Arc de Triomf at 4 p.m. on a Thursday. Siesta doesn’t necessarily mean that locals go home. 
When I moved to Europe, I learned the Swiss charge for wine by the deciliter, making indulging in American-sized portions financially impractical. Becoming a beer drinker felt like the biggest challenge I’d face — that is, until I arrived in Spain and learned that doing errands in the afternoon is against the law (well, not quite, but it feels that way). I remember asking my friend Elisabeth Biershenk where to buy Marlboro Lights and her trying to explain I couldn’t just then: “Siesta!” she told me, having moved to Barcelona from New York three years ago. “It’s a thing here.”
I understood siesta from my Colombian upbringing to mean napping, so it wasn’t apparent why sleep prevented a tobacco shop from selling me cigarettes. Elisabeth explained that most stores and businesses aside from cafes and restaurants close between 2 to 4 or 5 p.m. Large retailers and grocery chains are exceptions; I noticed a supermarket nearby still open, but the clerk informed me cigarettes were only sold at tobacco shops or bars via vending machines. 
Elisabeth Biershenk and author Jamie Valentino (left) lived with adjacent balconies and often enjoyed people-watching during siesta hours.
Initially, I found the practice of siesta inconvenient, and I complained to Elisabeth that this system could never work back home — U.S. workers were still rallying for a universal livable minimum wage.
“We’re relaxed here; life is not all about work,” Elisabeth told me (as if her passport had filed for her divorce from American culture). The only other people I had known to practice this lifestyle of sufficient rest in between work were kindergarteners. My frustration with siesta escalated as I tried to cope with the mild inconvenience of waiting to get deodorant or a haircut. Despite being born in Colombia’s capital, Bogota, my mind was molded in the land of consumerism. 
My friend Camila Salazar, a freelance podcast producer for HBO, also used working remotely as an opportunity to live abroad, and so we coordinated our travels to intertwine in Barcelona. At the beach, she experienced the universal crisis of phone damage by water. When a ziplock bag filled with rice proved insufficient, I accompanied her to purchase a temporary new phone. 
In Barcelona, businesses close for siesta hours but cafes and similar spots remain open. Locals often use the time to socialize.
“Can we come back in 10 minutes?” Camila asked the clerk so she could compare pricing with another store. “Of course,” he said. We returned to encounter a metal shutter. 
We looked around and at 2 p.m. on a Saturday, la Rambla, one of Barcelona’s most popular tourist streets, exuded the same energy as the empty street scenes before violence commences in “The Purge.” Except, instead of crime and murder, people stepped out for long lunches. And so Camila and I decided to eat and drink nearby for three hours until the store reopened. “Very dolce far niente of us,” she joked of our sweet idleness.
Barcelona turned out to be many wonderful things, including affordable. I returned to enjoying Pinot Noir, often during siesta hours. However, it wasn’t until I finally gave in and napped during this time that I decided only an insomniac or vampire could sleep this much during the day. 
“I understand that siesta happens in other parts of the world,” says Amber Simpson, a licensed clinical social worker in Houston specializing in insomnia treatment. “However, the literature is to actually not nap during the day. It interrupts our sleep patterns at night. Now, that doesn’t mean we can’t rest during the day as there is a difference between napping and resting. Taking time out to do a breathing exercise or mindfulness exercise has good mental health benefits during the day. It also helps our sleep.”
Instead of napping, author Jamie Valentino often used siesta hours to enjoy personal activities such as tanning, coffee or journaling — often all three. 
Elisabeth, who works in tech sales, clarified that many individuals in the corporate sector of Spain don’t practice siesta hours, but the standard 9 to 5 schedule with an hour lunch break. In fact, the BBC reported that 60% of Spaniards never have a siesta, while only 18% will sometimes have a midday nap. But if daily napping isn’t practiced among the population, nor is it medically advisable, why are these hours ingrained in Spanish culture? 
After all, siesta might sound authentic to Spain, but it’s of Roman origin. The term comes from the Latin “sexta hora,” which means sixth hour. Noon occurs roughly six hours after dawn, making it the sixth hour of the daytime. 
Historically, the practice of siesta became famous worldwide as a way to escape the afternoon heat, especially since most work used to be done outside. “This is the reason why it’s so famous in Mediterranean countries,” says Celina Lipińska, co-founder of Nappuccino Corner, a company specializing in removable and foldable napping pods. Siestas are commonly associated with Spanish-speaking countries in the Mediterranean or Latin America, but they’re also popular in Greece, Israel and Nigeria. “I wouldn’t say Barcelona practices siesta; rather, siesta is done worldwide. But, of course, in Spain, it is a part of the tradition and culture.”
Napuccino Cafe in Barcelona offers napping pods for customers.
But the reputation of leisure the country carries doesn’t align with the Spaniard’s 11-hour workdays as a result of the siesta. Due to the break in the day, they work until 8 p.m. In fact, Spaniards clock more hours at work than many of their other European counterparts. The BBC reported Spaniards to rack up 1,691 hours at work each year while British workers average 1,674 annually, and Germans work on average just 1,371 hours a year. In 2016, the Spanish government even brought legislation to shorten the workday by reducing lunch hours, but the siesta remains.  
And while it’s true napping daily can negatively affect your sleep cycle, this doesn’t mean a nap can’t be helpful to catch up on rest. Lipińska notes a good midday nap increases alertness, boosts creativity and memory, improves perception and reduces stress. 
“However, it’s true that napping too long leaves you more fatigued or groggy, and you will find trouble falling asleep at night. So have a 15-30 minutes nap rather than a 4-hours long nap to feel better. You can level up your nap by having a coffee just before your nap. In this way, while you nap, the level of adenosine (an organic compound that makes you sleepy) decreases, and the level of caffeine rises while you sleep, so when you wake up, it makes you feel even more energized.”
Lipińska shares the expression “Ores kinis isihias” in Greek, which means “quiet time,” and takes place in the late afternoon hours in Greece. “What’s interesting is that there is a law that officially forbids any noise and loud music between 3 to 5 p.m. One of our interns from Greece was astonished that it is not like that everywhere outside of Greece. Our Japanese clients tell us how normal it is to sleep literally anywhere in Japan because they work so much and sleep so little. You can catch them napping while standing in the metro. In China, they also have an ability to sleep wherever, whenever and you can find them sleeping in IKEA!”
Napping pods at Napuccino.
So if siesta is practiced all over the globe, why does the idea seem so distant from America? When I asked whether this phenomenon could ever be brought to a metropolitan city on the Houston official Reddit page, hundreds of comments came in defending current business hours. 
T.C. Whitley, a civil servant, emphasizes that siesta was not built for a work culture centralized around commuting. “Houston has next-to-no public transit, so you’re looking at an incredible extra and sudden load on our highway system and global warming for a siesta. I work 40 miles away from my home, and three hours fall into the valley of too long to wait out at the office but too short to drive an extra 80 miles a day to be worth it.”
This was a point many of Houston’s Redditors agreed with, such as user u/Creation88 who says siesta is only possible in cities like Spain because they are much “older and therefore denser and access excellent public transportation, which makes commutes to and from home easy. Most American cities, besides New York, don’t have anything near that density to make this lifestyle work. So it would become a burden to have this unpaid time off of work.”
Houston motorists travel on Interstate 69 and the 610 West Loop on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019, in Houston. 
While some already employ a siesta within their own schedules, there were few who believed siesta would be well received by American culture or geography. Not to mention, the widespread practice of remote work already allows for a nap if necessary. User u/hunterhaus, a general contractor, encourages his subcontractors to enjoy a siesta after their one-hour lunch break. “It never bothers me! But I could see how it would interfere with many people trying to run errands, only to find stores closed during their breaks. It would only further drive online businesses.”
Ultimately, Houston’s Reddit workforce shrugs off the idea as impossible to mandate and therefore unlikely to ever be adopted in a metropolitan city. A noticeable number of users commented with support towards remote working and flexible hours, even specifying this system as the only way Americans would even consider siesta. 
In Spain, during these hours when commercial streets empty, public squares and parks fill with people practicing what it means to be Spanish: BYOB and a widespread sense of community. 
Or, as Lipińska jokes to me on the phone, “Life goes slow here in Barcelona. Maybe that’s why it only took a year and a half to build the Empire State Building, but La Sagrada Familia is still under construction over 100 years later!”
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