Brain expert says siestas improve productivity and urges bosses to let staff set their own working hours

Productivity and creativity can be boosted if bosses allow staff to take snooze breaks at work, a leading academic says.

Vincent Walsh, professor of human brain research at University College London, also said workers should be allowed to set their own work times, coming to work whenever they want.

But a University of Auckland sleep expert, Dr Tony Fernando, said each individual had different sleep patterns and needs and "mandatory sleep breaks" would not benefit everyone.

Speaking at the Cheltenham Science Festival, Professor Walsh said we have become obsessed with sleeping only at night and fail to appreciate the benefits of a siesta.


Naps of between 30 and 90 minutes in the afternoon could help companies improve productivity, he said.

"If we want people to be more creative, we need people to be able to do less," he said. "Companies should allow naps in the afternoon.

"They should get rid of the habit of clocking in and clocking out. Let people come in when they want. If they want to work through the night, let them."

The professor said he napped every afternoon and that it was best to give the brain "downtime".

"It's only since the industrial revolution we have been obsessed with squeezing all our sleep into the night rather than having one or two sleeps through the day."

Dr Fernando said most people would not require an afternoon nap, although some would really benefit from a siesta.

4 Jun, 2014 2:39pm
2 minutes to read

"Having the option will be very helpful for some employees ... I have patients where it's crucial for them to have a 15 to 30-minute nap in the middle of the day otherwise they will just fall asleep."

Research published on Saturday by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy revealed many employers are failing to encourage staff to take proper breaks.

One in five works through their lunch break every day, the study of 2000 people says.

Of those who manage to take a break, half eat at their desk and just one in five goes outside.

However, Dr Fernando said other studies showed that Australia and New Zealand "are not that bad" in terms of getting sufficient rest.

"Other countries are much, much worse particularly in Asia," he said.

Research suggests the problem, dubbed "social jetlag", could be responsible for increased rates of cancer, dementia and diabetes.

A University of Pittsburgh survey of married couples, meanwhile, found partners are more likely to get better sleep if the woman is content with the relationship.

Scientists found couples sleep better when the woman is happy in the marriage, but any concerns men had did not seem to spill over into the bedroom.