Global warming trends mean that siestas could become a sensible survival method

According to Professor Bill Keatinge, an authority on the health hazards of heat, siestas might be life savers in the future if current predictions of warming trends are correct.

Scientists think heatwaves as extreme as the one which killed 14,000 people in France in August 2003 are likely to be commonplace in the coming decades. Towards the latter half of the century, every other summer in the UK could be as hot as 2003.

One way of dealing with such high temperatures is to follow the example of people in southern Europe, and stop work in the afternoon, says Professor Keatinge. "An increase of only 8C in body temperature will kill," he said. "One simple countermeasure is to avoid exertion. You see this in southern Europe where people take siestas. Putting your feet up and resting is very effective. I think we certainly ought to do it."

Professor Keatinge, of University College London, said he preferred the idea of the siesta to environmentally unfriendly air-conditioning. He said siestas were already being adopted in central European countries such as Germany. "It's a very civilised way to live," he added.

He was speaking at a scientific briefing in London where scientists also warned of the likelihood of future heatwaves.