In days long past, a nap (or a short break) after a leisurely lunch was a commonplace occurrence in many parts of the world. This break was called a ‘siesta‘, and was especially common in warm countries — Spain, Italy, Greece, as well as several countries in Latin America. In hot climates, taking a nap in the afternoon was a great way to escape the hottest hours of the day.
Lately though, the practice of taking a siesta has fallen out of favor. (Or at least it’s in decline) The modern world and it’s hyper-connected super-productive workplace has made the siesta a thing of the past. This decline makes sense too — Most people now work office jobs that have AC. Working through a hot day is no longer the sweat-filled challenge it once was when people worked outdoors.
Now, people simply toss back a cup of Joe after lunch and stay inside a fancy temperature controlled office. The hit of caffeine helps the after-lunch-sleepies disappear, and the AC keeps room temperatures comfortable even in raging hot climates.
Fantastic, right? All those modern conveniences make everyone more productive!
But is this modern work schedule really such a good idea? After 3 years of not working in an office I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe having a siesta culture isn’t so bad. Perhaps the world (especially financially independent types) should take a fresh look at siesta culture…
Although AC might be commonplace worldwide, it is most certainly NOT a green technology. Every time you turn on the air conditioning, you’re polluting this planet. AC systems require significant amounts of electricity to operate (which almost certainly means creating carbon dioxide that enters the atmosphere).
In other words, the air-conditioning in your office is a contributer to global warming. There’s also the matter of refrigerant chemicals (like freon or other HFCs). These chemicals used by AC systems are pretty toxic and are considered “super-greenhouse” gasses. Not something you want leaking into the environment.
While better refrigerants do exist, and green power generation is on the rise, they’re still not commonplace today. We still have a LONG ways to go before we’re not destroying the environment every time we turn on the AC.
Meanwhile siesta culture avoids work during the hottest part of the day (when AC is most commonly used). In Spain, workers used to kick back for a siesta from 2-4pm, and then head back to work until 8pm. Supper times in Spain used to be much later — from 8:30 to 10pm. After the sun sets. Thus avoiding heavy usage of air conditioning and stimulants like caffeine to keep going around the clock.
It makes perfect sense if you think about it — Siesta culture simply shifted the working hours to cooler parts of the day when the sun wasn’t as blazing hot. This is especially handy if you live and work in a hot climate… something more and more of us are becoming familiar with as global warming continues its relentless temperature rise.
I think it’s safe to say that modern office culture, while extremely productive, is not necessarily good for the environment. By comparison, taking an afternoon siesta is a far more ‘green’ way to live.
Siesta Doesn’t Mean Lazy
Taking an afternoon nap sounds pretty fantastic, but siesta culture isn’t without it’s critics. For one, Spain has been trying to shift to a more common “European” workday to facilitate better working with the rest of Europe. The idea is that changing workday hours will increase productivity if they’re on the same schedule as the rest of Europe.
That may be true, because it’s often productivity that’s at the heart of the criticism around siesta culture. Workers who take a siesta mid-day might get called “lazy” by their non-siesta taking counterparts in other countries.
It certainly looks lazy if you’re a British banker working hard at 2pm and your Spanish banking counterpart is off taking an afternoon nap.
But is it really less productive? In reality, when you work isn’t as important as how much you produce in the hours you’re working. To compare the productivity output of workers in different countries, economists use a measurement called “GDP per hours worked“.
As you can see in the table below, GDP-per-hours-worked in siesta-taking countries are nearly as productive as many non-siesta taking countries of a similar development level:
- United States – 67.32
- France – 59.24
- United Kingdom – 51.38
- Canada – 50.29
- Switzerland – 49.88
- Spain – 49.58
- Finland – 48.79
- Barbados – 46.19
- Italy – 45.04
- Japan – 43.77
*Data is from Wikipedia.
Obviously I’m not trying to compare first-world and third world countries here. The technology and modernization differences would make such productivity comparisons completely unfair. Instead, comparing similar EU countries — Spain and Italy produce GDP-per-hour numbers close to EU counterparts (like the United Kingdom). Taking a siesta doesn’t really appear to affect worker productivity.
Surprisingly, Spain and Italy produce GDP-per-hour numbers higher than many Asian countries — Like Japan, Singapore, and Taiwain (countries notorious for being hard-working). I wouldn’t have guessed that.
Check out the wikipedia productivity table to make your own comparisons.
Mr. Tako’s Siesta Time
Back when I was working full-time, the idea of taking a mid-day break was completely and utterly foreign to me. I was your typical Type-A personality at work — a go-getter always trying to get things done as quickly as possible. Taking breaks was not something I usually did. I was the kind of person that worked through lunch every single day.
All this changed when I left the working world. Instead of taking care of “work” projects, I was taking care of a toddler that needed an afternoon nap every day. (And trust me, you don’t want to try to skip a toddler’s nap — that’s just asking for trouble!)
Soon, I became quite accustomed to taking an afternoon siesta. My mornings would be filled with activity, like shopping and running errands around town. Then, Tako Jr. #2 and I would eat lunch and have our toddler-mandated siesta in the afternoon. My evenings would then be devoted to playing with the kids, cooking dinner, and working on this blog…
Essentially I started living a ‘siesta’ lifestyle without even realizing it. It just happened. Now, Tako Jr. #2 has moved on to his all-day language-immersive daycare, but I’ve still kept that same schedule to this day… including the nap.
Why? Because it works fantastically for me! Mornings are the best time to do anything out in public. It’s way more time-efficient to do public ‘stuff’ in the morning!
After that, I kick-back and relax in the afternoons — when traffic and the heat are at their worst. Our home doesn’t even have AC! I just take my siesta when the weather gets too hot outside to work.
While it’s sad to read that Spain’s siesta culture is slowly dying out, there’s nothing that says us financially independent types can’t practice our own version of ‘siesta culture’.
After several years of enjoying my own ‘siesta’ schedule, I’ve come to the conclusion that Spain and other Mediterranean countries were definitely onto something with this whole ‘nap-time’ idea.
My “workdays” are actually far more productive because I do most of my heavy lifting during the morning. Shopping trips are now half-an-hour affairs instead of multi-hour affairs. Trips to the bank take 2 minutes. There just aren’t any lines! Traffic? It’s almost non-existent after the morning rush-hour ends!
My pocketbook is fuller too — because I don’t need to bother with air conditioning during the summer! I simply turn on a fan and take my afternoon siesta when the weather gets hot.
It’s definitely not a lifestyle for everyone, but I see plenty of advantages to keeping a “siesta lifestyle”. Not the least of which is how relaxed life is. I’m more relaxed than ever after taking my afternoon nap. I feel like a million bucks! (Or three) Part of that probably comes from knowing what an incredible luxury it is to be able to nap during the day.
It is a great luxury! A luxury I think more early-retired and financially independent folks should give a try! You just might enjoy the results!