Ahhh, the siesta. That romantic, pastoral image associated with long ago and the ultimate example of a laid back culture. Surely in today’s modern, fast-paced society, full of Blackberry calendars, such a glorious time designated for relaxation couldn’t exist.
Oh wait, it does.
One of my first questions when I came to Spain was, “So, the siesta…is that actually real?” It may have sounded dumb, but for someone who just chugs another cup of coffee mid-day to keep going, I was looking forward to this possible change of pace.
Historically, the siesta was considered a physical necessity and a relaxing way to avoid the hottest part of the day for 2 hours. Today, with a more rapid pace and coffee, the biological need for a short nap in the middle of the day has been turned into a luxury. But as much as we try to fight that afternoon drowsiness, it would be much more effective (and enjoyable) to take a 20-30 minute nap, rather than keep going like the Little Engine That Could.
Humans are bi-phasic (meaning we need two periods of sleep every 24-hours) and research shows that our energy levels drop during the mid-afternoon. It becomes difficult to focus, think clearly and be productive. But with a 20-30 minute nap, your mind and body have been refreshed and the rest of the day is easier and certainly more productive. What do you think I was doing before I sat down to write? Yep, napping. Believe me, it took a while to submit my stubborn, “no-I-need-to-stay-awake” mentality to a nap, but when in Spain… On the days I do take a short nap I’ve noticed a significant difference in my energy levels, my overall mood and productivity. Like olive oil, the siesta experience is something I will incorporate into my routine when I am back home again.
In Spain, the siesta takes place after lunchtime, in the later afternoon. Even if some Spaniards don’t fall asleep, it is a time for relaxation, family and friends and a general break from work. Shops and offices close for a few hours and restaurants and bars grow to full capacity. If Spaniards eat at home, many of them will doze on the sofa for 20 minutes or so, TV remote control in hand… This healthy disconnect from the more mundane working world is one of the many reasons Spain has such a liveliness and spontaneity. (It also allows for the more late-night tapas culture!) In Spain, sitting down and savoring a lunch with friends or family members, rather than spending it hunched over a computer, tends to be the priority. A café con leche isn’t just used for the caffeine, it’s used to simply put everything else on hold and enjoy a moment to yourself.
Whether you’re at home or traveling in Spain, leave time in the warm afternoons to indulge in this underrated necessity. And some olive oil. And red wine.
References: Siesta Awareness
This post was originally published on Andalucia Inside.