Interim NIOSH Training for Emergency Responders: Reducing Risks Associated with Long Work Hours

Napping, an Important Fatigue Countermeasure

Strong scientific evidence shows that our brains benefit from a brief period of actual sleep (a nap), not just a quiet period, to recover from fatigue and to help restore alertness.

Both short (15-30 minute) and long (1.5-hour) naps can increase alertness.

During the daytime, a brief nap is recommended.

  • Set an alarm for 15 to 30 minutes to wake up
  • Lay down on a bed or a cot if available
  • Put on an eye mask and ear plugs

Long naps can be useful during emergency response when people have to work very long hours.

  • Lay down on a bed or cot to allow the brain to progress into deeper sleep and promote better recovery.
  • Long naps may make it harder to fall asleep at night because they reduce the buildup of pressure for sleep. This is not an issue if you are very sleep deprived or fighting an infection, for instance.

Temporary disorientation and decline in performance and/or mood after waking from a nap can be reduced by taking 100 mg of caffeine (about one 5-ounce cup of single-serve brewed coffee), going into bright light, or washing your face. Another strategy is to take caffeine (from any source such as coffee, tea, soda, or caffeine pill) just before taking a short nap. Caffeine takes about 30 minutes to reach full effect, so on awakening you will experience alerting benefits from both caffeine and the nap.

Allow time for drowsiness to pass before performing critical tasks.

The best times to take a nap are early in the morning, in the middle of the afternoon, and during the night. Also, anytime you feel very sleepy but need to stay awake, a short nap can often restore alertness. People are less able to nap late in the morning and early in the evening.

Managers can consider these issues to make use of naps:

  • How to schedule staff for naps
  • How to wake them (such as by an alarm or a designated person)
  • Where staff will take the naps
  • How to cover work activities while staff members nap

Naps are a temporary help to improve alertness, not a replacement for getting regular, adequate sleep at night.

Page 41 of 48

Page last reviewed: April 1, 2020