Time to wake up! Spain's prime minister wants to end the siesta

A 2002 photo shows a sign stating morning and evening business hours of a shop in Madrid. The siesta lives on in Spain, but Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy wants to end the long-standing and well-recognized tradition.


By NIRAJ CHOKSHI | The Washington Post | Published: April 5, 2016

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy wants to end a long-standing and well-recognized tradition: the midafternoon nap.

Under new legislation, Spain would switch the country back to Greenwich Mean Time and do away with siestas, the sleep-filled breaks some Spaniards take.

"I will find a consensus to make sure the working day ends at 6 p.m.," Rajoy said, according to the London Times.

He made the push at a party conference over the weekend, where he tried to court other parties, unions and business leaders to support the idea, according to the Standard.

A typical Spanish work day begins at 10 a.m. and is split in half by a two- to three-hour lunch break known as the siesta. Spaniards typically take the break at 2 p.m. and return to work around 4 or 5. The work day typically ends at 8 p.m.

This isn't the first time Spain has considered ending the practice.

In 2012, the government loosened restrictions to allow stores to stay open as much as 25 percent longer each week, a move that threatened the tradition, Bloomberg News reported at the time. A year later, a parliamentary commission called for both of Rajoy's proposals: The introduction of a 9-to-5 workday (he suggests it should end at 6 p.m.) and the time-zone switch.

Despite sitting in the middle of the Western European time zone, Spain observes Central European time, a change made decades ago in solidarity with Adolf Hitler's Germany.

"Because of a great historical error, in Spain we eat at 2 p.m., and we don't have dinner until 9 p.m., but according to the position of the sun, we eat at the same time as the rest of Europe: 1 p.m. and 8 p.m.," Nuria Chinchilla, director of the International Center on Work and Family at the IESE Business School, told the Guardian in 2013. "We are living with 71 years of jet lag, and it's unsustainable."

The word siesta derives from the Latin word sexta, or sixth hour, according to the Atlas of Sleep Medicine. Some believe the practice evolved out of a desire to avoid the crushing midday heat, but according to the authors of that book — all Mayo Clinic researchers — people in colder climates were also known to have followed a similar tradition.

Researchers have reported that siestas may provide certain health benefits. Just last month, the peer-reviewed Journal of Human Hypertension published a study that found a significant relationship between siesta and decreased prevalence of hypertension. In 2007, a group of researchers found that, among more than 23,000 Greek adults studied, those who regularly took siestas were significantly less likely to die of heart disease.

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