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A siesta is a short nap taken in the early afternoon, often after the midday meal. Such a period of sleep is a common tradition in hot countries. The word siesta is from the Spanish language derived from the Latin (hora)sexta.
Origins of the siesta
In the United States most people believe that the origins of the siesta are most commonly traced to Mexico. In reality, it is the traditional daily sleep of the Southern region of Alentejo, in Portugal, known as sesta. It was adopted also by the Spanish and, through European influence, by Latin American countries.
However, the original concept of a siesta was merely that of a midday break. This break was intended to allow people time to be spent with their friends and family. A nap was not necessarily part of the daily affair of a siesta. This tradition of a midday break extends beyond Mexico and can be found throughout the culture of Latin and South America. In these countries, the heat can be unbearable in the early afternoon, making a midday break in the comfort of one's home ideal.
The afternoon nap
Today, the terms "siesta" refers to a short nap (15 to 30 minutes) taken after the midday meal. Siestas are traditionally no longer than 30 minutes and are more of a light rest, than any kind of serious sleep. Other names for a siesta may include: cat nap, snooze, doze, power nap, or simply, afternoon nap.
In Argentina, the siesta is supposed to be between 13:00 and 16:00, and in some regions, such as Santiago del Estero, it's called "sacred" because people don't want to be disturbed. Business hours in these regions are usually 8:00 to 12:00 and 16:00 to 20:00. Other business hours (extended) vary between 6:00 to 13:00 and from 15:00 to 21:00, but most either add or shift 30 minutes to the regular 8-12/16-20 times. In bigger cities, namely Buenos Aires, and with the time (and money) it takes to commute, business just use the regular 9-to-5 time.
Children usually don't "sleep the siesta" but eventually they learn to, while in college, or when they get a job. Some people sleep the whole time (up to two hours), but most people watch tv or take a short 15 to 30 minute nap. In any case, the streets are deserted at the siesta time in those cities.
The siesta originated in the warmer areas of the country (not particularly Argentina, but most South American countries), because with tropical and sub-tropical weather it's not possible to work in the fields at those times, so people stay at their houses and do what they can do: Television didn't exist and most were illiterate so they couldn't read. So, they just slept.
Biological need for naps
In recent years, studies have suggested a biological need for afternoon naps. Researchers found that subjects of the studies felt that it was easiest to fall asleep at night and in the afternoon. Contrary to popular belief, eating lunch does not bring on drowsiness in the afternoon. There is simply a loss of alertness and a decrease in body temperature that occurs around midday, which brings on this drowsiness. These symptoms are similar to what happens at night during the first stage of sleep and are caused by Ultradian rhythms in the Circadian rhythm, also called the "internal body clock". The studies have shown that there is a strong biological tendency for humans to become tired and possibly fall asleep in the middle of the afternoon. A siesta, or a slighty longer nap, can often satisfy this desire for sleep and allow a person to wake up feeling refreshed and much more alert. Research shows that the drop in body temperature causing drowsiness around midday is considerably more pronounced in men than women.
Acceptance of the siesta
Mexico and many Latino countries have a strong cultural acceptance of a midday napping. However, the siesta is often viewed by other countries as a sign of laziness and unproductiveness. While many tropical countries have also adopted siestas, industrialized nations often resist such attempts to accept the siesta, as it often clashes with the time schedule of most workdays.
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