The Ayurvedic “Siesta” And All Of Its Magic

Have you ever noticed that around 1:30, 2 or 2:30 p.m. you find yourself longing for coffee, chocolate, or something stimulating?

Sometimes people think they should “wake themselves up” with these stimulants, or go for a run because they are feeling low energy and want to perk up. However, quite the opposite is true—when you feel this way, it is the best time to give your mind and body the rest that it needs. You will be amazed at how much of a positive impact it will have on the rest of your day and evening.

Some countries have a culturally integrated version of what an Ayurvedic doctor recommended to me years ago. In many parts of the world, this concept is called a “siesta,” defined as “a short nap taken in the early afternoon, often after the midday meal.” My Ayurvedic doctor calls it “the 20-minute lie-down” or “20 minutes of horizontal time,” and it will revolutionize your life. It’s a little bit different than taking a nap, but I believe the idea and purpose is the same.

The big idea here is that lying down to rest each afternoon gives your mind, body, and entire nervous system a chance to rest and reboot, thus restoring your energy during the time of day when your energy is at its lowest.

There are a few important aspects of these twenty minutes of horizontal time to make it the most effective:

1. It is best to do your 20-minutes of horizontal time between 2 and 4 p.m., as this is the time of day when our energy takes a dip.

My Ayurvedic doctor referred to this window between 2 and 4 p.m. as “adrenal recovery time.” Basically, this is the time of day when the adrenals are functioning at their lowest and need to recover after being productive all day long. When our adrenals are weak, our brain function is impacted.  You may notice that it is harder to be productive or process data after 1:30 or 2 in the afternoon, whether it be at work, in school, or something else altogether. 

2. Find a space where you can be uninterrupted if at all possible.

If you are lucky enough to work from home or are at home already, go into your bedroom and lie on your bed, and make sure you are comfortable and warm. If anyone is home, let them know you are going to do your 20 minutes of rest and not to disturb you until you are done. If you work in an office, see if you can find an empty room or even go outdoors, or to your car if necessary, where you can best find your peaceful repose.

3. Take this time to be completely without sensory inputs.

If you can, cover your eyes with something—an article of clothing, an eye mask, or ideally a weighted eye pillow. Turn off all television, music, and computers—let this be a time where you are taking in no inputs or entertainment. Even peaceful music is a way to occupy your mind, and you want to let your mind go completely blank as much as possible.

4. You may fall asleep.

While this is not the goal, this is okay. If you fall asleep, it almost definitely means that you need the sleep/rest. If you are worried about not waking up for your next activity, set an alarm (a peaceful, gentle one if at all possible). I like to set an alarm even when I don’t have something else to do, if only to make sure that I stay lying down for the entire twenty minutes and so I don’t have to keep track of time.

5. If you don’t have 20 minutes, it’s okay—15 minutes will work, and so will 10.

Even if you can take 5 minutes, it will make a difference. And if you can’t take your rest time between 2 and 4 p.m., then just see if you can integrate this practice into your daily life when it will work. What I have found is that after my daily rest, regardless of length, I am more awake, alert, and able to be productive in ways that seemed impossible before this daily time of rest.

This repose is not meant to be a meditation—there is nothing you are supposed to be “doing.” If you can successfully lie down for the whole time, you are “doing it right.” Sometimes when I take my horizontal time, I can feel my body resisting, my mind running, and I’ll think that this time was not well spent—until I open my eyes, sit up, and realize that even though my mind was going the whole time, that I do indeed feel much calmer, slowed-down, and clearer-headed nonetheless. If nothing else, it was a time for my mind to stop taking in data and an opportunity for my nervous system to rest, digest, process, and reboot.