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Today, if you wear a sombrero, do it right… wear it on your face!

This image drew attention in 2012 in San Antonio for being considered an offensive stereotype of the “lazy Mexican.” 

From a clinical point of view, the image of a person taking an afternoon nap (regardless what culture) does not illustrate laziness at all, 

but common sense.  A quick rest period during the hottest time of the day can be rejuvenating and lead to a more highly productive afternoon, giving fresh meaning to the saying “work smarter, not harder.” Hardly the tactic of a lazy person. 

It’s Cinco de Mayo, which may or may not be relevant to you and your family customs. You might see a sombrero (or ten!) before today is through, some of them holding tortilla chips and guacamole, others worn by dancing revelers at a local Mexican restaurant. But the original use for the sombrero was not as a party bowl… Sombrero in Spanish comes from sombra which means “shade” or “shadow.” The sombrero is, you guessed it, meant to be used as the ultimate napping hat.

Let’s review the notion behind the afternoon nap. Siesta means “sixth hour” in Spanish and refers to midday, which is typically the hottest time of the day. The siesta has come to be a traditional opportunity to take a midday break to restore one’s energy, spend time with family, eat and rest. It’s not a practice limited to Spain and Mexico, however. Naps are still a normal part of daily life in Greece, the Philippines, Nigeria and other countries across Europe. Though widely believed to have Spanish origins, the siesta may have actually been introduced far earlier in ancient Islam (napping was noted in the Koran as a practice ruled by Islamic law) and Rome.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that some of our cultural habits are grounded in physiological realities. Take, for instance, this explanation about “the midday slump” from the National Sleep Foundation:

Our internal circadian biological clocks… regulate the timing of periods of sleepiness and wakefulness throughout the day. The circadian rhythm dips and rises at different times of the day, so adults’ strongest sleep drive generally occurs between 2:00-4:00 am and in the afternoon between 1:00-3:00 pm… The sleepiness we experience during these circadian dips will be less intense if we have had sufficient sleep, and more intense when we are sleep deprived.”

The body knows what it needs to do in the afternoon. It needs to sleep. When you’re at your desk at work after lunch, how easy is it for you to stay awake through your usual tasks, meetings and email replies? Maybe what you need is your own personal sombrero hanging, at the ready, in your cubicle, for those times when your circadian rhythm is calling out for breaktime.

It’s not unreasonable to ask for a little shut-eye; in fact, some companies are installing nap rooms or pods for employees who may need to grab some quick sleep because management is beginning to figure out that sleep deprivation is not good for productivity. 

For a complete history of this widely valued cross-cultural practice, check out the excellent article, “Siesta: The Little Nap With a Big History,” over at Slumberwise.

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