Monday, December 11, 2006

Siestas and homeworking

There’s no doubt that an afternoon siesta is good news for everyone involved and the good news for homeworkers is that they’re ideally suited for anybody working flexibly. Napping is natural and although the urge to nap isn’t (usually) overpowering, our internal clock is set for two sleeps a day, the main one at night and another in the afternoon between 1pm and 4pm when our body temperature drops slightly. Moreover, studies show mid-afternoon dozes can restore body energy and make us more productive for the rest of the day, as well as enhancing morale.

What the Nobel-prizewinning Spanish novelist Camilo Jose Cela once described as ‘Iberian yoga’ is by no means defunct. Indeed, so keen are various American companies on encouraging employees to take a swift snooze that they have installed special powernapping rooms.

What makes a good siesta? The Spanish Holy Roman Emperor Charles V recommended curling up on a good throne holding a heavy iron key. When it clattered to the ground after about 20 minutes, the point when the siesta was threatening to turn into full slumber, it was time to get back to running the known world.

For those of us in less palatial surroundings, sleep experts emphasise the importance of keeping our siestas short so as not to interfere with night sleeps. Even if your eyes just won’t close, simply resting is also effective (although Winston Churchill said the only way to make a siesta worthwhile was to take all your clothes off, put on your pyjamas and get right into bed). Tom Hodgkinson, editor of The Idler, prefers a day bed opposite his desk.

But the siesta is not to everyone’s taste. Cees Nootebaum in his book Roads to Santiago wrote: “There’s a false night embedded in siestas, the deception of awakening not to a fresh start but to a repeat performance. The day has already been soiled by life and food, by the words of the news and of the world, sunset is nearer than sunrise and everything has to happen a second time, there is a certain lassitude, a hint of death, shadows in late afternoon, the slow approach of darkness.” Seems a bit strong.

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