Naps Not Pipe Dream for One-Third of U.S. Adults

By Kathy Gurchiek Aug 10, 2009
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Naps aren’t just for tots snoozing in their cribs. On a typical day, approximately one-third of Americans take a nap, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey of 1,488 adults in the United States.

It’s a practice that should have the same status as daily exercise, according to professor James B. Maas of Cornell University. Maas is an authority on sleep issues who coined the term “power nap” for the quick workday snooze.

What people really need is an adequate amount of sleep—between 7.5 hours and 8 hours nightly, he said, but that’s not happening for most people.

The economy is one reason for a sleep deficit.

The National Sleep Foundation’s 2009 survey of 1,000 U.S. adults found one-third of Americans were losing sleep over the state of the economy and other personal financial concerns.

“Unfortunately, Americans are getting closer to six [hours], and about 36 percent of the population are not sleeping adequately because of the economy,” Maas said.

“Employers should advocate eight hours of sleep at night, but if people aren’t getting that … as a stopgap measure I certainly recommend a brief nap. They allow coffee and Coke breaks,” he pointed out. “Why not nap breaks?”

Sleep often is not a priority.

Who Needs Shut-Eye?

Thomas Edison considered sleep a waste of time and only got three or four hours sleep a night, Maas wrote in his New York Times best-seller, Power Sleep and Peak Performance (1998, Villard Books).

Other high profile, high-performing people such as former president Bill Clinton and billionaire Martha Stewart get by on six hours or less of sleep.

“We don’t value sleep,” Maas told SHRM Online. And for those who say they’re too busy, Maas believes you can’t afford not to make time to catch some zzzzs.

“If indeed you got enough sleep, you’d be so much more alert, so much more efficient you’d get everything done now that you’re slothfully getting done in 13, 14 hours,” he said.

Employees’ lack of sleep is “affecting their bottom line,” he said of organizations.

Sound sleep habits and the importance of sleep should be included in employer wellness programs, along with sessions on healthy eating and exercise, according to Maas.

In the past year he’s spoken to many financial institutions—ING, JP Morgan Chase, John Hancock, AIG— as well as the New York Jets, Crystal Cruise and the Gap on the importance of sleep.

“The Gap takes this stuff very seriously for their employees,” he said.

A lack of sleep not only depletes energy levels, it also has a “profound” effect on hypertension, heart attacks, strokes, cancer, Type II diabetes and obesity. Six hours or less of sleep affects a person’s weight, according to Maas.

Harvard Medical School reports in “Six Reasons Not to Scrimp on Sleep that chronic sleep deprivation “may cause weight gain by affecting the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates and by altering levels of hormones that affect our appetite.” In addition, sleep deprivation affects memory and alters immune function, according to the site.

“If we operated machinery like we operate the human body, we would be accused of reckless endangerment,” said Maas, who’s been studying sleep since 1969.

For those not getting eight hours of shut-eye, he recommends a 10- to 15-minute nap. Any longer and a person enters delta, or deep sleep and becomes groggy or has difficulty sleeping that night.

“People consider sleep as a luxury,” Maas said. “It’s not, it’s a necessity. … We totally forget that.”

So who, according to the Pew Research Center, are those lucky few who find time for a midday snooze?

While naps are enjoyed by a wide spectrum of people, some groups are more likely to have grabbed some shut-eye during the past 24 hours, the survey found. Among the findings from the Social & Demographic Trends survey conducted in February and March 2009:

  • 38 percent of men vs. 31 percent of women had napped in the past 24 hours, but a slightly higher percentage of women (29 percent) than men (22 percent) had trouble sleeping in the past 24 hours.
  • 41 percent of men age 50 and older vs. 28 percent of women in that age group had napped in the past 24 hours.
  • Men and women under the age of 50 were about equally likely to say they napped in the past 24 hours (35 percent and 34 percent, respectively).
  • People age 50 to 69 were less likely to have taken a nap than all other age groups, including those 18 to 29 years old.
  • 42 percent of persons with incomes of less than $30,000 were more likely than those with higher incomes to have taken a nap in the past 24 hours.
  • 21 percent of persons with incomes between $75,000 and $99,000 were less likely to have taken a nap in the past 24 hours.
  • More African-Americans (50 percent) than Hispanics (33 percent) and Caucasians (32 percent) said they had taken a nap in the past 24 hours.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at

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