Siestas are quickly going out of fashion in Spain but could catching 40 winks actually be bad for our health?
Taking a nap to recharge the batteries has to be one of life’s simplest but greatest pleasures; that sensation of your head gently nodding as the book your were reading lightly drops into your lap, or your eyelids growing heavy while the TV drones softly in the background.
Many of us like a snooze after a heavy meal like Sunday lunch, and the siesta has roots as old as time in the Spanish culture. It’s a tradition that is dying out somewhat these days, particularly among younger generations, but is it a practice we should try and hold on to?
There are two schools of thought which are oddly contradictory about the benefits and risks of taking a siesta in the middle of the day, so see what the experts have to say before you put your feet up…
The pros of the siesta
- Reduces blood pressure: That feeling of fatigue and wooly-headedness after eating leads to the reduction of cortisol in our bodies, a hormone directly related to stress and anxiety. When we wake up after a good night’s sleep, the release of cortisol is triggered so that we begin the day energised.
However, if our day is stressful, the level of this hormone doesn’t drop, and neither does our blood pressure or heart rate.
Taking a nap is a way of breaking the day and cortisol levels can drop as we sleep, in turn reducing blood pressure to a healthier level.
- Prevents coronary problems: By reducing cortisol levels, the speed at which our bodies metabolise fats and sugars greatly increases, which is beneficial in reducing blood glucose and cholesterol levels.
- Improving state of mind: Logically, if we rest the body, we recharge the mind. Often times, after a quick 20 minute nap, that problem that was worrying us doesn’t seem quite so insurmountable and some of the stress of daily life has melted away.
The cons of the siesta
Interestingly, a recent article published by the Magazine of the American Heart Association found that siestas can actually be harmful to our health for a number of reasons.
- Increases hypertension: directly contradicting the research in favour of napping, the new study concluded that “frequent nappers are at higher risk of high blood pressure and stroke than non-nappers”. It found that people over the age of 60 are 20% more likely to suffer from hypertension and 10% more likely to have a stroke that those who never bother with a siesta.
Why the contradictions?
It seems incredible that two articles measuring the same thing can be diametrically opposed in their conclusions, but there are some possible explanations. The American Heart Association analysed data from 5,000 UK residents between 2006 and 2019, but the researchers may not have been discerning enough in their choice of subjects.
- It turns out that among the frequent nappers were smokers, people who regularly consumed large amounts of alcohol and generally suffered from insomnia: all characteristics that can contribute to high blood pressure or the risk of a stroke in their own right.
- Furthermore, the study failed to specify how often participants had a siesta, or how long they napped for, which renders the data largely uninformative, since sleeping for a few minutes is certainly not the same as napping for several hours, something which has previously been linked to high cholesterol and weight gain.
- Finally, since the study concentrated on people over the age of 60, its can hardly be considered representative of the entire population.
The result is that the research about siestas is just about as clear as mud and it seems that we just have to draw our conclusions from how we feel after a quick nap. I, for one, plan to continue grabbing forty winks whenever the opportunity arises, even if it is somewhat of an old-fashioned Spanish tradition. When in Rome, as they say…
Source: Murcia Today