History of the Siesta

This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation


How the beloved nap got its start

The tradition of napping dates back thousands of years, with modern-day siestas originating in Spain. The name comes from the Latin hora sexta, which means "the sixth hour." Since the hours of the day begin at dawn, the sixth hour is noon, which is when siestas often start.

Due to Spain’s wide influence, siestas are common in Spanish-speaking nations around the world, as well as Greece, Italy, The Philippines, and Nigeria, to name a few. Siestas typically occur in hot climates, allowing people to sleep though the hottest part of the day and avoid the sun’s strong midday rays.

While the siesta is now considered a luxury, it was once thought to be a physical necessity, since it is important for people in hot climates to have a quick afternoon rest to restore their energy levels. It’s believed that Spain introduced the siesta centuries ago to provide their farmers with a time to rest during peak temperatures.

Though Spaniards are now famous for their daily two-hour break, the origins of the afternoon nap go back much further, dating back to ancient Islam. The practice was recorded in Islamic Law and was also written about in the Koran. Romans also regularly took daily naps.

Although the siesta is still popular today, it has evolved over time. In regions like Northern Spain, Southern Argentina, and Chile, where the heat isn’t as stifling, physical breaks aren’t as needed, so the siesta is often a time for people to break up their work day and go home to enjoy time with family and friends—and not always take a nap. Instead, people will have a leisurely family lunch. Regardless of how people spend it, the siesta is one of the most embraced Spanish traditions.