National Geographic : 2010 May
sleep a night for a week is the equivalent of a blood alcohol level of 0.1 percent. Yet modern business ethic celebrates such feats. "We would never say, ' is person is a great worker! He's drunk all the time!' " Czeisler wrote in a 2006 Harvard Business Review article. Starting in 2004, Czeisler published a series of reports in medical journals based on a study his group had conducted of 2,700 rst-year medical residents. ese young men and women work shi s that are as long as 30 hours twice a week. Czeisler's research revealed the remarkable pub- lic health risk that this sleep debt entailed. "We know that one out of five first-year residents admits to making a fatigue-related mistake that resulted in injury to a patient," he told me in the spring of 2009. "One in 20 admits to making a fatigue-related mistake that resulted in the death of a patient." When Czeisler came out with this information, he expected hospitals to thank him. Instead many "circled the wagons." He despairs of anything being done until U.S. employers get serious about insomnia and sleepiness. "My con- viction is that one day people will look back on what will be viewed as a barbarous practice." . e timing of the traditional siesta corresponds to a natural post- lunch dip in our circadian rhythms, and studies have shown that people who catnap are gener- ally more productive and may even enjoy lower risk of death from heart disease. It is the Spanish who have made the siesta famous. Unfortu- nately, Spaniards no longer live close enough to work to go home and nap. Instead some use the a ernoon break to go out for long lunches with friends and colleagues. Having spent two hours at lunch, Spanish workers then cannot nish work until seven or eight. But even then they don't always go home. ey go out for drinks or dinner instead. (Go to a Spanish disco at mid- night and you're likely to be dancing alone; their prime-time TV shows are just ending.) Lately the Spanish have begun to take the problem of sleep deprivation seriously. e po- lice now question drivers in serious accidents about how long they slept the night before, and the government has recently mandated shorter hours for its employees to try to get them home earlier. What has motivated the Spanish to take action against sleepiness is not so much their accident rate---historically among the highest in western Europe---as their at productivity. e Spanish spend more time at work and their productivity is less than most of their European neighbors. "It's one thing to log hours, another to get some- thing done," Ignacio Buqueras y Bach, a 68-year- old businessman who has spearheaded the attempt to get Spaniards to bed earlier, lectured his countrymen in a Madrid newspaper recently. "Every once in a while we have to close our eyes," Buqueras told me. "We're not machines." In 2006 a commission formed by Buqueras to change things became part of the Spanish gov- ernment. Two years later I had occasion to go to one of the commission's meetings in the annex to the Congreso de los Diputados, the lower house of Spain's legislative branch. An assort- ment of modern Spanish grandees testi ed to the problem. ey spoke of accidents by tired workers, Spanish women doubly exhausted by long work hours and household duties, and small children deprived of their proper ten to twelve hours of sleep. Members were urged to contact the television networks to see if they would consider moving prime time earlier. Buqueras kept the meeting moving, exhorting the speakers to adhere to a "telegraphic brevity." But the lights were low and the room warm. In the audience a few participants' heads began to slump to their chests, then pop back up as they resisted, then their eyes closed more fully, their programs lowering to their laps, as they began to pay back their nation's sleep debt. j Author D. T. Max probes deeper into the mysteries of sleep in Explorer: Fatal Insomnia, on the National Geographic Channel, April 27 at 10 p.m. ET/PT in the U.S. Wake up and see how sleep differs around the world in an interactive graphic at ngm.com/sleep.