Adios, Siesta! Back to Work Early in Spain

The long lunch break, the two- or three-hour siesta that typified Spanish life for centuries, has been permanently shortened for government workers, dropping to an hour to keep pace with child-care needs and schedules in the rest of Europe.

Instead of working from 9am until 7 or 8pm with a long break at midday, state employees will adopt a 9-to-5 schedule with only an hour for lunch, according to rules taking effect on Sunday.

Before the days of long commutes and heavy traffic, most Spaniards returned home for lunch and a siesta at midday. Now a trip home is often impractical, particularly in large cities, but the traditional work schedule, with the long afternoon break, has remained.

The long days also deprive Spaniards of sleep, they contend, hurting worker productivity and increasing accidents in the workplace. Spaniards sleep an average of 40 minutes less per night than the average European, according to a study by the Fundacion Independiente.