The modern age has upended plenty of traditional ideas about what is and is not acceptable at work, and the new rules aren’t always consistent. Five days in the office? Um, this isn’t 1954, you know: we have lives. But no work calls after six? Hey, if LA’s working, we’re working – you know the deal. A suit and tie? Sorry, who hired Jacob Rees-Mogg?
Now, it seems, sleeping on the job is to be reappraised. Received wisdom has it that this is a bad thing. That old Bob Monkhouse line comes to mind: “I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my father. Not screaming and terrified like his passengers.”
In traditional jobs, that still holds true. Any airline pilots reading this ought to keep their eyes on the sky. Same with anyone operating heavy machinery. It’s also true of MPs. The Conservative MP for New Forest West, Sir Desmond Swayne, was widely mocked when he fell asleep during Ken Clarke’s Brexit speech in a House of Commons debate in 2018.
He wasn’t the first, either. Two years earlier, an online petition was launched to fire MPs who can’t keep their eyes open. “It is an insult to us, the people. How dare they,” the petition read.
In 2019, the US Government, apropos of nothing, announced via a General Services Administration statement: “All persons are prohibited from sleeping in federal buildings, except when such activity is expressly authorised by an agency official.”
But in more modern workplaces like Elon Musk’s Twitter, falling asleep on the job is not just considered acceptable, but seen as a badge of honour. That’s what Esther Crawford, Twitter’s director of product management, is banking on, anyway. Last November, days after Musk had taken control of Twitter, the 39-year-old posted a photo of herself sleeping on the floor of a boardroom. Sleeping bag, eye mask, roll mat – she’d come prepared.
Naturally, plenty of people pointed out that it looked a) Unhealthy b) Nakedly obsequious and c) Just a bit weird. So she responded.
“Since some people are losing their minds I’ll explain: doing hard things requires sacrifice (time, energy, etc). I have teammates around the world who are putting in the effort to bring something new to life so it’s important to me to show up for them & keep the team unblocked.”
It seems there is no right way to #SleepWhereYouWork, but I bet far more of your workmates have done it than you think.
One former colleague used to sleep from 11am to 1pm on the floor of some fairly isolated office toilets. She managed to train herself to snooze through occasional flushes, but not the sound of her line manager vomiting in the next stall. Other friends have used the prayer room (in a lunch break), the gym (it contains lots of soft things and you can pretend to meditate), and the nurse’s sofa in the first aid room (without the nurse). One friend returned to his office after a night out, having missed the last train.
If you fancy joining them, there are some loose rules to follow. First, make sure it’s not a regular thing. In 2018, an audit found that a Department of Motor Vehicles worker who slept three hours a day had cost the state £31,000 in lost productivity over four years. It’s key to have your justification ready. In Japan, catnapping in public or at work is called inemuri, and is a sign of working so hard you’re exhausted, and therefore often excused. Your boss will like that, especially if he is Elon Musk.
After that, just remember the basics: be discreet – don’t sleep in a meeting or right behind Ken Clarke live on TV, but not so discreet as to trigger a missing person alert; always check you aren’t sleeping on something (or someone) that will leave visible marks on your face, such as a Sharpie or a Labrador; and always tell a trusted colleague what you’re doing – you never know when you might need a watchman.
Sleep well and sweet dreams.