Spain Sunday: Siesta

Siesta – literally “nap” is a time in the afternoon from about 2-5 where things shut down and people go inside. You’re probably thinking everyone really does go inside and sleep and that every business in town are closed. But not everyone goes to sleep and not every business is closed. Siesta is really weird.

Dead empty in the middle of the day

For one – it would make a ton of sense if people did sleep. They are eating dinner at 8-11 pm so they are cutting into their own bedtime with dinnertime. Making up for lost sleep in the afternoon makes sense. But alas, most people don’t sleep – it’s estimated about 18% of people actually sleep during siesta (although this number ranges based on different surveys).

2 pm is when both siesta and lunchtime start. So not every business is closed – if they did no one could ever go out to eat. All the shops close at 2 (and school gets out at 2 for elementary kids) but all the restaurants stay open. The restaurants (and bars) stay open until about 4-5 then have their own siesta until 8-9. So you have this extended siesta period where every business is shut down at about 4 pm. And you can really hear/see this on the streets – its a ghost town when everyone is in their homes after eating and before returning back to work.

Siesta does not equal laziness

Siesta does not mean the end of the day – it means a pause in the day. At about 5 just about everyone goes back out, opens everything back up and goes to work until 9 pm. So people who already worked all morning will go back out to work for the rest of the afternoon/early night. This means Spaniards actually work MORE than everyone else.

The average annual hours worked by a worker

  • in Germany is 1,363
  • in France is 1,472
  • in Spain is 1,695 hours.  (which is very close to Canada at 1703 hours)

Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Australia, United Kingdom, and Slovenia all work less hours than Spain does.

Who works more? Loads of countries- Spain is at the lower-mid range. But what’s important is these insanely productive, notoriously successful countries around Europe are working up to 300 hours less than Spain. Also it’s worth noting the highest country on the OECD list is Mexico with 2,255 hours per year per person. The second highest is Costa Rica with 2,212 hours (still higher than South Korea at 2,069) Both Mexico and Costa Rica siesta and they work longer than anyone.

So it’s a quality not quantity thing to be sure.

We see the same 1-2 employees day in and day out at our local haunts. I think they can manage to not hire more people for more shifts since their employees already get a break.

Sleep Deprivation …?

Other articles suggest the Spaniards have a reputation for being lazy because they’re sleep deprived (but more like they have a horrible unemployment rate and thus brain drain rate). Are they, though?

According to Nokia “Spaniards go to bed later than everyone else, at 12:15 a.m. on weekdays and 12:53 a.m. on Saturday nights …  the Spanish wake up much later than most other countries: around 7:30 am on weekdays and 9:01 am on Sunday morning.”

This is a weekday time of 7 hours 15 minutes and weekend time of 8 hours 8 minutes. This is still basically within recommended adult sleeping times so it’s not so bad (Americans actually sleep less with an average of 6.8 hours a night and Korean students sleep 5.5).

Their sleeping problems are also related to the time zone but that’s a whole other story.

Maybe they aren’t sleep deprived but some people suggest the lack of time in a bed is contributing to the lowest birth rates in Europe.

Maybe they’re sleeping less and, um, lovin’ less but they’re living longer. According to the Spanish Society of Primary Care Physicians “a short sleep after lunch can reduce stress, help cardiovascular functions, and improve alertness and memory.” Spaniards have the longest life expectancy in Europe and the second highest in the world after Japan. Maybe a mid-afternoon break (and maybe sleep) is good for you. Although contradictory reports say napping is awful for you.

The big problem with siesta:

Tourists. They (we) hate siesta. If you want to get any shopping or banking done you’ll have to do it in the morning. Everyone else is doing it in the morning so it’s a mess.

A quote from one article had an “exasperated Australian tourist” saying “It’s absolutely crazy that this still goes on … We’ve got money and we want to spend it, and it’s not like they don’t need it! … But to close up every afternoon … no wonder the country’s so broke!”

Damn. The country is “broke” for a whole bunch of reasons starting back with trading/stealing from the new world in the 1500s. Still it’s extraordinarily annoying to have to plan a vacation around when everything is going to be shutdown. Eating dinner at 9 pm? Doesn’t happen. We’ve lived here for 8 months and have gone out to dinner once.

Other tourists love the siesta. Most bars don’t even get going until 2 am so it’s an excuse to party and get weird without feeling like you’re the only person doing it. 

Where did siesta come from?

Some people say the Romans brought it over while others say it really gained popularity during the Spanish Civil War. Some say it’s because it’s from the hottest time of the day while others say it’s because of labor laws and the popularity of working two jobs during the civil war. It’s probably a combo of everything.

The future of siesta

We have air conditioning so we don’t need to retreat during the heat of the day. It’s wrecking tourism and probably causing longer work hours. Is their any point to it? National identity, probably. Many

2016 the prime minister tried to make the working day end at 6 pm (and fix the time zone issue). No one cared. Earlier discussions have been about the same – no one wants to really commit to the change even if some want it. Imagining having to change your country’s whole schedule – school times, labor laws and grocery store opening times? Sounds like a damn mess and that’s probably what’s keeping things the same.

Siesta is becoming more rare in touristy areas but if you get off the beaten path or live in a village siesta is very real and won’t go away anytime soon.


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