As one of the world’s most multicultural countries, Australian culture features a mix of many of the world’s best customs and traditions. Lunar New Year, Ramadan, Diwali, Hannukah – all of them are celebrated across Australia, and in many cases, those who grew up in different cultures are only too happy to take part.
But there is one fine tradition that I wish more Australians would embrace as our own, and fully integrate within our own cultural life – siesta, popular in parts of southern Europe and South America.
We’ve all felt the need for siesta in Australia: the return to our desk from a hearty lunch, and the slow descent into sleepiness that saps our productivity in the early afternoon. Many of us resist it via an after-lunch coffee, but how much better would it be to simply yield to our bodies’ natural rhythms and enjoy a bit of shuteye?
I see my napping habit as a nifty form of life hacking, and yet it’s perceived by many as lazy.
Of course the term siesta comes from Spain, where the climate is reasonably similar to what we enjoy in the most inhabited parts of Australia. In many warm countries, an afternoon nap is absolutely the done thing, and it’s my view that this is very much a better way to live. As the Radiohead song says, it would make us fitter (or at least healthier), happier and more productive.
And yet our prominently Anglo-Saxon work ethic, which was formed in colder climes where everyone’s priority is to rush home before it gets too dark, frowns on those who nap. I see my napping habit as a nifty form of life hacking, and yet it’s perceived by many as lazy.
I once took a pleasant mid-afternoon kip under my desk, wedged in somewhat awkwardly between the chair, the bin and the power board, and woke to find the entire office standing around and laughing at me. But despite their entertainment, I consider myself the winner of that encounter, as I was refreshed and ready to resume battle. And I bet those laughing the hardest were inwardly the most jealous.
The real problem here is not that I napped, but that our workspace wasn’t set up for it, because our cultural norms don’t condone it. A genteel sofa in the corner of one’s office is the ideal spot for a nap, but in these days of open plan seating, it’s well-nigh impossible to doze in the workplace. Designated spaces, or perhaps those fancy pods, are the only way to achieve it in the modern office.
At one place I’ve worked, there’s a special room for breastfeeding, mental health breaks, prayer and the like – for me, this became a designated napping room. The air-conditioning was deafening and we nappers were forced to share our repose with quite a bit of rising damp, but during a period when I had to work especially long hours, it became paradise.
I also very much enjoyed a few hours of dosing at klia2 (their funky lowercase, not mine) Airport in Kuala Lumpur recently. Some smart people had filled a lounge with bean bags and footrests, presumably after a post-nap brain-wave, and a dozen or so of us lucky travellers were snoozing on them before heading off to our next flight. This would be easy to replicate in any workspace, and could even double as some sort of groovy brainstorming space.
But while napping may seem lazy to some, the evidence is that it can boost workplace productivity. A 20 minute afternoon nap – my standard duration – has been proven toboost concentration more than a coffee , and those who pop down to grab a takeaway latte surely often take that long before they’re hard at work again.
In Spain, the siesta reflects a late-night lifestyle, but in Australia, the best reason for napping is sleep deprivation.
There is also the rather brilliant ‘coffee nap’, where you slam down a shot of the good stuff before dozing, so that the caffeine hits you right when you wake up. I’ve never tried this, loving my naps just the way they are, but I can imagine it working well.
In Spain, the siesta reflects a late-night lifestyle, but in Australia, the best reason for napping is sleep deprivation. So few of us get the hours we need each night given our increasingly complex lives and the amount of time we spend staring at screens, which can fool our bodies into thinking that it’s daytime.
In an ideal world, we’d all be well rested and not suffer from that mid-afternoon slump, but the chances of that happening for me are about the same as the odds of me giving up my precious glowing smartphone for an old Nokia that can only play Snake.
So instead, I’ll take a nap, thanks. And I hope that sometime soon, my colleagues will be too busy snoozing themselves to stand around stickybeaking at me.
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