What is a Siesta and Its Role in Modern Society


Embracing the Pause: Discovering the Essence and Benefits of the Siesta Tradition Image: Shuttersttock/ Dasha Petrenko

AFTER a busy morning rushing about in the hot sun, you lower the blinds enough to dim the room but the light still slips through the gaps, the overhead fan is on, and you lie back on your bed in this cool tranquil setting and dose off. Is there a better feeling than this?

In the fast pace world we live in, where hustle and bustle seem to be the order of the day, I think Spain has the right idea. Should we all slow down and embrace the Siesta?

The tradition of the Afternoon Nap

The siesta is a term derived from the Latin ‘hora sexta’ (sixth hour) and has its origins dating back to ancient Roman and Greek civilizations. The idea of taking a short nap during the hottest hours of the day was a response to the practical need to escape the scorching midday sun and conserve energy. While Spain is perhaps the country most associated with the siesta it is a tradition that is common in many other countries.

In Mediterranean countries, Southern Europe, the Middle East, mainland China, Japan, India, and Central and South America an afternoon nap is also common. Italy calls it the riposo or pisolino it is also referred to as the controra, the magical moment of the day in which the world comes back in possession of ghosts and spirits. The coast of Croatia refers to it as the pizolot. In the middle east after a heavy lunch they have an afternoon nap called the taaseela after which they usually drink tea. In Greece, it is called the messimeri which means midday. In India, they also have the tradition of having a nap after lunch they refer to it as the vama-kukshi a term now used by yoga enthusiasts. It literally means lying down on one’s left side which is recommended for good digestion and to prevent food reflux.

The Japanese nap is called the Inemuri which translates to sleeping while present. This custom is due to their long working hours, they take every opportunity to take a nap, on public transport or park benches for example. The only thing is you must look focused, be in an alert position, and be able to answer a question when asked!

Image: Shutterstock/SubstanceTproductions

Mañana Mañana

The afternoon nap and the long lunch break in the middle of the day are associated more with Spain than any other country and seem to have become synonymous with laziness. The opposite of this is in fact true, the Spanish siesta and long lunch breaks became popular after the Spanish civil war and Spain’s economy was in ruins. Most people needed to work two jobs, many left early in the morning for their first job and then came home for lunch, if they were lucky they had a rest at midday during the hottest hours of the day but a lot of people needed to use this time to travel to their second job, especially in rural locations.

In fact, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Spanish people work the most hours compared to the rest of Europe. A Spanish person works an average of 1691 hours per year, British work 1674 hours per year, and Germans work 1371 hours per year on average. The average Spanish person works 11-hour days six times per week. When speaking to Spanish business owners they commented that the ‘siesta’ time is now used for behind-the-scenes work. José Maria Fernández who owns a local shop says ‘I go home for lunch but then usually come back to restock the shelves before the store reopens in the evening.’ He also commented that a friend of his has a small furniture shop and his long lunch break is the time when he delivers to his customers. This way of life means they typically work from 9.30 am until 8.30 pm.

Image: Shutterstock/G Estudios Multimedia

Changing Times and the Decline of the Siesta

The siesta tradition is facing challenges in the modern world. The demands of a globalised economy, increased urbanisation, and changing lifestyles have led to a shift. Many countries have adopted a more Westernised approach to work schedules, resulting in reduced opportunities for midday rest. This shift has led to a debate about whether the siesta is a dying tradition or if it can adapt to the demands of contemporary society.

When speaking to locals, international residents, and tourists along the Costa Cálida I got similar responses. Most said they don’t usually have time to nap but when they do have time they love it! Julia Mansfield on holiday said ‘The best thing about being on holiday is having a lovely lunch out by the beach and then going back to the apartment for a Siesta.’ Some long-time British residents that have retired on the coast say they always try to have a siesta, especially during the summer months.

In Spain, almost 60 per cent of Spanish people no longer sleep the siesta, and only 18 per cent occasionally take a midday nap according to a recent study. The main reason is time and work schedules but technology also plays a part, as a society we are always connected, checking social media. Alejandro from Alicante in Spain said ‘there is always so much to do now, whether it be playing a computer game or logging on to social media. There’s always something to watch because of the streaming platforms available these days. It is difficult to log off and relax. There’s also a pressure to be productive all the time.’

Image: Shutterstock: bbernard

The Power Nap

When discussing the Spanish Siesta one particularly contentious topic that takes centre stage is how long the nap should be. Answers ranged from a quick ten mins to a wonderful two-hour nap during a summer day off. According to the experts, a 20-30 minute ‘power nap’ between 1 pm and 3 pm is better than coffee! These short naps can improve focus and memory, reduce fatigue, improve your mood, and productivity, relieve stress, and improve your performance.  There is also a 37 per cent reduction in coronary mortality for those who choose to regularly nap at midday.

Based on this information it’s no surprise why more and more businesses encourage their staff to have a siesta, or a power nap if you want to sound more productive and not lazy! Some cities and businesses have introduced sleep pods to help people get back to these traditions in this busy world. It often makes me wonder why we push ourselves to get further and further away from these traditions and lifestyles when they so clearly benefit our health and mental well-being. We eat more and more processed food when a fresh Mediterranean diet is optimal for mental health, gut health, and coronary health. We isolate ourselves more and more by spending more time online and less time connecting. Studies of those living in the world’s blue zones in the Mediterranean basin show that social connection is one of the most important components for a long rich healthy life. Maybe we should dedicate more time to preserve and honour these cultural traditions and customs.

Napping Tips

Top tips for napping include:

  • Lie down rather than sleep in an armchair and if it’s comfortable for you sleep on your left side to help digestion.
  • Choose a calm tranquil area with white noise, like the sound of a fan for example.
  • Control the temperature if you can, a cool room makes it easier to sleep and improves the quality of sleep.
  • If you find it difficult to nod off during the day you should lie down and rest, meditate, or listen to calming music to get some of the benefits of siesta.

Let us know your Siesta tips, do you have a midday nap? If so for how long?

Image: Shutterstock: Prostock-studio

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Written by

Catherine McGeer

I am an Irish writer who has been living in Spain for the past twenty years. My writing centers around the Costa Cálida. As a mother I also write about family life on the coast of Spain and every now and then I try to break down the world of Spanish politics!


    • Mer

      22 August 2023 • 18:14

      👏👏👏👏 Thanks for the enlightening read!

    • Eleanor

      22 August 2023 • 20:02

      Agree with 20-30 min power nap!! Resets you.
      Great article

    • Paul Airey

      22 August 2023 • 20:14

      Excellent article. Long live the Siesta, and all who take it….

    Comments are closed.