Everything to Know about the Spanish Siesta

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Written By Doug Newton

Nothing says Spain like a nice siesta, right? But what exactly is a siesta, where did it come from, and does it still exist in Spain today? Don’t snooze on this article because the siesta is alive and well, and it’s unavoidable — or welcome — if you’re planning to move to Spain. Here’s everything you need to know about the Spanish siesta in 2023!

What is a Spanish siesta?

The Spanish siesta is a nap taken after lunch, usually between 2:00 and 5:00 pm. Many web sources cite the siesta as being between 15 and 30 minutes, but I have a hunch from living here that it’s a bit longer. Why else would the entire country need to shut down for three hours in the middle of the day? And shut down it does, unless you’re in a metropolitan area. Also note that the word siesta only refers to the nap, not the closing of shops. In Spanish, that’s “almuerzo” or “descanso” which means lunch or rest.

What’s the history of the Spanish siesta?

Afternoon naps go back for millennia in the hotter regions of the world. Some daytime shuteye is encouraged in the Q’uran and was also a thing in ancient Rome. In fact, the word siesta comes from the Latin word sexta, meaning sixth — the sixth hour after sunrise. In Spain, farmers initially took siestas to avoid the hottest time of the day. 

After the Spanish Civil War, times were tough, many folks had two or three jobs, and the siesta became more urbanized and widespread. It was also spurred on by the dictator Francisco Franco changing Spain’s time zone in the 1940s to match that of Nazi Germany, causing people to eat and sleep later than in neighboring countries.

Does the Spanish siesta still exist?

Some blogs may say otherwise, but I can tell you firsthand that, yes, the Spanish siesta still exists. At least 30% of the young professionals I teach try to take an afternoon nap, and, come to think of it, my 38-year-old flatmate does as well! And they can be less than 100% if they miss their nap. So while the siesta may not be as big as before, it’s still a thing, and Spanish life and schedules are firmly built around it.

The Spanish siesta today

Surveys have reported that only about 20% of Spaniards regularly nap in the afternoon, and at least 60% never do. I’m a little suspicious myself, and I might bump that up to 30% / 50% based on personal experience.

Although not all Spaniards take an afternoon nap, you wouldn’t know that from living in Spain. Even where I live in Granada, an urban area of almost half a million, it’s impossible to get anything done between 2:00 and 5:00 pm. Most shops are closed, and folks don’t like answering the phone. The siesta is the nap, not the closures, but the results are the same.

Is the Spanish siesta — and the resulting work schedule — here to stay? There are good arguments for change, as Spaniards sleep less and work more than most Europeans. Eliminating what is essentially a split-shift workday would allow people to finish earlier and presumably get to bed earlier. But knowing Spanish people, they’d just spend that extra time in a cafe… I’m honestly not optimistic that the siesta will disappear or shops will be open any longer in my lifetime.

If you’re not a nap-taker and find the siesta schedule annoying (like I do), here are some hacks. If there’s a touristy area where you live, that’s where you’ll find more places open in the afternoon. Also, those ubiquitous little groceries run by immigrants are almost always open. Just ask for the nearest “chino.” That’s right — that’s what they’re called. And to avoid running an errand only to end up at a shuttered storefront, set yourself an alarm every day at around noon. This will remind you to get things done before two or just forget it till evening. It’s a useful little trick until your brain adapts to the Spanish schedule and lifestyle on its own.

Thinking about moving to Spain?

Whether you’ve been to Spain before or not, there are some things you should know before you move. In this post, I cover 17 things you should know about living Spain before you move