Updated: February 15, 2023Published: August 31, 2022
Okay… you need to hear this. “Siesta” is in danger of extinction! I know, I know. I am being a little dramatic. How can unique Spanish tradition go extinct?!?
Well, the truth is that we can barely have them. At least not during the weekdays. Actually, there has been a controversy going on about the future of “siestas”. But we will talk about that later.
Let’s get comfy for now because you are about to find out why “siestas” are important in Spain and the reason some people are against them. I know, I know… sounds like terrible people but they do have convincing arguments.
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But that’s not all! We’ve also included a fun interview to spaniards about our siesta. Enjoy!
The Brief History of “La Siesta”
Just in case anyone out there needs it, let’s go through its definition. “Siesta” means nap. And, just like anywhere in the world they are taken to recover energy for the day.
Okay… moving on. I have brought you three historical theories that might explain why “siestas” became important in Spanish culture.
The 1st theory is related to a tough time for the country, during Franco’s ruling.
Once upon a time in march 1940, there was a dictator that decided to show solidarity with its fellow fascist countries. How did he do it? By changing the entire’s country time zone. Yes, you read it right!
The time zone that scientists so carefully studied for years was randomly changed to aline the Spanish time with the Germans during WWII. So, how does this relate to our siesta? By delaying time by one hour, the day begins earlier and breaks or “siestas” are needed to get through it.
Well, after the Civil War it was normal for Spanish citizens to work two shifts. They would normally have around 2 hours between jobs, so they use their spare time to rest. Or at least some of them did, others used the time to move from one workplace to another.
Our 3rd theory for the origin of our beloved “siestas” comes from rural Spain. When cities were still developing, most people lived and worked in rural areas. These men and women who were dedicated to agriculture would take a rest during heat hours in the middle of the day. While they waited for the day to cool down, the would eat and sleep.
When people began migrating to cities, they were already accustomed to “siestas” and… voilà. It was easy for this practice to become popular in the city.
The Meaning and Right Time for Doing “Siesta”
Imagine you are visiting a small town in Spain. It’s Sunday afternoon and you would like to go around and do some shopping. Surprise! Surprise! Almost everything is closed!
That is what “siesta” looks like in small cities or villages but it doesn’t really happen in places like Madrid or Barcelona. Nowadays, this tradition is part of the middle- day time people take to eat and rest before rejoining work. So, for some Spanish people, the “siesta” is a well-deserved rest after 6 hours and only 6 hours of sleep and an early work morning.
The right time for “siesta” in Spain is between 2 pm and 5 pm. Bartolomé and Enrique, 21 and 22 years old, are two agricultural engineers from Almería who think that the perfect siesta should be between 15 and 30 minutes. “It’s addictive. If you wake up before the alarm, you’ ve got to stand up or you are doomed”.
The Benefits that Make Us Love “Siesta”
By now you already know the right time to make the siesta. I know you don’t need much convincing to take one, but I am going to mention some benefits for you.
So, having a siesta helps to improve your mood, decrease fatigue, boosts your memory. And, after all, helps your system to relax after a looong morning. I am no doctor, but these are facts.
We don’t take “siestas” as much as we would like to, and we should! Spain has one of the longest working periods compared to other countries in Europe. Enrique’s family wakes up at 6 am and goes to sleep at 12 am. This means they usually sleep 7 hours or less (sounds awful if you ask me). But, that is the reality for a lot of people. The famous Spanish “siesta” comes in to give a little push of energy during the day.
According to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), Spanish people spend more time at work than other Europeans.
What the Future Beholds for this Tradition
To recap. We have talked a bit about what is a siesta and its history, the right time to take it, and its benefits. Now - plays serious music - we are going to explore its uncertain future. I am being dramatic again, but what I am about to tell you is 100% true.
Nowadays, the Spanish siesta is a bit of a myth. Almost 60% of people never take a siesta! According to Economist Nuria Chinchilla from the IESE Business School, Spanish need to improve their sleeping schedule. The present lifestyle is not sustainable. Spain is one of the countries in Europe that sleeps the least, works the most, and is the least efficient. If you didn’t know this, here we got the proof.
We could say that 6 out of 10 Spanish people don’t take siestas. The lucky extra do it occasionally and mostly on weekends.
In simple words, Chinchila argues that the working periods need to improve and middle of the day breaks should end. Also, in 2016 the politician Mariano Rajoy tried to change it. He proposed that the work day should end at 6 pm, but nothing really change.
The truth is…for a LOT of people siesta is not really possible. Long commutes or just life, while we are awake, makes it difficult. What could happen in the future? Well… companies could help people take a break by having some comfy couches at the office. I am not joking, this could help improve people’s moods. Just imagine… living in a world where people actually sleep. Yes, a happy world.
I am going to add you a video, so you can hear what other Spanish have to say about siesta.
So, for working Spanish people siestas are in danger of extinction. If we look back to its roots, this tradition was born out of necessity as a break from heat hours. For others, it was a way to cope with a dictator’s whim. The reality is that working days are getting longer and sleeping hours shorter. That is not good news for anyone.
I believe that’s it for today… look at that! I deserve a siesta today.
Inigo Navarro is a seasoned travel writer with a deep understanding of Spain's cities, culture, people and language. Born and raised in Spain, he has spent years exploring the country and is currently one of the most-read Travel Bloggers about Spain. Inigo is also an experienced digital marketer, a father to 4 beautiful children and a huge Real Madrid Fan. ¡Hala Madrid!