Let’s suppose that you are running a company and enter the office only to find that some of your employees are asleep. What would your reaction be? You will probably be firing those employees, right? However, in Japan, sleeping in the office is not only common but also socially acceptable. In fact, it is considered a sign of diligence – ‘the person is so dedicated to the job that they worked themselves to exhaustion.’ The term that Japanese use for this is ‘inemuri’ which means ‘present while sleeping.’
Japan is one of the most sleep-deprived nations in the world. As per a study, an average Japanese only sleeps for about 6 hours and 35 minutes every night. This causes most of them to fall asleep literally at any public space that they can manage to sleep. You can find them sleeping during the commute, at work, in parks, in bookstores, and even shopping malls.
Dr. Brigitte Stegar, a scholar at the University of Cambridge studying Japanese culture, is considered the authority on the knowledge of inemuri. She says, ‘I first encountered these intriguing attitudes to sleep during my first stay in Japan in the late 1980s. At that time Japan was at the peak of what became known as the Bubble Economy, a phase of an extraordinary speculative boom. Daily life was correspondingly hectic. People filled their schedules with work and leisure appointments, and had hardly any time to sleep.’
The tolerance for falling asleep during meetings, classes, and social gatherings is spread across in the Japanese culture. During the postwar period of economic boom, the nation was publicized as a hardworking nation that had no time for sleep. People worked long hours and students stayed up late cramming. However, there are certain rules to inemuri that must be followed. For instance, Stegar says, ‘It depends who you are. If you are new in the company and have to show how actively you are involved, you cannot sleep. But if you are 40 or 50 years old and it is not directly your main topic, you can sleep. The higher up the social ladder you are, the more you can sleep.’
She further explains the concept of inemuri by saying, ‘Even though the sleeper might be mentally ‘away,’ they have to be able to return to the social situation at hand when an active contribution is required. Your body needs to pretend that you are active in a meeting like you are concentrating. You cannot sleep under the table or anything. You have to sit as if you are listening intently, and just put your head down.’
A number of companies also encourage the habit of napping at work including Google, Nike, BASF, Opel, Apple, and many more. What do you think?