A siesta 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 (often so hot that working in the afternoons is unbearable). In the United States and in the United Kingdom, and a growing number of other countries, a short sleep has been referred to as a ‘power nap’ in the recent nap discussions.
Although many cultures acknowledge the benefits of a siesta, or midday nap, this custom is in decline. It makes it harder to find a common time and place to rest each day because many people now commute between home and work in much greater distances than in the past.
Doctors and sleep experts have different views on napping. Some sleep therapists are even against napping. This said most of them (and recent studies) confirm that short naps do improve mood, enhance memory and alleviate fatigue. Most importantly it can also rebuild that ‘feel-good’ connection with sleep which is an absolutely must in order to sleep well at nights. However, it’s vital not to over-nap as this can really make you feel tired and can also reduce your need for sleep at night.
It’s, once again, most useful that you test yourself to find what suits you best. We can’t know if napping works for us by reading about it, it has to be tested in real life and preferably consistently for some period of time. Most people are unable to nap when they are over-tired and wired. Or they think they are. As so often in life, practice makes perfect. Napping is a skill. It’s a lovely skill that can restore the positive connection with sleep and turn sleep from an enemy back into a friend. Many people feel it’s one of their most luxurious moments of the day. Worth of trying out to discover why they think so!
Many people also nap with a purpose in mind, aiming to enhance performance. They nap just before sport (Kimi Raikkonen naps before adrenaline-fuelled F1 races), presentations, shows, important meetings and driving long distances.
Having a siesta
The siesta has existed for thousands of years and was previously regarded as a physical necessity rather than a luxury. While the traditional Spanish style siesta can last for up to two hours to avoid the hottest part of the day, there is – according to some studies – actually a biological need for people in all climates to have a short rest in the afternoon to revive energy levels. The form of rest recommended for health and productivity benefits is a short 10-20 minute nap, and not the 2 hour long siesta normally associated with Spain, enjoyable as that may be!
Research shows that the majority of people suffer from tiredness twice in every 24 hour period. We are what’s called Bi-phasic; we need two periods of sleep; a long one at night and a shorter one during the day. The early afternoon brings a drop in energy levels, not as severe as night time, but sufficient to make it difficult to concentrate and think clearly. By having a short nap we can help ourselves think more clearly by more productive and reduce the risk of heart disease. Tiredness can also be a cause of accidents. A short 10-20 minute nap is all that is needed to restore our concentration, alertness and improve productivity for the afternoon.
5 steps to siesta
According to Don Quijote this is how you take a siesta.
- To fully enjoy a siesta it is very important to have a good lunch with friends or/and relatives.
- The real siesta takes place in bed and in pyjamas, but a comfortable sofa is also fine if no bed is not available.
- Timing is very important. A siesta should last between 15-30 minutes, no more.
- Don’t let anything disturb you. The siesta is a very serious business. Some people can’t enjoy a siesta unless the TV or radio is on. If these kind of things help you to fall asleep, use them.
- Silence all telephones, but don’t forget to set up an alarm!
A power nap
The power nap is thought to maximize the benefits of sleep versus time. It is used to supplement normal sleep, especially when a sleeper has accumulated a sleep deficit.
Various durations are recommended for power naps, which are very short compared to regular sleep. The short duration of a power nap is designed to prevent nappers from sleeping so long that they enter a normal sleep cycle without being able to complete it. Going beyond sleep stages/phases I and II but failing to complete a full sleep cycle, can result in a state, where one feels groggy, disoriented, and even more sleepy than before beginning the nap.
Brief naps (10–20 minutes) can improve alertness directly after awakening without the grogginess. During a power nap we are aware of the environment around us, such as noises and sensations and feelings inside us, like our thoughts. We are in ‘light sleep’ (sleep stages/phases I and II) yet it’s enough to feel in a deep state of relaxation. We are not asleep but not awake either. We don’t have to feel tired or fatigued to take a nap. The most important thing is to understand that strictly speaking a power nap is not about ‘sleeping like a log’. It’s more about drifting and relaxing and having the expectation on right level will help us to find the ‘right state of mind’.
Power naps of less than 30 minutes—even those as brief as 6 and 10 minutes—restore wakefulness and promote performance and learning. A University of Düsseldorf study found superior memory recall once a person had reached 6 minutes of sleep, suggesting that the onset of sleep may initiate active memory processes of consolidation which—once triggered—remains effective even if sleep is terminated.
If you have lost a lot of sleep during previous night you might consider a longer nap, for up to 40-50 minutes but absolutely no more. This is the stage we start to enter deep sleep stages and coming out of deep sleep (in the middle of it) might make us feel irritated and even more fatigue! Sleeping too much during the day can naturally also reduce the need for sleep at night and worsen the sleep problems.
5 steps to power nap
- Choose a time when you feel a natural dip in your energy level and make the ‘environment’ comfortable (even when it’s on a train or in a car!) and switch off your phone.
- Set an alarm for 10-20 mins.
- Bring your attention to breathing by consciously slowing it down (focus: long exhales!).
- Think something nice, let it go and enjoy the drifting.
- Rouse yourself gently from your nap. Move around for a few minutes.
Repeat every day to get the routine in place and to physically and mentally get used to napping and its positive effects. Pay attention to how your feelings about napping and sleep in general change over time.
More napping tips
The caffeine nap
A caffeine nap is a short nap that is preceded by the intake of caffeine. Caffeine – in general – is not the best solution for poor sleepers but some people do find the combination of caffeine and power napping doing the trick perfectly. Caffeine in coffee takes up to half an hour to have an alerting effect, hence “a short (<15min) nap will not be compromised if it is taken immediately after the coffee and you can boost your concentration for the rest of the day. This way the caffeine doesn’t stop you napping but it kicks in right after the nap.