How the beloved nap got its start
The tradition of napping dates back thousands of years, with modern-day siestas originating in Spain. The name comes from the Latin hora sexta, which means “the sixth hour.” Since the hours of the day begin at dawn, the sixth hour is noon, which is when siestas often start.
Due to Spain’s wide influence, siestas are common in Spanish-speaking nations around the world, as well as Greece, Italy, The Philippines, and Nigeria, to name a few. Siestas typically occur in hot climates, allowing people to sleep though the hottest part of the day and avoid the sun’s strong midday rays.
While the siesta is now considered a luxury, it was once thought to be a physical necessity, since it is important for people in hot climates to have a quick afternoon rest to restore their energy levels. It’s believed that Spain introduced the siesta centuries ago to provide their farmers with a time to rest during peak temperatures.
Though Spaniards are now famous for their daily two-hour break, the origins of the afternoon nap go back much further, dating back to ancient Islam. The practice was recorded in Islamic Law and was also written about in the Koran. Romans also regularly took daily naps.
Although the siesta is still popular today, it has evolved over time. In regions like Northern Spain, Southern Argentina, and Chile, where the heat isn’t as stifling, physical breaks aren’t as needed, so the siesta is often a time for people to break up their work day and go home to enjoy time with family and friends—and not always take a nap. Instead, people will have a leisurely family lunch. Regardless of how people spend it, the siesta is one of the most embraced Spanish traditions.
Daytime snoozing habits vary in other cultures.
In some parts of the world, life practically comes to a grinding halt in the early afternoon. People head home from work for a siesta, as it’s known in Spain, or a riposo, as it’s called in Italy. Whether that means a short nap of 20 minutes (the traditional meaning of the word siesta) or a major mid-afternoon break varies from one country to another. But in many parts of the world—including Greece, the Philippines, Mexico, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Nigeria—naps are seamlessly woven into the tapestry of everyday life.
The tradition began as a necessity in some parts of the world, where, in the afternoon, the heat reaches its peak and it becomes too hot to be outside. That temperature climb combined with a heavy mid-day meal would send residents retreating to the comforts of home, where they could take a rest and wait for the heat to ease up. Over time, different cultures have tweaked the napping habit to suit their preferences. Some examples:
In China: Workers often take a break after lunch and put their heads on their desks for an hour-long nap. It’s considered a Constitutional right.
In Italy: The riposo may begin anytime between noon and 1:30 p.m. and run until 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. Businesses shut down, and public venues like museums and churches lock their doors so their employees can go home for a leisurely lunch and a snooze.
In Spain: The siesta is deeply ingrained, as businesses often close for hours to accommodate the mid-day rest. While the siesta can span two hours, only a fraction of the time is actually spent napping; first, there’s lunch with family and friends, then a rest. Because of the mid-day break, people often work later into the evening.
In the U.S., napping isn’t quite a cultural tradition—at least not yet. But we’re gradually moving closer to that lifestyle. Some big-name companies (like Google) are becoming increasingly nap-friendly, largely because they believe that it increases productivity.
How does America compare with other countries?
You may think that not getting enough sleep every night is an American problem, thanks to this country’s on-the-go culture and tendency to work around the clock—but that actually isn’t the case. People around the world aren’t getting enough zzz’s, either. For example, adults in the United Kingdom get an hour less sleep every night than they did just a year ago; 65 percent get just six hours and 27 minutes of shut-eye per night. (For optimal health, most adults need seven to nine hours of slumber every evening.)
When it comes to clocking shut-eye, Americans aren’t doing so badly after all. Some statistics show that Americans get almost eight and a half hours every night. People in China record the most sleep, with more than nine hours per night. Those in Japan get the least, with an average of seven hours and 14 minutes of shut-eye each weeknight.
How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?
Around the globe, the amount of sleep that people get every night has been steadily decreasing since the 1970s. Many believe that the rise in technology has contributed to that, since it frequently disrupts our sleep. But some cultures, such as Spain, make up for that by embracing the siesta, or afternoon nap.
As the siesta illustrates, not only does the total amount of snoozing vary from country to country, but sleep patterns differ, as well. For example, preschool children in Asian countries get less sleep at night than children in predominantly Caucasian countries, but they make up the difference by napping during the day. And instead of measuring how much sleep people get at night, they track the total amount over a 24-hour period.
No matter how the U.S. stacks up to the other countries, it’s important to make sure that you get the sleep you need every night. If you are concerned about the quantity or quality of sleep you are getting, give Alaska Sleep Clinic a call for your free sleep assessment.