Healthiest Spanish Custom: Why you need to Siesta
by Kimberly on Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Did you know that the 11th of July was the holiday of the Patron Saint of the famous Spanish Siesta Custom? San Benito de Nursia, also known as San Benito Abad, is the Patron Saint of Europe and also the Saint who established the "6th hour" as the one dedicated to resting and napping.
It is said that San Benito taught the monks to make clocks that counted the hours. His rules established specific times for their obligations including eating, praying, ceremonies, etc. The 6th hour was marked by the Benedictine Rule as the hour of rest, a time now immortalized as nap time or the hour of the siesta.
So this Spanish holiday is not very well known, but the idea of the Spanish siesta has been gaining momentum for some time now. Every year more and more studies show that siestas are just plain good for you.
In the US, the unofficial National Napping Day is celebrated in March and was started in 1999 by William Anthony, Ph.D. from Boston University. His goal is to promote napping as a healthy habit and explained that they chose March 14th because it coincides with daylight savings time, meaning that people are more susceptible to napping since they lose an hour of sleep. He explained that the "goal is to encourage folks to take a nap wherever they may be, at home, at the workplace, or on vacation, and to make it a regular part of their healthy lifestyle. It is a day when nappers all over the country need to lie down and be counted."
Naps have been reported as being in widespread us by NBA players and many historians say that Winston Churchill was devoted to taking power naps. He once said:
"You must sleep sometime between lunch and dinner, and no half-way measures. Take off your clothes and get into bed. That's what I always do. Don't think you will be doing less work because you sleep during the day. That's a foolish notion held by people who have no imagination. You will be able to accomplish more. You get two days in one -- well, at least one and a half, I'm sure. When the war started, I had to sleep during the day because that was the only way I could cope with my responsibilities."
Even NASA investigators have proved that astronauts benefit greatly from taking short naps after an intense morning of work. According to the study, 26 minutes was the perfect length of time for a nap. But in general, your nap should aim to be between 20-30 minutes to recuperate strength and improve concentration and alertness.
US flight controllers are also studying the idea of implementing obligatory naps to avoid falling asleep while on duty. Experts believe that this will improve alertness and safety because controllers often maintain grueling work schedules that involve sitting in dark rooms at night waiting for pilots to call.
Sleep experts say that "controlled napping" may be the best solution for controllers to stay alert while directing aircraft. One expert, Gregory Belenky, explained that giving people 8 hours off in between shifts "isn´t going to do it. It might give them the opportunity to sleep, but they are physiologically unable to sleep."
Apart from all this, siestas are healthy!
Naps improve your digestion by relaxing your bowel muscles.
It is great for your heart! Siestas are recommended for those with hypertension, diabetes, heart problems, anxiety and stress. According to 2007 study by Nasaka A. and Oikonomou E, those who occasionally napped reduced their risk of coronary mortality by 12 percent. Those who habitually took naps reduced this risk by a staggering 37% . Combine your siesta with the traditional Mediterranean diet to really make sure you have healthy heart!
One thing is conclusive among all the studies: Naps should be short. Some say between 15-20 minutes, others say the magic number is 26. One this is agreed on, naps should not be longer than 30 minutes. Long naps can alter your sleep cycles, cause you to enter into rapid eye movement and therefore provoke more tiredness, and cause insomnia at night.
Most stores in Spain still close at midday to give employees time to go home, eat properly and rest or nap before returning for the evening. Come study in Spain and live the Spanish siesta!