When high-school teacher Ryan Tibbens learned he would be resuming in-person school in March, he embarked on a mission. He wanted to continue the naps he’d been taking while working from home over the past year.

“I didn’t want to pull the classic ‘Seinfeld’ episode where George Costanza sleeps under his desk,” said Mr. Tibbens, who is 37 and lives in Berryville, Va. So he bought a cot online and installed it in a backroom at school. He naps there for about 12 minutes during his 30-minute lunch break at least three days a week.


Although he says he got permission from school administrators, he said, “I’m still a little paranoid that somebody’s going to walk in and not know what’s going on, and be like, ‘Who’s this hobo in the back?’ ”

Mr. Tibbens is one of the lucky ones. Many people returning to offices in the coming months face an end to one of the secret perks of working from home: the daily nap. People who say they rarely napped before the pandemic have picked up the habit over the past year, worn out by dramatic work-life balance challenges that have extended the workdayZoom fatigueinsomnia, and the simple fact that remote work makes short snoozes possible.

In a survey of 2,000 employees working from home conducted by career and jobs website Zippia in late April last year, 33% said they took naps while working from home. Yet while dozens of studies have shown the benefits of taking naps, such as increased alertness, stigma about napping at the office endures.

George Costanza (Jason Alexander) couldn’t resist an office nap on ‘Seinfeld.’

PHOTO: NBC/PHOTOFEST

“There’s such a stereotype against a sleepy worker putting their head down at the desk, even though that’s exactly what they should do. But at home, nobody’s going to know,” said James B. Maas, chief executive of consulting firm Sleep for Success and a retired professor and chair of psychology at Cornell University.

Not long after Bradley Hall began working from home last year, he started to spend at least 30 minutes of his one-hour lunch break napping on the couch 10 feet away from his desk. “That’s one of the big advantages of working from home,” said the 61-year-old information technology programmer and tester in Minersville, Pa.

He believes the naps have helped him be more productive in the afternoons. Naps while working from home have become more important to him after about with Covid-19 in January, from which he said he still suffers fatigue.

Joe Maruschak and his napping couch.

PHOTO: JOE MARUSCHAK

Although his company has encouraged employees to take breaks while working from home, he admits to sometimes feeling like he is getting away with something illicit. He expects to return to in-person work in the coming months, at which point he will say goodbye to the practice. “That’s something that I would never do at the office,” he said.

Investment fund manager Joe Maruschak thought naps were indulgent until he began working from home. “I became brutally aware of what my body is saying. And not just when to rest, but when I’m productive and when I’m not,” said the 54-year-old in Eugene, Ore. In June, he began taking 45-minute naps after feeling sluggish post-lunch.

“Every day feels like two days to me,” he said about working from home. “The beginning of the day, I work from 5 in the morning to noon. And then I take a quick nap. and I wake up and it’s like my other day.”

The naps give him a second wind—and he’s not looking forward to dropping the routine when he goes back to an office. “I will totally miss the naps,” he said.

Employers are increasingly sensitive to employees’ need for downtime, said Johnny C. Taylor Jr., chief executive officer of the Society for Human Resource Management, a trade group, but they’re still unlikely to sanction in-office naps.

While employers have increasingly discussed the need to ensure workers get breaks, he said, “I can tell you I have not heard one employer—and we survey a lot—talk about naps.”

Hybrid work arrangements, involving a mix of days at home and in the office, offer some hope to nap converts. “As flexible work environments continue to rise, we do expect to see workers outfitting their workday to better suit their needs,” said Kathy Morris, Zippia’s marketing manager.

Joslyn Branham has been relying on hour-long “refresher” naps during her lunch break. The 28-year-old, who interns in social media and data analysis in Columbus, Ohio, says the naps recharge her when she feels tired by midday. “Instead of powering through that, it’s best to just not give into subpar work. Relax, then refresh and go back to it,” she said.

Some sleep experts say it’s best to nod off somewhere that isn’t the bed you sleep on at night. David Dinges, chief of the division of sleep and chronobiology at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine’s psychiatry department, recommends napping in a partially-reclined chair or anywhere else where you’re not lying completely flat, rather than in bed. “The temptation might be to take a nap in bed because it’s right there. Don’t do it,” he said. “It’s going to be really hard to wake up from.”Ideally, naps should be less than 30 minutes and taken earlier in the day to avoid interfering with nighttime sleep, said Harneet K. Walia, medical director of sleep medicine and continuous improvement of the Miami Cardiac and Vascular Institute at Baptist Health South Florida.

Marcus Esther at his bedroom desk setup.

PHOTO: MARCUS ESTHER

Marcus Esther, a criminal defense attorney in Houston, learned that the hard way. He gradually succumbed to taking naps in his bed during quiet periods in his workday after setting up a workstation in his bedroom. After the 28-year-old almost missed a virtual court appointment a few weeks ago following a longer-than-expected nap, he acknowledged the bedroom setup was a mistake.

He doesn’t nap anymore, he said and is taking advantage of his recently reopened workplace. “I’d rather be in the office or someplace not at home,” he said.