Do you know what siestas are? A cultural phenomena spanning various countries around the world, a siesta is an afternoon nap typically taken after the midday meal. Now best known in its Spanish form, the word was originally derived from the Latin hora sexta, or sixth hour. This sixth hour refers to the one 6 hours after dawn, around 12pm or midday.
Cultures which traditionally take siestas have warm climates, and a midday nap provides a respite from the hottest period of the day. These cultures usually consume their largest meal at this time, and a nap gives their full stomachs an opportunity to digest. The combination of these two factors, abrasive heat and large quantities of food, generates a drowsiness which only a nap can resolve. The following cultures traditionally have, and continue to, set aside time from the work day for an afternoon rest, a move which seems foolish but actually produces favorable results.
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History of siestas:
Spain is largely credited with the origin and popularization of siestas. But this nap actually dates back to ancient Islam, which recorded the practice in Islamic Law and the Koran. The Spanish revived a 2 to 3 hour midday break to the working hours as a way for farmers to avoid the hottest part of the day and for workers with multiple part-time jobs to commute. The latter reason only came to the forefront after the Spanish Civil War (late 1930s) as urbanization took place but transportation was a hassle. Also, as Spaniards typically partake of their heaviest meal midday, a rest provides the inevitable response to post-meal drowsiness.
Siestas in modern-day:
In modern Spain, siestas are becoming increasingly less common. While the typical working schedule — from about 9:30am to 2pm and 5pm to 8pm — still allows for a several hour break, people are increasingly spending that time eating, commuting, or relaxing, but not necessarily napping. Rural areas continue to ground the siesta as the fundamental aspect of the day, adhering more strictly to the traditional guidelines than urban environments. Some employees who work in offices in the cities now take a short lunch break, work throughout the afternoon, and then finish their day in the early evening, similar to how most of the Western world operates.
Benefits of siestas:
The Spanish may be moving away from the traditional siesta in order to stay economically relevant in the Western world, but the continuation of the irregular working schedule across much of the country should not be perceived as a hindrance. For one, the intention of the 3 hour break is not to spend its entirety in slumber. As explaining in Tips for Taking a Successful Power Nap, effective siestas, or afternoon naps, should only consume approximately 20 to 30 minutes. Doing so can rejuvenate one’s mind, body, and soul. It adds to the sleep of the previous night, providing enough rest for individuals to assume their greatest selves and attain their greatest potential.
Also, while using this midday break to take a nap would maximize its benefits, the simple act of taking a step away from the hustle and bustle of a day is therapeutic. For those who strictly oppose laying down for a spell or do not have the opportunity to do so, they should view their lunch break as an opportunity to step away from their occupation responsibilities. The challenges of a job allow for personal mental, physical, and emotional improvement, but stress can easily force itself into this process. Removing oneself from a workspace or task for a half hour lunch break combats stress and makes the second portion of the day even more productive.
How siestas affect Spain:
In Spain, the concept of the siesta materializes in the form of common working hours. Many shops, offices, businesses, and banks close from approximately 2pm to 5pm. The actual hours of this break depend on the specific region in Spain, with some areas starting their siesta as soon as midday but none starting later than 2pm. Some major shopping malls and supermarkets stay open during this time, but otherwise the Spanish streets become fairly sedated.
Such a break can seem odd to tourists visiting Spain from countries which do not practice a siesta-like hiatus. It may initially frustrate visitors and disturb their schedules, but it inevitably forces them to experience this relaxed way of life. Tourists can enjoy this break with an actual nap, or by reading a book, taking a stroll, or eating a large lunch. They could very easily fall in love with the concept of the siesta and work to implement it into their everyday lifestyle.
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Italy practices a siesta of sorts due to the influence of Spanish culture. This culture created a midday break, called a riposo, in order to stay in tune with the human biological clock. Shorter than the Spanish siesta, the Italian riposo typically lasts between an hour and a half to two hours, starting as early as noon and ending as late as 4pm. In the meantime, cities become largely deserted. Shops, museums, businesses, and churches close midday as workers head home for lunch and maybe even a snooze. Generally, restaurants are the only public buildings which can be relied upon to stay open during these hours.
Riposos in modern-day:
But Italy has also undergone the influence of American culture. The recent trend, developing since the late 1980s, veers toward a more Western workday, with companies open early and closed late with no midday break. Large malls and even small shops have begun to neglect the rigoso in order to increase their revenue. While some devoted shop owners continue to close during the afternoon hours, they buck the trend by doing so. Despite the widely known benefits of sleep, businessmen increasingly consider a 3 hour afternoon break an unwise decision. Career takes priority over quality of life.
How riposos affect Italy:
For those growing up in this increasingly globalized and materialized environment, an environment like Italy provides the perfect outlet to practice a siesta-like mindset. Although its role in the Italian culture is diminishing, the midday break continues as a less prominent, but still conscious, aspect of this country. The current status, in limbo between Spanish and American influence, allows individuals to reasonably take an afternoon break without ridicule. With fewer temptations to shop or work, a rigoso could easily become second nature. Cultures which place primary value on material gain make such a rest more difficult to achieve. Thus, despite its decreasing popularity, the Italian culture continues to cater to siestas of sorts for those who wish to give them a try.
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Mesimeris in modern-day:
The Greek form of the siesta is the mesimeri. This term translates as “quiet time” and “midday”, referring the time between 2pm and 5pm. Once again, as a more traditional practice, the mesimeri does not shape the whole country as it once did, but it continues to wield great influence. Many stores in larger Greek cities close in the afternoon. Smaller villages and towns become lifeless during these hours, which vary depending on location and season.
This official period of quiet prohibits loud noise, including music, talking, and work. Greece even employs an informal law to enforce this quiet time. Once the period concludes, though, the town comes to life again, with people throwing open their shutters, interacting with their neighbors, and returning to work.
How mesimeris affect Greece:
Up until the 1980s, the midday nap was a critical aspect of the daily routine for Greeks. The generations which grew up practicing such a periodic slumber are now profiting from their efforts. Studies found that regular napping helped to decrease risk of death by heart disease in members of this culture. Also, many Greeks infamously live well into their 90th, and even 100th, years of life. While you may not realistically be able to nap everyday, take a lesson from the Greeks and strive to schedule an afternoon nap on the weekends; you might just add years to your life.
You can take siestas, too!
More cultures than the 3 mentioned here incorporate some sort of midday rest into their schedule. Hispanic countries such as Portugal, the Philippines, Malta, and much of Latin America join Spain in the practice of siestas. Others around the world implement their own manifestations of a midday nap, such as in China, India, North Africa, Bangladesh and some regions in the Middle East.
While siesta-like naps become less popular in an increasingly globalized and economized world, the cultures that stay committed to this tradition experience benefits in their personal and professional life. Naps allow your mind, body, and soul to rejuvenate, to take a step away from stress and gain enough energy to take on the challenges of the rest of the day. Such a practice seems contradictory to productivity, but it can actually boost output by making the time spent at work more effective.
Some countries are beginning to recognize the benefits of additional rest and work to make their society more compatible with such a practice. Japan now boasts of “nap salons” in its larger cities, such as Tokyo, providing workers with a respite to take a midday snooze without having to venture the whole way home. The salons offer many types of pillows, sleep wear, and blankets, along with refreshments to partake of before
or after resting in a dimly-lit room. Some Japanese companies cover the fees of attending such salons as a health benefit. Also, some high schools in Japan require students to take a 15-minute afternoon nap.
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Shanghai in China contains “nap bars”, similar to the salons in Japan. They are located near business centers and provide music and alarms. A midday nap has become a constitutional right in China, where workers are allowed to rest for a half an hour everyday. In such economically focused nations such as Japan and China, the encouragement of napping in this modern age is noteworthy.
The positive affect of siestas, riposos, and mesimeris in cultures such as Spain, Italy, and Greece and the increased implementation of midday naps in nations such as Japan and China further evidence the benefits of sleep. Even if you cannot set aside time for a daily nap, you can experience improvements in your mental, physical, and emotional health by taking naps whenever you get the opportunity.