As The National Trust announces that it is allowing its employees “siestas” in the summer months, Stylist explores the health benefits of midday sleep.
In August, The National Trust announced that it would be giving its workers “siestas” in summer due to increasingly hot weather because of climate change.
Staff and volunteers would start their day earlier and finish later, with a long lunch break in between to allow them to avoid the hottest part of the day.
A spokesperson for the charity said: “It’s fair to say that as we experience more extreme temperatures, we will be looking to offer Mediterranean working hours, especially in the east which is likely to experience more frequent higher temperatures, to ensure the health and safety of our staff and volunteers.”
What are the health benefits of siestas?
As Sleep.org explains, the siesta serves several important functions in Spanish society and other parts of southern Europe. In the warm Mediterranean climate, a siesta allows you to pause and rest during the hottest part of the day. The siesta also represents a crucial break from the work day in a culture that, despite its laid-back reputation, works more than most other Europeans.
Research has also shown that taking a power nap in the afternoon is more effective than drinking a cup of coffee. The effect of taking a nap lasts much longer than caffeine and has the added benefit of having no crash at the end.
But as well as improving our sleep health, there are other cultural and wellbeing benefits too.
As Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett writes for The Guardian: “A longer break in the middle of the day isn’t only used for sleeping; workers can return home, prepare food, spend more time with their families. People’s diets could improve – less heavy, more Mediterranean. The hastily grabbed supermarket sandwich consumed al desko – already ailing – may just die a death. It could be transformative for people’s sex lives, too. And their stress levels: anyone who has visited a hot country knows you have to adapt your pace of life. Everything becomes more leisurely, including even the speed at which you walk. Shops and businesses close at lunchtime, forcing you to relax.”
Could siestas really be introduced in the UK?
A 2019 study claimed that in 30 years’ time, London could have a climate similar to that of Barcelona. What’s more, analysis of National Trust visitor data over the last five years found that numbers of tourists increase as the mercury hits 24°C , but drops off dramatically at temperatures over 28°C .
Therefore, a shift in work times and attitudes is needed not only to protect the health of employees, but to prepare the UK tourist industry for the effects of climate change.
But could this idea ever really be put into practice in the UK?
Dr Lindsay Browning, a sleep expert, tells Stylist that she sees no drawbacks in introducing siestas more widely into the working day.
“If a company wants to help promote napping in the business, then offering unused meeting rooms as a lunchtime nap space, or letting people go to their cars for a quick kip would be a great solution,” she says. “If people are working from home, then a lunchtime nap is easy as you can just take yourself into your bedroom and close the curtains for a perfect refreshing nap.”
“We have a natural dip in our circadian rhythm just after lunch where our bodies want to sleep. If we take a siesta at that time, then our sleep drive (aka our need for sleep) will be reduced, making us feel more alert and better able to function for the rest of the day,” she continues.
How to sleep better in warmer temperatures
Even if siestas aren’t part of your working routine just yet, Dr Browning has some useful advice for sleeping in warmer temperatures.
“If world temperatures continue to increase, then we will have to adapt. This may include choosing clothing that is made of natural fibres, such as cotton, which helps to wick away sweat and keep us cooler, compared to man-made fibres like polyester,” she explains.
She also advises working in a downstairs room when possible to keep cool, as well as ensuring your workspace has adequate ventilation so that air can move through it.
“At the end of the day, keeping hydrated, not rushing, and keeping out of the sun during the day will help you cope with sleeping and working in the heat,” she adds.