Is There a Need for a Siesta?

Mariam A. Alireza, Arab News
Publication Date: 
Wed, 2008-01-30 03:00

We have all heard or embraced the siesta habit at some point in our lives. Siesta is the Spanish word for the afternoon nap and qayloulah is its equivalent in Arabic. This longtime practice is still respected in the Arab world (the Middle East) and Latin and Mediterranean countries. It is said that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) practiced the qayloulah and recommended it. It is an ideal way to jumpstart energy and stimulate the brain half way through the day, getting rid of lethargy produced by the noon heat in order to restart work afresh.

In the West and Northern countries, the siesta is not observed or not required due their more energizing colder climate and shorter daylight hours. However, because of recent longer working hours, health care providers recommend a 20 to 30 minute power nap after lunch break to recharge energy and release stress in order to improve health and work performance.

A recent Greek study indicated the importance of a 30-minute nap after lunch. It reduced heart attacks by 37 percent in those who napped at least three times a week for as little as 30 minutes. Blood pressure was shown to decrease considerably during a siesta of less than an hour. The mere act of sleeping appears to relax the heart; produce physiological benefits; lower stress; and extend healthy life.

Rather than relying on stimulants (caffeine and sugars) to restore false energy and alertness, employees who work long hours should be encouraged to nap after lunch in order to refresh their enthusiasm and reactivate their creativity in order to enhance wellness, productivity, and efficiency.

On the other hand, extended naps disturb night sleep. Studies show that sleep-deprived children and adults lean toward obesity, because it encourages midnight snacking. Late sleepers require adjustments to correct their biological clock prior to practicing siestas.

While siesta may be optional for adults, it is absolutely necessary for babies, toddlers, and young children. Some active children appear to reject it with protests like: “Don’t wanna sleep!” fearing interruption of play and fun. Because their growth depends on it, they should not be weaned off the siesta too early. Let us see what an expert recommends.

According to Dr. Francoise Delormas, a young child should only be humored “when it [the siesta] is not a physiological need for him” anymore. Little children require midday rest until the age of four or six years. Infants up to six months of age need three naps during the day; two naps until one year; and one after 15 months. Some children stop napping after four years; others continue to six. Each child does according to his or her body needs.

Mothers should watch for certain indicators. If the child does not sleep within half an hour of being in bed in a quiet atmosphere, he or she then does not need the nap. However, if by the early evening the child becomes grumpy, edgy, or hyper, then he or she should continue taking the daily siesta, but with Delormas’ suggestions.

* The siesta should be taken immediately after lunch or within the early afternoon. The human body usually demands it at this time to rest and renew vitality for the remaining of the day.

* The length of nap differs from child to child and according to his or her body needs. A siesta should neither exceed two hours nor should it be taken after 4:00 pm. It is difficult to arouse a child from very deep sleep. Long siestas make night sleep come with difficulty and push it off to late hours.

* Avoid total darkness and complete silence. Absolute blackness and stillness can give the child the feeling of night. The child wakes up groggy and makes the siesta disturb the body’s biological clock.

To convince a small child to have an afternoon nap, you should appeal to his or her intelligence and logic. Show him or her that you, too, need the break. Set an example. Explain that a growing child’s body requires sleep to develop. Children can be surprisingly logical.

After the age of six, children tend to outgrow their need for a siesta, because their bodies and brains have different demands (moving, running, playing, interacting, reading) in order to grow and develop. Each child reacts according to his or her personality, need, and mood. We should allow them the space to develop physically and mentally. Their bodies have to grow and their personalities and talents blossom. They should not be constrained. Watch the process of their growth and enjoy it. Play the shepherd who protects his sheep. Guide them without crushing their creativity and inspiration.

(Mariam A. Alireza is a holistic science specialist. Send comments to [email protected]. Log on to for previous articles.)

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