What is a siesta?
Siesta is a Spanish word meaning nap. It is usually taken in the early afternoon, often after the midday meal. The word “siesta” comes from the Latin word, hora sexta, meaning the sixth hour – when counted from sunrise. Many people believe “the sixth hour” is a reference to noontime since noon is situated about six hours after dawn. That’s why a siesta is now defined as a midday or afternoon nap or rest.
Where does the siesta come from?
There are several different theories about why siestas have become so popular in Spain over the years. Here are some examples:
- Spanish field workers started taking breaks around the middle of the day to come in out of the sun. During their siestas, they would escape the heat at the hottest time of the day and have time to eat lunch and hang out with their families. Before returning to the fields, the workers would also take a short nap and then get right back to work later in the afternoon. By that time, the temperatures would have decreased and provided them with better working conditions.
- The Spaniards started taking siestas back in the 1930s during the Spanish Civil War. According to the theory, siestas were a necessity because of the economic conditions at the time. During the war, most of those living in Spain were forced to deal with poverty. To make ends meet, they had to work two or three jobs at a time in order to generate enough income to support their families. Siestas provided people with a break from their work. Many of them would work all morning long, take siestas, and then get back to work in the afternoon before working a night shift as well. The idea is that most people living back then would be working non-stop. Siestas gave them a chance to recover so that they could continue working to bring in money and put food on their tables.
Siestas are historically common throughout the Mediterranean and Southern Europe, the Middle East, mainland China, and the Indian subcontinent. The siesta is an old tradition in Spain and, through Spanish influence, in most of Latin America.
Over the years, the siesta has become less and less a part of people’s daily routine. As people moved to the cities to find work, there was little or no time to come home from the office for a quick snooze.
These days, weekends are usually the only time when people indulge in a quick post-lunch nap. This period is used for sleep, as well as leisure, midday meals, or other activities.
What are the benefits of the siesta?
- Increased energy and productivity
- Lowers blood pressure
- Enhances creativity
- Decreased stress
- Boosts memory
- Strengthens the immune system
- An uptick in overall happiness
What happens if you nap too long?
A nap that lasts between 10 and 20 minutes helps people feel less sleepy and more alert, giving a boost that helps them continue working throughout the afternoon.
However, naps longer than 30 minutes might not provide the immediate benefits a person seeks. If a person enters deep sleep during their nap, which often happens around the 30-minute mark, they can wake up feeling groggy. This grogginess is called sleep inertia, and it may impair performance.
Tips for taking a siesta:
- Find a comfortable place to nap. While the couch might be more convenient, you may find that napping in bed is more comfortable and may help you fall asleep faster.
- Ensure you have an alarm clock set for about 20 minutes.
- Find a relaxing guided meditation or music to help you fall asleep faster, especially if you’re not used to napping during the day.
Did you know?
In some parts of Japan, there are nap pods available for midday breaks. The word inemuri means falling asleep or dozing off. It can also mean sleeping while present. Falling asleep at work in Japan is viewed as a positive sign that a person is working hard.