We all know siestas are an integral part of Spanish culture, and here in Barcelona life is no different, but what makes them such an important part of the day? Hannah Pennell has found out why we should all give them a go.
• The word siesta originated in the mid-17th century, based on the Latin word sexta (hora), meaning ‘sixth hour’ (source: New Oxford Dictionary of English).
• People can take short naps with their eyes open and not be aware that they are actually ‘sleeping’ (source: National Sleep Research Project in Australia).
• The ideal nap length is 10 to 20 minutes (source: www.siestaawareness.org)
THE SCIENCE BIT
- The reason why siestas can feel so good is because our circadian rhythms—a biological process that lasts 24 hours and encourages us to be awake in the late afternoon—balance with our intrinsic need for sleep (aka homeostatic sleep propensity), which starts as soon as we wake up. The point between these two urges is the ideal time to take a nap.
- Some research suggests that daytime naps are not a good idea for those suffering from insomnia, and that those with this affliction should do all they can to stay awake during the day to focus on trying to sleep at night only.
- Research released last year from Allegheny College in Pennsylvania (US) says that a 45- to 60-minute sleep during the day helps lower blood pressure (source: www.guardian.co.uk). In 2008, a study carried out by the City University of New York found three quarters of an hour of shut-eye can improve memory function (source: www.health.msn.com). Other benefits found over the years include reducing the risk of heart disease, being more productive at work and improving creativity (source: www.michaelhyatt.com)
THREE FAMOUS NAPPERS
• Winston Churchill: said to have coined the phrase ‘power nap’, he argued in favour of a daily afternoon sleep for the clarity it gave him during wartime.
• Salvador Dalí: the Catalan artist used to rest while holding a key in his left hand. When Dalí actually fell asleep, the key would fall onto a metal plate on the ground, waking him up. Albert Einstein was another fan of this ‘hypnogogic nap’, which takes advantage of Stage 1 sleep when the mind releases creative thoughts.
• Napoleon Bonaparte: although the French leader would stay awake for hours at a time when planning his campaigns, he could drop off quickly to catch up on his sleep almost at will.
"España no está para siestas." This was the rather surprising declaration of Spanish justice minister, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, back in June, when he claimed that Spain isn’t interested in siestas but rather in working 365 days a year. He wants to make a radical change to the country’s justice system and keep it working at full capacity during August.
"There is more refreshment and stimulation in a nap, even of the briefest, than in all the alcohol ever distilled." Ovid (43BCE-17CE)