Dream, Pablo Picasso
Birds do it. Cats do it. And Spaniards most especially do it—every day, in broad daylight.
They nap. Proudly, without a hint of embarrassment. Grown adults—executives, teachers, civil servants—wink off in the middle of the workday like kindergartners at mat time. From 1 or 2 o’clock to 4:30 or so every afternoon, Spain stops the world for a stroll home, a leisurely meal, a few z’s. Common Market technocrats have informed the Spanish that this is not the way things will get done in the oft-threatened unified Europe. The Spanish reply with a flourish of rioja and snooze alarms. ¡Viva siesta!
At a time when productivity is the world’s largest religion, the siesta tradition lives on. In Spain, work operates under the command of life, instead of the other way around. No task is so critical that it can’t wait a couple of hours while you attend to more important matters like eating, relaxing, or catching up on sleep from a night on the town. When the midday break hits, offices empty and streets clear as if by the hand of Rod Serling. Befuddled foreigners left behind quickly learn that they have entered a new circadian order.
Taking a long break in the middle of the day is not only healthier than the conventional lunch; it’s apparently more natural. Sleep researchers have found that the Spanish biorhythm may be tuned more closely to our biological clocks. Studies suggest that humans are “biphasic” creatures, requiring days broken up by two periods of sleep instead of one up-till-you-drop “monophasic” shift. The drowsiness you feel after lunch comes not from the food but from the time of day. “All animals, including humans, have a biological rhythm,” explains Claudio Stampi, director of the Chrono Biology Research Institute in Newton, Massachusetts. “One is a 24-hour rhythm—we get tired by the end of the day and go to sleep—and there is a secondary peak of sleepiness and a decrease in alertness in the early afternoon. Some people have difficulty remaining awake, doing any sort of task between one and four in the afternoon. For others it’s less difficult, but it’s there. So there is a biological reason for siestas.”
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Unlike the average lunch break, the siesta is a true break in the action because there is no choice but to come to a full and complete stop. You can’t do errands; the shops are closed. You can’t make business calls; nobody’s at the office. Most people go home for lunch, or get together with family or friends for a glass of vino, and nod out afterwards.
Like a lot of us in the land of time scarcity, I find it harder and harder to shut it off, to switch off work mode and be social—that is, be unproductive, and just be. The divide is blurred by a volatile economy of all-consuming competition that has turned off-hours into off-site catch-up. Blink and it’s Monday again. The culprit, says David Scott, an associate professor of recreation, park, and tourism sciences at Texas A&M, is the accelerating cult of efficiency.
“We are an efficiency-oriented society,” he says. “It is perhaps the dominant value in this culture. The faster things get done, the better off we’re going to be. The idea of efficiency at all costs seems to be all-pervasive. It tends to invade our leisure. Unfortunately, socializing doesn’t have a ‘yield.’ It’s hard to develop relationships; those things take time.”
The siesta lifestyle is rooted in a culture with values that are anathema to the ascendant economic order, so don’t expect the rest of Europe to adopt Spanish hours. A few Spanish firms have begun shortening their siesta time as the eurodollar era approaches. But maybe, being the great taskmasters we are, we could find a way to put one quality-of-life item on the agenda each day. We could even give it a productive rationale: Life expectancy in Spain is two years longer than in the United States. Think of all that extra output.
Our Digital Zen Clock’s long-resonating Tibetan bell-like chime makes waking up a beautiful experience – its progressive chimes begin your day with grace. When the clock’s alarm is triggered, the acoustic chime bar is struck just once … 3-1/2 minutes later it strikes again … chime strikes become more frequent over 10 minutes … eventually striking every 5 seconds until shut off. As they become more frequent, the gentle chimes will always wake you up – your body really doesn’t need to be awakened harshly, with a Zen Clock you’re awakened more gradually and thus more naturally.
What makes this gentle awakening experience so exquisite is the sound of the natural acoustic chime, which has been tuned to produce the same tones as the tuning forks used by musical therapists. According to the product’s inventor, Steve McIntosh, “once you experience this way of being gradually awakened with beautiful acoustic tones, no other alarm clock will ever do.”
adapted from Escape Mazaine, July 1998
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