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The Siesta Mentality

Most of us have heard about siestas - the midday break that originated in Islamic Law but was made famous by Spain. I know that when I worked in office settings, I fantasized about the Latin hora sexta “the sixth hour.”

I would daydream about riding the A/C train all the way back to our 500 square-foot one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment at 12 pm and take a two to three-hour break. One that would make the mayor of Ador, near Valencia proud. This mayor enshrined the siesta and made it so that everything shuts down from 2-5 pm.

The siesta isn’t just in Spanish-speaking nations, it’s in Italy, Greece, Nigeria, The Philippines, and other hot areas. In fact, that’s one of the reasons that it became so widespread, it was a needed break from the sun. But from a physical necessity became this incredible space to de-plug and detach from work, rest from the noise of the world, and simply be with your family/friends. There is this stereotype of the Spanish speaker naping in the middle of the day for hours. That's not the case; studies show that 20-30 minutes of a nap can decrease fatigue and increase performance. After 30 minutes of rest, the remainder of the time is dedicated to a home-cooked lunch and tons of good discussion with your people.

Now, if I don’t state the obvious soon, folks are going to explode - “SHELBY, WHO, IN THE US OF A, CAN TAKE A BREAK MIDDAY?” And you’re right, although Spain bears the siesta stamp mark - 60% of modern Spaniards don’t take siestas. Due to, you guessed it, an increase in workload and the shift towards a more globalized corporate culture (after Spain hit a recession). Unfortunately - where Spain used to be far more well-rested than the US and UK - they are now just as sleep-deprived as we are. Well, actually, they hit 7.1 hours a night vs. American’s 6.8 hours. I know that 7.1 hours sounds luxurious for some of us, but that is actually more than an hour less than their ancestors…heck, than their grandparents. And knowing that at one point, just a generation or so ago, there was an entire nation averaging the recommended amount of sleep is quite impressive. Especially when you remember that losing only one hour of sleep can mean:

  • Eating as much as 200 more calories - primarily fat and carb-heavy

  • A decrease in exercise endurance

  • Reduction in Productivity

  • An increase in web surfing - because it impairs your ability to focus, and makes it easier for you to be distracted

  • Creates irritability

  • Reduces your ability to deal with stress



Let's spend a moment talking about one of the components of the siesta - the performance-enhancing element. It’s important to note that most states and people that incorporate siestas in their routines work from about 9 am - 8 pm. Typically 8/9 am to around 2 pm, break 2-3 hours, and then work, again, from 4/5-8 pm. During the three hours, most folks are eating their biggest meal (lunch tends to be the big meal), taking a nap, and engaging with others.

The productivity portion of this comes from the nap.

“Naps can restore alertness, enhance performance, and reduce mistakes and accidents. A study at NASA on sleepy military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness 100%.”

Now, the reason that this article is not all about naps is that one of the most beneficial midday nap times is literally 10-minutes long. At 10-minutes long, the napper will see cognitive benefits. In fact, after 30 minutes of a nap, folks may experience sleep inertia and be incredible groggy for up to an hour after the rest. I would hate to see corporations become obsessed with power-naps - who needs an hour lunch break? Let’s shoot for a 10-minute power nap break!

That said, PLEASE, if you feel your energy dip or your stress levels deeply conflate at a particular time of the day - take a nap. One of my close friends has all of her and her baby boys napping gear in her car - she doesn't play about her naps. For transparency's sake, she also has narcolepsy. So her ability and need to get cozy and doze off is enhanced. Needless to say, your body (and your evening bedtime) will thank you for resting versus grabbing an afternoon java.

Your skin will also thank you, because it’s not called “beauty” rest, because of Snow White. Or actually...err...maybe it is? I don't know. But what I do know is that the restoration of cells is the perfect anti-aging agent vs. the ultimate-skin ager (glycation) sugar, which our tired bodies reach for. In fact, the AGEs (advanced glycation end-products) are the harmful free radicals, from sugar, that harm, and age our skin. Now, if you take a nap AND grab the snickers, sleep is one of the perfect combats for this sugar-induced aging. Because during your rest (if good QUALITY), your skin goes into high drive, regenerating and repairing the damage. So yes, take a nap when you need it.



Have you ever had a big project that you’re working on? But also have an appointment, and so you have to step away from the project. BUT your mind stays on the project (it’s in the background of your thoughts). And just by moving the project from the forefront of your brain, you end up getting the BEST ideas? I'm sure this example feels personal.

This is my working-mother story. I cannot count how many emails, projects, conversations that I've had to step away from. I have to cook dinner, to pick up my boys from school, or someone needs my attention/presence immediately.

Now, when these disruptions are unplanned, they can put me in stress overdrive. Though when they are planned, they can be miraculous breaks. Exactly what I needed to crack the case. I've been sitting calmly on a park bench watching my boys and voilà- I know the answer! I have a new fresh outlook that is precisely what is needed in the project, conversation, or the assignment. The same is true for my personal life, but that's a whole thing for a different time.

The special education department once had a neurological doctor come in to advise us on the “power of the break” for our students. It literally changed my practice as a teacher. And I will be honest, my brilliant students performed wonders when they were given moments of merely unplugging. Sometimes, it was getting all the jitters out, others it was a dance party, yoga, journaling, doodling, and much more. It was fun to experience their creative energy and reduce the times that students had “to go to the bathroom” or "sharpen their pencil." It was extraordinary watching their productivity soar post-break. A student could literally be struggling on a writing project, but when it was time for a break played happily, smiled, and didn't ask me about the assignment at all. Just thinking about their heart are literally the best at genuinely engaging in a break. They were my teachers in that sense (and many other aspects of life).

The truth is is that regular breaks from work increase productivity. In this “Forbes” article, discussing the power of taking a lunch break, it was found that employees gain focus and energy after stepping away from their desks. Then there are the stress-relieving benefits of taking a break that includes walking. As discussed early, the creative energy that happens during and after a brain break is incredible. Having the time to look at the workload or project from the macro-level or solely from a different viewpoint is incredibly helpful.

Also, much like our brothers and sisters that incorporate siestas into their day, we may find ourselves incorporating healthier habits into our daily rhythm and recharging enough to crush the afternoon goals.

Healthy break habits include:

  • Enjoying stress-relieving techniques (praying, meditating, reading, crocheting, drawing, journaling, doodling)

  • Eating nourishing foods, actually, eat the food that feels good to your body instead of the most instantaneous thing you can find

  • Spending time with loved ones (a fun Shalom video)

  • Incorporating movement (a walk, a workout class, a gym visit)

  • Taking time to rest (a nap, a moment to close your eyes, listening to calming music).

  • Watch a fun show or video: I used to have a rockstar coworker that would watch "The Office" from her computer during lunch. She would make us all giggle when she laughed (at times choking on her food) - she spread all the joy.



SO WHAT HAPPENS NOW? I GOT IT! We all move to a space that respects the siesta. We enjoy long breaks with family and friends, nourishing meals, and perhaps a nap or a long walk. Or we challenge the government to make sure that we incorporate the siesta as a part of our working culture.

Nope. Guess why? Most of us don't want to work until 8 pm...possibly. But even if an hour was reinforced - midday rest is a mindset. To rest in the midday is a mindset that resists the urge to “impress” others with our “hardworking ways.” We also have to combat the notion that the hour skipped means getting home an hour earlier (that’s usually a false narrative). And we have to push against the competitive brainwork of more work equates to a better job.

So why is it essential to have a middle of the day-break (versus getting more time in the morning or the evening)?

The answer is midday breaks help us:

  • De-stress

  • Unlock creative energy

  • Look at work through a different lens

  • Connect with ourselves and others (do a mid-day check-in)

  • Lead healthier lives (nutritionally, activity-wise, and mentally)

  • Eating a big midday meal or merely resting, can help calm your urge for the late afternoon sugar binge, java chug, and snack attack.

  • It can also help you rethink your daily rhythm, an example: After the break, my energy is calmer and more agreeable, this means I should schedule that time as email response time or time for meetings. Whereas, before my break, I am irritable and easily agitated - maybe that’s my time to work on my project with calming music.

Hoping that this article can clear the stigma behind seeing breaks as demotivating and for those that don't want to work. Naps as only for those sick, the elderly, or infants. And slowing down and planning moments of joy, peace, pleasure, and connectedness throughout our daily rhythm as a must. We deserve to nourish ourselves, to move our bodies, to enjoy human contact, and to be WHOLE humans even while at work. Let's stop separating our two different lives, and if possible and applicable, let's stop assimilating into an unhealthy work culture. Take a break or many. Then give folks extra grace, bring a new and fresh perspective to your work, and strive for excellence in everything that you touch.

All my love. May you create space to be whole.


P.S. "work" doesn't mean a job outside of the home...stay at home/retired/unemployed/in between a job/sabbatical folks I see you! Heck, I am you and you are me. Peace, love, and tons of quiet moments.


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