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Reading Passage 1

You should spend about 20 minutes on Questions 1-13 which are based on this passage.

Sleeping on the job

North Americans are not a people of the siesta. There is a tendency to associate afternoon naps with laziness and non-productivity. Latin Americans and some in European cultures take a different view. In Mexico and Greece, for example, it is customary in close businesses between noon and about 4:00 pm - siesta time. Recent studies are showing that if you can take a 15 to 30-minute nap while at work in the afternoon, you’ll be more alert, more energetic, happier doing what you do, more productive and therefore more likely to get ahead. Napping on the job is not yet a trend but there is serious talk in academic circles about the merits of ‘power napping’.

By some estimate, the average American collects an annual 'sleep debt' of 500 hours - subtracting from an assumed norm of eight hours a night. Two out of three Americans get less than eight hours of sleep a night during the work week, according to a recent study by the National Sleep Foundation in Washington. Forty percent say they're so tired that it interferes with their daily activities. Sleep researcher William Anthony, a professor of psychology at Boston University, says fatigue is a significant problem in modern society. he says sleepiness is a leading cause of auto accidents, second only to drunkenness. All that drowsiness costs an estimated &18 billion annually in lost productivity. 'We have a simple message,' says Professor Anthony. 'People should be allowed to nap at their breaks. The rationale is a productivity one - workers are sleepy, and when they're sleepy on the job they’re not productive.'

Some companies are encouraging sleep at work, primarily for safety. The Metropolitan Transit Authority, which runs the New York subway system and two suburban railroads, is considering power naps for its train operators and bus drivers. Another railway has started letting its train operators take nap breaks of up to 45 minutes but only when trains are stopped at designated spots off the main lines and dispatchers have been notified. Some overseas air carriers permit airline pilots, when not on duty, to nap in the cockpit. Airlines in the United States have not accepted this practice yet.

According to the Encyclopedia of Sleep and Dreaming: 'There is a biologically-based tendency to fall asleep in mid-afternoon just as there is a tendency to fall asleep at night. Moreover, if sleep the night before is reduced or disturbed for any reason, a nap the subsequent afternoon is not only more likely to occur, but it can also relieve sleepiness and increase alertness.’ The nap zone, documented in numerous studies, is typically between noon and 3:00 pm. Some people power through this natural slowdown with caffeine or sugar but if employers allowed naps, the benefits would be improvements in mood and performance, especially in mid-afternoon. Workers would concentrate better and persevere in tasks longer. Workers commonly sneak naps even without permission but some companies have begun encouraging naps as part of their policies on boosting production. One US distributor, is opening a 2,000-square-foot nap facility that provides beds for up to 20 of its 225 workers at a time. A company in Japan sets up tents in business offices provides eyeshades and ear plugs and encourages employees to snooze in the middle of the work day. According to Professor Anthony, 'You're not going to see napping at traditional types of operations ... but in 21st century-style operations, this isn’t going to be a perk. It’s going to have more to do with productivity. Smart employers are understanding that their employees need rest to do their best.’

Some suspect that corporate naptime, like other perks, is just a way to keep people at the office longer. On the other hand, growing flexibility in hours, for some workers, is allowing nap times to become more common. With eleven million Americans telecommuting and another forty million winking out of their bonus full- or part-time, office hours are basically as long as you can stay awake. One thing is sure: longer commutes, more intense, stressful workday and higher production demands are taking a toll. So, with Americans sleeping, less and working, longer hours, some employers are warming up to the idea that a little nap in the middle of the day can be good for business.

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