal work day in that temperature and humidity.” 

Plus, he adds, “My boss is always out and about, so no real problems there. And I rarely get visitors and always keep my door closed, so nothing looks suspicious. One way or another, I’ll get my nap.” 

‘I have a walkie-talkie on me at all times, so when I sleep, I’ll put it under my ear. If anyone needs anything, it’ll wake me up.’

Peter, a 22-year-old in London, works maintenance at a local movie theater. “My workday is usually just waiting until something breaks and doing small maintenance to prevent the breaking of things,” he explains. “So I’ll try to sneak in a nap when I know I’m not going to be needed for a while.” 

Since his shifts can alternate between day and night, Peter feels his daily nap ensures he’s getting enough sleep throughout the week. “I’ve tried coffee, energy drinks, caffeine pills and all that makes me feel awake, but I end up feeling like a zombie with mood swings, whereas an hour-long nap makes me feel like I’m me,” Peter tells me. “It’s not so much a boost in energy, but it provides some emotional stability and makes the day seem more bearable, as it magically becomes a bit shorter.”  

So how does Peter get away with his daily naps? “I’ll slip into the projection room, where I’m 80 percent sure no one will come in. To be on the safe side, I’ll turn off the lights, so if someone comes in, they’ll have to turn the lights back on. My excuse for the lights being off is that light shines into the theaters and prevents people from enjoying the movie.” 

“On top of that, I have a walkie-talkie on me at all times, so when I sleep, I’ll put it under my ear. If anyone needs anything, it’ll wake me up. With the lights off and my walkie-talkie turned up, I take six office chairs, put them next to each other into two lines of three and have myself a bed of sorts.” 

“Or,” he continues, “I’ll take two chairs, one under my butt, another under my back, with my feet on the table. It’s a lot safer, since the six-chair bed could be harder to explain. But due to the table edge, the two-chair method sometimes cuts the blood flow into my legs and puts my them to sleep. 

“Just don’t tell my boss about all this,” he laughs, “because so far, I’ve never been caught.”