The room’s lighting is soft, and a hint of incense hangs in the air. At the flick of a switch, the soothing sounds of a babbling brook tinkle from the stereo system.
Takeshi Sato is a big fan of the eighth-floor sanctuary. As manager of the CEO’s office, he works a 12-hour day, juggling emails, meetings, phone calls and budget reports. When the pace becomes too frenetic, he leaves his desk to spend ten minutes in the meditation room. “At times in the day, I suddenly feel like I need to be slow, to relax, to let my mind become still and quiet,” he tells me.
“Some people might think of that as ten minutes of lost time, but I see it as ten minutes well invested. It’s very important for performance to be able to switch on and off, between fast and slow. After I have been in the meditation room, my mind is sharper and calmer, which helps me make good decisions.”
Other people are taking deceleration to its ultimate conclusion and actually catching 40 winks during the working day. Though sleeping on the job is the ultimate taboo, research has shown that a short “power nap”—around 20 minutes is ideal—can boost energy and productivity. A recent study by NASA concluded that 24 minutes of shut-eye did wonders for a pilot’s alertness and performance. Many of the most vigorous and successful figures in history were inveterate nappers: John F. Kennedy, Thomas Edison, Napoleon Bonaparte, John D. Rockefeller, Johannes Brahms. Winston Churchill delivered the most eloquent defense of the afternoon snooze: “Don’t think you will be doing less work because you sleep during the day.
That’s a foolish notion helped by people who have no imagination. You will be able to accomplish more. You get two days in one—well, at least one and a half.”
Napping can be especially helpful nowadays, when so many of us are not sleeping enough at night. Backed by pro-sleep groups such as the World Napping Organization to the Portuguese Association of Friends of the Siesta, snoozing in the middle of the workday is enjoying a renaissance. At its six factories in the US, Yarde Metals encourages staff to doze during breaks. The company has built special “nap rooms” and once a year holds a collective napping session complete with buffet lunch and silly costumes. Vechta, a small city in northern Germany, urges its civil servants to take a postprandial snooze in their office chairs or at home. From the American factory floor to the German town hall, the results are the same: happier staff, better morale, higher productivity. More on-the-job napping may be in the pipeline. In 2001, Sedus, a leading European manufacturer of office furniture, unveiled a new chair that opens up to a horizontal position to allow people to catch a few ZZZs at their desks.
In Spain, meanwhile, the siesta is coming back with a modern twist. Since most Spaniards no longer have time to go home at lunch for a big meal and a nap, Masajes a 1000 (Massages for 1000), a nationwide network of “siesta salons” now offers everyone from bankers to bartenders the chance to grab 20 minutes of sleep for four euros.