Growing up in Buenos Aires, where summer days are hot and endless, “Siesta Time” got us kids out of the pool or away from the sprinklers and into a cool and quiet house to avoid the strong sun and the most intense heat of the day. Mother would send us off to our rooms for an hour of rest. While climbing the stairs to our rooms, we grumbled all the way at the unfairness of it all, but we did close our doors and invariably fell asleep for a while. My parents found it essential for us and for themselves. One can say that I was brought up believing that everyone, kids and adults alike, need a break in the early afternoon.
As you can tell, I talk about it freely and without an ounce of guilt or shame. When I tell friends that “I took the most wonderful nap this afternoon,” they invariably inform me that they “can’t possibly sleep in the daytime.” It makes me wonder if the thought of allowing themselves some rest during the day would somehow make them seem lazy. The puritanical notion that sleeping before the sun has set is somehow shameful has to stop; after all, doing something nice and comforting for yourself should definitely include some shut-eye time in the early afternoon.
It’s also important to note that it’s a tradition enjoyed in many countries around the world. Try to go shopping in the early afternoon in Spain, in Italy or in many other countries in the world, and you will find that shops are closed to honor the beloved tradition of the siesta. In Italy they call it riposo, or repose – an appropriate term for what we need when dealing with the worries associated with this time in our lives.
So during these times of uncertainty and while we’re sheltered in our homes, we have the perfect opportunity to learn and practice this new healthy skill and, like me, become a life-long siesta aficionada.
COVID-19 and the Benefits of Rest
Good nutrition, drinking plenty of water, exercise and rest, are all fundamental in promoting our resistance to disease by strengthening our immune system. In isolation, no matter how endless a day may feel nor how stressful your thoughts can become, a nap will provide a needed respite from it all.
Being kind to yourself and others: A nap can help you quiet your thoughts and allay your fears from the anxiety that you may be feeling. You’ll be helping yourself and those who love you by resting your body and your mind in the early afternoon, giving you a chance to put your worries to rest and then, once refreshed, get back to your day with a more positive perspective.
Get better and more rested sleep at night: Contrary to popular belief, it can certainly help to break up your day and not leave you going to sleep at night stressed out, exhausted and overstimulated.
Relax and unplug from electronics and technology: With a break from the extraneous stimulation of phones, computers, TVs and other distractions, you can give yourself the gift of peace, and rest your eyes and brain in the process.
A Few Suggestions to Get You Started
Not too early, not too late: Plan a time in the early afternoon, perhaps after lunch, when you can disconnect from everything that gives you stress. Just like a meditation, this is your time, your body’s time to stop worrying, stop doing, stop planning or listening to anybody else’s needs and focus on your own. Don’t let that feeling of “FOMO” (fear of missing out) deter you. You’ll still have a big chunk of daytime to return to when you wake up. Most things can wait.
Intention is the key: There will be many things holding you back from focusing on your nap and from listening to your body. Ignore them. Leave your phone elsewhere or set it on silent. It doesn’t have to be pitch black in there, just soothing and without the glare of light or the sun shining on your face.
Wear something soft and comfortable: If you’re wearing restrictive clothing, by all means change into something comfy and yes, unhook that bra if you’re wearing one. You can get into bed or just lie on top of the comforter. Cover yourself up with your favorite throw or blanket.
Find your sleep position (we all have one): No stiffness in your body, keep it rounded, soft, and supported with pillows where you need them and not rigid in any way. A glass of water on the bedside table will enable you to take a sip without having to leave your bed.
Breathe deeply and relax your body: Like in meditation, if any distracting thoughts enter your consciousness, blow them away with your exhale and focus on breathing in deeply. Visualize your breath going all the way down to your belly and when you exhale, release any thought that can stop you from total relaxation. Your breath will help you focus.
If you’re new to the art of the siesta, you may have to do a little progressive relaxation to calm yourself down. In the sanctuary of your room, in your bed, let your deep breaths reach and calm down every part of your body, perhaps from your toes up to your face and head. Relax your hands. Release and give in to the delicious feeling of total surrender. Even if you can’t sleep the first time, your body will thank you for allowing it to rest in a horizontal position. You will soon get the hang of it.
Sleep for around 30 minutes to an hour: The length of your siesta is important. This is meant to be a break not a full blown night’s sleep. This amount of time will be enough to get you through the rest of your day and not interfere with your more profound sleep when you finally settle in for the night. It will take you a while to settle down so a whole hour will include that initial preparation phase of getting quiet and comfortable.
When you wake up: You don’t need to spring out of bed like a gazelle. Get up slowly and stretch out like a cat. Drink a glass of water and perhaps spray some water on your face to freshen up. It feels delightful. I like to spray myself with a gentle rosewater toner because I enjoy the fragrance and the coolness. I complete my siesta with a nice cup of herbal tea. Perfect.
Yes you can rest at work: Since so many of us are working from home right now, this is the ideal time to take a little break in your own surroundings. You may be surprised by the fact that Google, Samsung, Mercedes Benz and others value the increased productivity that a nap provides their employees. Social psychologist James Maas coined the term “power nap”. Perhaps you prefer to call it that rather than sleepy Siesta time? Go ahead, you can call it whatever you like as long as you use that time for yourself.
Once you get the hang of it and save that space in your day for yourself and your resting needs, you too will joyfully sing “Viva La Siesta!” – to the tune of “Viva Las Vegas!”