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Siesta Science

Posted November 25, 2015 7:00 AM by cheme_wordsmithy

"An afternoon rest or nap, especially one taken during the hottest hours of the day in a hot climate." - the siesta, as defined by Google.

It seems unimaginable in the age we live in, but there was a time when many countries (particularly in the Mediterranean and some tropical regions) incorporated the siesta: a three to four hour break in the middle of the workday. The break was designed to give workers a chance to eat a big healthy meal, spend time with their families, and/or sleep, while avoiding laboring out in the sun during its hottest hours.

The modern Western World never incorporated the traditional siesta - for some reason we didn't think shutting down businesses for three or four hours in the middle of the day was a good formula for progress and achievement. But while the duration of the siesta may be unrealistic, the idea behind it (to take a break and rest) could actually help our productivity at work if applied correctly.

I can't tell you how many times at work I have wished there was a lounge room or place where I could comfortably (and without distraction) take a power nap after lunch. I tend to hit an afternoon slump somewhere between 1:00 and 2:00 PM where I feel noticeably drowsy and fatigued. Turns out this is a normal part of the human body's natural circadian rhythm, which has two cycles during the day. The low point of the first cycle is usually in the early afternoon, so it is natural to crave a nap around this time.

Giving in to that craving can yield a lot of benefits. Short naps can provide a boost of energy, relieve stress, increase memory capacity, help recover lost sleep, and increase alertness. One study, conducted on 23,000 Greeks in 1994-1999, has also linked midday napping to a lower risk of heart disease. There is, in my opinion, also a great benefit in merely choosing to take a break from thinking about work and letting the mind rest in some way. Napping is one way to accomplish that.

Their are conditions on having a good siesta though. Power naps should be short (10 to 30 minutes), and if they must go longer, go for a full 90 minutes. This timing ensures your body avoids waking during the deep REM stage of the sleep cycle, which would leave you feeling fatigued and groggy. If you time it right, a nap should leave you feeling refreshed and energized.

Consistency is also important for a good nap: a consistent schedule helps your body to stabilize its natural rhythms. In addition, turning off the lights (or using a sleep mask), and using a blanket can also help to tell your body its time to sleep. Or you could just get this thing... (wow, there are no words).

The final condition is to ensure that your naps are guilt and stress free - if you're worrying about what you aren't doing while you're on break, or worrying what your coworkers or boss will think, then you aren't getting the full benefit of the time. Naps should be relieving stress, not making it.

I have unfortunately not been afforded the office space to take a nap in isolation at work, and have not the sleeping ability (or the bravery) to fall asleep at my cubicle desk during lunch hour. Until things change, I'll have to practice the siesta in other capacities; like tomorrow at Thanksgiving, where I expect to fully honor the traditional practice by enjoying a big afternoon meal with my family, followed by a nice long nap.

References

A Life of Productivity

Science of the Perfect Nap

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#1

Re: Siesta Science

11/25/2015 3:31 PM

It seems "the human body's natural circadian rhythm" was developed before there were conditions that would interrupt it. I guess position in the food chain was a factor.

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#2

Re: Siesta Science

11/26/2015 5:05 PM

Tested this out after Thankgiving dinner...

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Guru

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#3

Re: Siesta Science

11/28/2015 12:10 PM

Yes probably why the urban sombrero never caught on.....

....as anybody who has lived around NY area knows the only time for rest is during the commute to and from work.....

...I suspect when the auto pilot is perfected, this will be a most welcome feature...

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