From Ancient Greek philosophy to the long-life-giving, olive oil-laden diet, we’ve taken a lot of inspiration from the Mediterranean way of life. However, there’s one aspect of Mediterranean life that’s yet to be embraced by the UK: the humble siesta.
Rather than a sign of laziness, a mid-afternoon nap has actually been scientifically proven to boost productivity. So, should we be incorporating this age-old tradition into our working day?
The siesta is best known as a Spanish tradition, but a mid-afternoon nap is also popular in other hot climates including South America and the Philippines. Its far reach is thought to date back to its popularity in both ancient Greece and the Roman Empire; in fact, the Spanish word ‘siesta’ comes from the Latin for ‘sixth hour’ – hora sexta – the time at which Romans traditionally took a break for food and rest.
Traditionally, mid-afternoon naps were usually taken as respite from overwhelming midday heat. However, many napping cultures also enjoy their biggest meal at lunchtime, leading to drowsiness after eating.
If you’ve ever felt the effects of the post-lunch slump, you’re already probably appreciating how pleasant a mid-afternoon nap could be. But a siesta doesn’t just provide a welcome break to the working day, it’s also been proven to have some very real mental and physical health benefits.
Helping your heart - Studies on populations where a siesta is common practice have found that an afternoon nap reduces the risk of fatal heart attack by 37%. While scientists don’t know whether this is due to nappers enjoying more physical activity during the rest of the day, or the stress-relieving effects of anticipating a nap, it’s still fairly evident that napping leads to a happier heart.
Improved mental and motor functions - In recent tests conducted by NASA, pilots were found to have their reaction times and general efficiency increased by 34% after just a short nap. Other research has found naps to similarly boost memory and creativity.
Taking breaks makes you more productive, not less - Working through a slump or period of mental blocks can result in working less efficiently and productively. Taking a break, especially a sleep break, allows the brain to process information more thoroughly, giving you fresh perspective and a boost to your problem-solving skills.
Boosting your immune system - If you’ve ever felt run down after a period of bad sleep, you’ll know the negative impact fatigue can have on your wellbeing. Fortunately, daytime naps are an effective way to make up for lost sleep and have been proven to restore immune functions to normal levels even after sustained sleep deprivation.
While awareness of the benefits of napping might be growing, the sad fact remains that our working culture simply doesn’t allow for them. Try telling your manager you’re taking the afternoon off for a sleep and see how well it goes down!
However, that’s not to say we necessarily need to miss out on all the benefits of a good siesta. Many businesses now encourage home-working, which is much more favourable to a quick post-lunch nap. You could also consider eating lunch while you work and taking your lunch break as a nap break instead.
As for the question of where to nap, the hotel chain Travelodge has already started up a siesta service at some of its hotels, while other businesses are starting to install hammocks and ‘sleep spaces’ into their offices across the nation. Something worth mentioning to the boss!