Yesterday, I joined a queue of people waiting outside my apartment because it was too physically painful to enter the building. In the 113 degree weather, the black door was burning all who attempted to unlock it. This is why siesta exists. Every day from 2 – 5 p.m., the whole country of Spain effectively shuts down. Shops close, streets empty and people retreat indoors. As a foreigner, I didn’t fully grasp the concept of siesta until day three of my stay in Murcia, Spain. I ventured out of my apartment to buy some groceries and in the five minute walk back home, my chocolate bar had melted into molten lava that coated the inside of my backpack. Siesta exists because it is simply too hot to do anything during those hours. The Spanish chose to embrace that as an extension of their laid-back culture.
Siesta for most of the country does not mean a three-hour nap. Many return home for lunch, which is taken around 2 – 3 p.m. They pass the time with family or by doing small chores that don’t require much exertion. They might take a thirty-minute to one-hour nap if they feel so inclined but the idea of siesta is more centered on taking time out of the day to rest, not necessarily to sleep.
When registering for classes, there is a chunk of time when classes simply aren’t available. Professors and students alike retire to their respective homes to take a break from the mental exhaustion that accompanies learning. Most students, however, are recovering from hangovers rather than midday heat. For them, siesta is a chance to extend social life well into the night. The clubs don’t open until 3 a.m. and most college students get two to three hours of sleep before classes or work starts the following day. Siesta is used to make up for that lack of sleep.
In the U.S., naps are typically utilized by overtaxed students for a different reason. Late-night study sessions have negative effects on health and grades. For many U.S. students, it is the law of diminishing returns. At some point, a student will get more out of the study experience after some sleep rather than forcing themselves to keep studying. Research has demonstrated that napping improves cognitive function and performance.
Classes in the afternoon, particularly math classes, have been shown to have lower overall GPA. This is likely due to the fact that humans are biologically designed to sleep twice a day. British researchers found that naps are the most effective way of overcoming midday tiredness. Apparently, the Mediterranean countries just beat the U.S. on jumping on board the nap wagon. Siesta isn’t a local Spanish phenomenon. It occurs in many countries in the South of Europe and in the warmer parts of the globe. The U.S. should begin to accommodate the human need to rest. That might be a little more progressive than the current work-obsessed culture is willing to handle, but MSU students can be the start. Naps are an important part of being human, not only on a biological level but on a cultural level as well. It is far easier to justify activities by invoking the phrase “cultural diversity” on a liberal college campus so it’s advised that all nap takers use that when explaining their plans for the afternoon. It may not be excessively hot in Montana right now but you deserve a siesta nonetheless. Next time you feel overwhelmed by school, work or life in general, indulge in a trip around the world and take a nap.