siesta time

Siesta time is frowned upon. Taking a nap in the afternoon is “something old people do”. For anyone else is seen as lazy or weak. Serious people tough it out and keep going, don’t they?

Well, maybe. Grit and determination are related to resilience. “When the going gets tough the tough keep going” so the saying goes. Never give up! The mantra for the busy-busy 21st century.

Siesta or no?

To nap or not to nap? Various opinions slug it out. In one corner there are those who recommend a siesta as being essential to health, clarity of mind, and productivity.

In the other corner are the nap-deniers who are seriously judgemental about a little daytime shut-eye. They claim that sleep is a waste of time anyway and sleeping in the day is slothful and lazy. Needless to say this ties in neatly with self-serving but unproven beliefs emanating from the corporate world, and tied to productivity.

Increased risk

As it happens, business-driven attitudes linking productivity to staying awake all the time are not only wrong, they are dangerous. According to RoSPA, fatigue may be a contributory factor in up to 20% of road accidents in the UK, and up to one-quarter of fatal and serious accidents.

Some drivers are required to take mandatory rest breaks, but in most cases, we are left to our own devices in assessing the need for rest while driving. Worse, standard advice includes driving with the window open and drinking black coffee. While the obvious solution to driver fatigue is sleep, we not often reminded about the restorative value of pulling over and taking a nap.


Understandably, in our time-driven societies, the idea of taking sleep breaks doesn’t really fit with prevailing mindsets. Driving is one example, but similar attitudes in the workplace mean that employees are often working below par.

The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) points out that: “Fatigue can lead to errors and accidents, ill-health and injury, and reduced productivity.” It adds that fatigue is can be a root cause of major disasters such as Chernobyl, Bhopal and Exxon Valdez.

While there are some employers who legitimise and even encourage napping, most don’t. Yet another example of skewed thinking about productivity: push people hard and they get less done, not more.

But, according to Sara Mednick, a sleep research scientist at the Salk Institute in California, “It’s OK to nap. It’s actually better than OK. It’s lifesaving.”

But research shows…

Originally one of the nap-deniers, Mednick became convinced of the benefits of napping while writing her Ph.D. thesis… on napping. Using scientific methods she established that a 60-90 minute nap could be as effective as a full nights sleep in its powers of recuperation.

This is impractical, you might think. An hour and a half out of a working day is a lot, but a shorter nap of 20 minutes can still have a remarkably invigorating, so there’s no need to go the whole hog. As a testimony to this, the list of nap-friendly companies is growing.

“The big picture message”, Mednick says, “is that napping is a necessary and effective tool that can be used by anyone in the pursuit of optimum health, happiness, and productivity.”

See also: The Path to Productivity: Short Hours, More Breaks

Refrence: Mednick, S., Ehrman, M. (2007), Take a Nap! Change Your Life, Workman Publishing, New York.

I’m a psychologist, coach, and therapist. All my work is aimed at enabling people to improve personal aspects of their lives and work.


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