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A painting of a young woman taking a siesta. (The hammock, Gustave Courbet (1844)) Die Hangematte.jpg
A painting of a young woman taking a siesta. (The hammock, Gustave Courbet (1844))
A shared nap taken between friends after a heavy meal and a few beers. Shared nap with friends.jpg
A shared nap taken between friends after a heavy meal and a few beers.

A siesta (Spanish pronunciation:  [ˈsjesta] ) (Spanish, meaning "nap") is a short nap taken in the early afternoon, often after the midday meal. Such a period of sleep is a common tradition in some countries, particularly those where the weather is warm.


The siesta is historically common throughout the Mediterranean and Southern Europe and Mainland China. It is the traditional daytime sleep of Spain and, through Spanish influence, the Philippines, and many Hispanic American countries. In Dalmatia (coastal Croatia), the traditional afternoon nap is known as pižolot (from Venetian pixolotto). [1] The Spanish word siesta derives originally from the Latin word hora sexta "sixth hour" (counting from dawn, hence "midday rest").

Factors explaining the geographical distribution of the modern siesta are warm temperatures and heavy intake of food at the midday meal. Combined, these two factors contribute to the feeling of post-lunch drowsiness. In many countries that practice the siesta, the summer heat can be unbearable in the early afternoon, making a midday break at home welcome.

Biological need for naps

The timing of sleep in humans depends upon a balance between homeostatic sleep propensity, the need for sleep as a function of the amount of time elapsed since the last adequate sleep episode, and circadian rhythms which determine the ideal timing of a correctly structured and restorative sleep episode. The homeostatic pressure to sleep starts growing upon awakening. The circadian signal for wakefulness starts building in the (late) afternoon. As Harvard professor of sleep medicine Charles A. Czeisler notes, "The circadian system is set up in a beautiful way to override the homeostatic drive for sleep." [2]

Thus, in many people, there is a dip when the drive for sleep has been building for hours and the drive for wakefulness has not yet started. This is, again quoting Czeisler, "a great time for a nap". [2] The drive for wakefulness intensifies through the evening, making it difficult to get to sleep 2–3 hours before one's usual bedtime when the wake maintenance zone ends.

Sleep cultures

Dentist and pharmacist sharing similar business hours in the island of Lipsi, Greece. Business hours Greece.JPG
Dentist and pharmacist sharing similar business hours in the island of Lipsi, Greece.

Taking a long lunch break including a nap is common in a number of Mediterranean, tropical, and subtropical countries. The Washington Post of 13 February 2007 reports at length on studies in Greece that indicate that those who nap have less risk of heart attack. [3]

Siesta was also common in Italy, where it is called riposo in Northern Italy and pennichella or pisolino in Southern Italy. Many museums, churches and shops close during midday (from 12:00–1:30 pm to 2:30–4:00 pm) so that proprietors can go home for lunch and sometimes a nap during the day’s hottest hours. [4] [5]

In the United States, the United Kingdom, and a growing number of other countries, a short sleep has been referred to as a "power nap", a term coined by Cornell University social psychologist James Maas [6] and recognized by other research scientists such as Sara Mednick [7] as well as in the popular press. [8] Siesta is also practiced in some still colder regions, such as Patagonia. [9] [10]

On farms in rural Norway, farmers traditionally wake up early to care for their livestock. This is followed by an early lunch break after which a two- to three-hour nap is taken.[ citation needed ]

It used to be the custom in Russia, with Adam Olearius stating such was "the custom of the Countrey, where sleep is as necessary after Dinner as in the Night". [11] One source of hostility toward False Dmitriy I was that he did not "...indulge in the siesta." [12] :535

Einhard's Life of Charlemagne describes the emperor's summertime siestas: "In summer, after his midday meal, he would eat some fruit and take another drink; then he would remove his shoes and undress completely, just as he did at night, and rest for two or three hours." [13]


In modern Spain, the midday nap during the working week has largely been abandoned among the adult working population. [14] According to a 2009 survey, 16.2 percent of Spaniards polled claimed to take a nap "daily", whereas 22 percent did so "sometimes", 3.2 percent "weekends only" and the remainder, 58.6 percent, "never". The share of those who claimed to have a nap daily had diminished by 7 percent compared to a previous poll in 1998. Nearly three-fourths of those who take siesta claimed to do so on the sofa rather than on the bed. The habit is more likely among the elderly or during summer holidays in order to avoid the high temperatures of the day and extend social life till the cooler late evenings and nights. [15]

English language media often conflate the siesta with the two to three hour lunch break which is characteristic of Spanish working hours, [16] even though the working population is less likely to have time for a siesta and the two events are not necessarily connected. In fact, the average Spaniard works longer hours than almost all their European counterparts (typically 11-hour days, from 9am to 8pm). [17]

As for the origins of the practice in Spain, the scorching summer heat predominant mostly in the South is thought to have motivated those doing agrarian work to take a break to avoid the hottest part of the day. In cities, the dismal economic situation in Spain in the post-Spanish Civil War years coincided with the advent of both a modern economy and urbanisation. At that time, a long midday break—with or without siesta—was necessary for those commuting between the part-time jobs which were common in the sputtering economy. [18]

Cardiovascular benefits

La Siesta, Ramon Marti Alsina (MNAC). La migdiada.jpg
La Siesta, Ramon Martí Alsina (MNAC).

The siesta habit has been associated with a 37 percent reduction in coronary mortality, possibly due to reduced cardiovascular stress mediated by daytime sleep. [19]

Epidemiological studies on the relations between cardiovascular health and siesta have led to conflicting conclusions, possibly because of poor control of confounding variables, such as physical activity. It is possible that people who take a siesta have different physical activity habits, for example, waking earlier and scheduling more activity during the morning. Such differences in physical activity may lead to different 24-hour profiles in cardiovascular function. Even if such effects of physical activity can be discounted in explaining the relationship between siesta and cardiovascular health, it is still not known whether the daytime nap itself, a supine posture, or the expectancy of a nap is the most important factor. [20]

Further reading

Related Research Articles

Sleep Any process in which an organism enters and maintains a periodic, readily reversible state of reduced awareness and metabolic activity

Sleep is a naturally recurring state of mind and body, characterized by altered consciousness, relatively inhibited sensory activity, reduced muscle activity and inhibition of nearly all voluntary muscles during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, and reduced interactions with surroundings. It is distinguished from wakefulness by a decreased ability to react to stimuli, but more reactive than a coma or disorders of consciousness, with sleep displaying very different and active brain patterns.

Circadian rhythm A natural, internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours

A circadian rhythm is a natural, internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours. It can refer to any biological process that displays an endogenous, entrainable oscillation of about 24 hours. These 24-hour rhythms are driven by a circadian clock, and they have been widely observed in plants, animals, fungi, and cyanobacteria.

Delayed sleep phase disorder Chronic mismatch between a persons normal daily rhythm, compared to other people and societal norms

Delayed sleep phase disorder (DSPD), more often known as delayed sleep phase syndrome and also as delayed sleep–wake phase disorder, is a chronic dysregulation of a person's circadian rhythm, compared to those of the general population and societal norms. The disorder affects the timing of sleep, peak period of alertness, the core body temperature rhythm, and hormonal and other daily cycles. People with DSPD generally fall asleep some hours after midnight and have difficulty waking up in the morning. People with DSPD probably have a circadian period significantly longer than 24 hours. Depending on the severity, the symptoms can be managed to a greater or lesser degree, but no cure is known, and research suggests a genetic origin for the disorder.

Sleep cycle

The sleep cycle is an oscillation between the slow-wave and REM (paradoxical) phases of sleep. It is sometimes called the ultradian sleep cycle, sleep–dream cycle, or REM-NREM cycle, to distinguish it from the circadian alternation between sleep and wakefulness. In humans this cycle takes 1–2 hours. Humans usually grow from time period of 1 AM to 3 PM during night.

Biphasic sleep is the practice of sleeping during two periods over the course of 24 hours, while polyphasic sleep refers to sleeping multiple times – usually more than two. Each of these is in contrast to monophasic sleep, which is one period of sleep within 24 hours. Segmented sleep and divided sleep may refer to polyphasic or biphasic sleep, but may also refer to interrupted sleep, where the sleep has one or several shorter periods of wakefulness. A common form of biphasic or polyphasic sleep includes a nap, which is a short period of sleep, typically taken between the hours of 9 am and 9 pm as an adjunct to the usual nocturnal sleep period. Napping behavior during daytime hours is the simplest form of polyphasic sleep, especially when the nap(s) are taken on a daily basis. Therefore, biphasic sleep is considered the most quasi form of polyphasic sleep, thanks to the long sleep duration at night. Nowadays, the definition of polyphasic sleep is any sleep schedule with at least two sleeps per day, to distinguish it from monophasic sleep, which only has one sleep per day.

Power nap Short sleep

A power nap is a short sleep that terminates before deep sleep ; it is intended to quickly revitalize the subject. Cornell University social psychologist James Maas coined the term.

Afternoon time of the day between noon and evening

Afternoon is the time of day from noon or lunchtime until evening or 5pm. In literal terms, it refers to a time specifically after noon.

Shift work is an employment practice designed to make use of, or provide service across, all 24 hours of the clock each day of the week. The practice typically sees the day divided into shifts, set periods of time during which different groups of workers perform their duties. The term "shift work" includes both long-term night shifts and work schedules in which employees change or rotate shifts.

Sleep inertia, most-known as Hicham's syndrome, is a physiological state of impaired cognitive and sensory-motor performance that is present immediately after awakening. It persists during the transition of sleep to wakefulness, where an individual will experience feelings of drowsiness, disorientation and a decline in motor dexterity. Impairment from sleep inertia may take several hours to dissipate. In the majority of cases, morning sleep inertia is experienced for 15 to 30 minutes after waking.

A zeitgeber is any external or environmental cue that entrains or synchronizes an organism's biological rhythms to the Earth's 24-hour light/dark cycle and 12-month cycle.

Circadian rhythm sleep disorders (CRSD), also known as circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorders (CRSWD), are a family of sleep disorders which affect the timing of sleep. CRSDs arise from a persistent pattern of sleep/wake disturbances that can be caused either by dysfunction in one's biological clock system, or by misalignment between one's endogenous oscillator and externally imposed cues. As a result of this mismatch, those affected by circadian rhythm sleep disorders have a tendency to fall asleep at unconventional time points in the day. These occurrences often lead to recurring instances of disturbed rest, where individuals affected by the disorder are unable to go to sleep and awaken at "normal" times for work, school, and other social obligations.

Shift work sleep disorder (SWSD) is a circadian rhythm sleep disorder characterized by insomnia and excessive sleepiness affecting people whose work hours overlap with the typical sleep period. Insomnia can be the difficulty to fall asleep or to wake up before the individual has slept enough. About 20% of the working population participates in shift work. SWSD commonly goes undiagnosed, so it's estimated that 10-40% of shift workers suffer from SWSD. The excessive sleepiness appears when the individual has to be productive, awake and alert. Both symptoms are predominant in SWSD. There are numerous shift work schedules, and they may be permanent, intermittent, or rotating; consequently, the manifestations of SWSD are quite variable. Most people with different schedules than the ordinary one might have these symptoms but the difference is that SWSD is continual, long-term, and starts to interfere with the individual's life.

A chronotype is the behavioral manifestation of underlying circadian rhythms of myriad physical processes. A person's chronotype is the propensity for the individual to sleep at a particular time during a 24-hour period. Eveningness and morningness are the two extremes with most individuals having some flexibility in the timing of their sleep period. However, across development there are changes in the propensity of the sleep period with pre-pubescent children preferring an advanced sleep period, adolescents preferring a delayed sleep period and many elderly preferring an advanced sleep period.

Lunch meal, usually served at midday

Lunch, an abbreviation for luncheon, is a meal eaten around midday. During the 20th century, the meaning gradually narrowed to a small or mid-sized meal eaten midday. Lunch is commonly the second meal of the day, after breakfast. The meal varies in size depending on the culture, and significant variations exist in different areas of the world.

Nap short period of sleep

A nap is a short period of sleep, typically taken during daytime hours as an adjunct to the usual nocturnal sleep period. Naps are most often taken as a response to drowsiness during waking hours. A nap is a form of biphasic or polyphasic sleep, where the latter terms also include longer periods of sleep in addition to one single period.

In chronobiology, a circasemidian rhythm is a physiological arousal cycle that peaks twice in a 24-hour day. Numerous studies have demonstrated that human circadian rhythms in many measures of performance and physiological activity have a 2-peak daily (circasemidian) pattern. The word, circasemidian, is based upon the Latin words circa ("about"), semi ("half") and dia ("day"). Thus, this is a rhythm that has two cycles per day, and some investigators have referred to it as the semicircadian rhythm. It usually serves to (1) deepen the pre-dawn nadir in body temperature and cognitive performance, (2) create a flat spot during the early afternoon in the daytime increase in body temperature and cognitive performance, and (3) heighten the early-evening peak in body temperature and cognitive performance. Broughton was the first to bring this characteristic of human performance to the attention of researchers.

Bolivian cuisine culinary traditions of Bolivia

Bolivian cuisine stems from the combination of Spanish cuisine with indigenous ingredients and Aymara traditions, among others, with later influences from Germans, Italians, French, and Arabs due to the arrival of immigrants from those countries. The traditional staples of Bolivian cuisine are corn, potatoes, quinoa and beans. These ingredients have been combined with a number of staples brought by the Spanish, such as rice, wheat, and meat, including beef, pork, and chicken.

Second wind (sleep) sleep phenomenon

Second wind, also occasionally referred to as the wake maintenance zone, is a sleep phenomenon in which a person, after a prolonged period of staying awake, temporarily ceases to feel drowsy, often making it difficult to fall asleep once it happens. They are the result of circadian rhythms cycling into a phase of wakefulness. For example, many people experience the effects of a second wind in the early morning even after an entire night without sleep because it is the time when they would normally wake up.

Neuroscience of sleep Study of the neuroscientific and physiological basis of the nature of sleep

The neuroscience of sleep is the study of the neuroscientific and physiological basis of the nature of sleep and its functions. Traditionally, sleep has been studied as part of psychology and medicine. The study of sleep from a neuroscience perspective grew to prominence with advances in technology and proliferation of neuroscience research from the second half of the twentieth century.

Studies, which include laboratory investigations and field evaluations of population groups that are analogous to astronauts, provide compelling evidence that working long shifts for extended periods of time contributes to sleep deprivation and can cause performance decrements, health problems, and other detrimental consequences, including accidents, that can affect both the worker and others.


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