Take That Nap: The History of the Spanish Siesta

Siesta is the Spanish word for nap, but it's also more than that. Every language has its words that have a cultural meaning that goes well beyond the dictionary definition. In the UK, one of these words might be majesty.

What is it about siesta that makes it so significant? When did it start and why has it stood the test of time? Read on to find out.


The origin of the siesta is hard to narrow down, mainly because the word itself raises questions of definition. Are we referring specifically to the Spanish practice of taking a daily nap or the origins of naps in general?

If it's the latter, we're looking at a long history, since the practice of frequent daily naps goes back to the Romans and maybe further. The Romans called their naps 'sexta hora,' meaning 'sixth hour.' This word later evolved into siesta.


Sure, everybody knows that the purpose of a nap is to get some rest, but the siesta's purpose is actually two-fold. The first, of course, is to relax and catch up on sleep if possible.

The second has to do with the old Roman term for the nap, sixth hour. The Romans believed that the day began at 6 am, so the sixth-hour nap would be at noon.

The reason for this specific time is because of Rome's location. Italy lies on the Mediterranean sea, a body of water that directly separates Europe from Africa.

Because of this, summers in Italy tend to get very hot, as do summers in Spain. Noon is the time of day when the sun is at its highest in the sky and the heat is the worst.

The siesta allows people to get out of the sun during this time so they don't have to work during the hottest part of the day. Looking at a map of where naps are an established tradition, almost all of them are located in hotter climates.


Afternoon naps have actually proven to be good for you. Naps give you a chance to relax before taking on the rest of your day, and because of this, focus tends to increase after a nap.

Napping is also proven to increase memory, reaction time and improve the quality of work. Napping also reduces the risk of obesity and obesity-related health risks, as well as depression.

A Well-Earned Siesta

Taking a nap is an established tradition in many parts of the world, and for good reason. Not only does a midday nap keep us out of the heat for a while, but it offers several health benefits as well.

Go ahead and take a siesta. Your body will thank you for it.

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