Life from an outsider's perspective…

A typical Spanish day; the infamous siesta sleep time explained & justified.

funny mexican spanish siesta cartoon

The question that people most often ask me about Spanish culture concerns the siesta. The most significant aspect to be aware of is that the typical Spanish day is split into¨”mañana” (morning) and then later “tarde” (afternoon) or “noche” (night). The distinction between afternoon and nighttime is hazy.

“…researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health … reported that people who took regular 30-minute naps were 37 percent less likely to die of heart disease over a six-year period than those who never napped.”


The workday begins at 8:00 or 9:00am depending on the business. Work normally stops around 12:00 or 1:0opm and resumes around 4:00 or as late as 5:00pm. Retail shops remain open until 9:00pm each evening. The exception to this rule is Sunday, when almost all the shops are closed (except the hotels, which obviously remain open). Once again, Sunday is not only a time of rest, but more importantly, a family day to be enjoyed together.


In general, Spanish poeple eat a very light breakfast shortly after they wake up. Indeed, some people refer to a mere expresso as their breakfast! In the Canary Islands, instead of cereal, people eat gofio with their milk (gofio is a type of ground corn meal). 


The main meal of the day is of course the lunch. This more often that not consists of more than one course – one course is called “un plato” (a plate) in Spain. Its quite a big meal for those not accustomed to it. Lunch is almost always served between 1:00 and 2:00pm, give or take half an hour. Although this really splits up they day, the very nice thing about this, and probably the real reason behind the siesta time, is for the family to be together during the daytime for their traditional social mealtime. The biggest lunch feast is reserved for Saturdays (and to a lesser extent Sundays) when its also common for the extended family to visit.


Later in the evening, usually between 8:30 – 10:30pm (but often even later than that) is the normal dinner time. Coffee is not usually consumed after sunset, unless of course there is a fiesta.


I’ve been told by people who take daily siestas that between 30 and 45 minutes is a good sleep duration – 2 hours is too much and it just wrecks your day. After approximately 2 years, I’m finally getting the hang of this, and I might have a siesta about once a week, at the most. I’m likely to lie down and have a nap, especially if I’ve woken up at 6:00am, but its not something that is planned -it just happens. Because I work from home, I never set the alarm clock. Its never suceeded in waking me up in the past. I’ve noticed that it also makes it easier to wake up each morning, and not to “sleep in” so much… because there’s always the opportunity to snooze later on in the day. :) Sometimes, the phone rings, and you jump out of bed, and the result is like a 5 minute “power nap” (what they’re now calling them in other countries).

For the most part however, the younger generation skip the siesta snooze. But yes its still quite common for people older than 30 to have a daily siesta after their big lunch feast, especially if they have a laborious type of job.


Some scientific studies have shown that siesta time reduces blood pressure and maintains a healthy heart. Here’s a fantastically detailed scientific research article on the importance of sleep; its basic enough for anyone to understand, contains interesting results & graphs, and the author does reccommend having a siesta! UK busisnesses hit by siesta syndrome. Richard Stern Training also reccommends a siesta following your training sessions & recovery meal.

“The human biological clock has two cycles each day, with two dips,” said Michael Twery, director of the federal government’s National Center on Sleep Disorders Research. “One of those dips occurs shortly after lunch for most people. This is a period when many people feel perhaps a little sleepy, drowsy, less awake.”

“Given how prevalent cardiovascular disease is, any intervention that could effectively lower risk would be welcomed and worthy of further study,” said Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a cardiovascular specialist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “The challenge now is how people read this. If they read it as, ‘I can continue to smoke, not eat healthy, not exercise, and just take a nap in the afternoon and be protected from cardiovascular disease,’ then that is absolutely not the right message to be sending.”

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