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Snoring to success in Spain's first national siesta championship

By Al Goodman, Madrid Bureau Chief
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Spaniards sleep to save the siesta
  • Spain's first national siesta championship is underway in Madrid
  • Contestants have to sleep for 20 minutes
  • The siesta in Spain often lasts an hour or more
  • Traditionalists blame pace of modern life for decline of siesta

Madrid, Spain (CNN) -- The competitors started off by lying down. On blue sofas. Some in pajamas. Most fast asleep and a few on the verge of snoring.

What is billed as Spain's first national siesta championship is underway in Madrid.

It's something of a wake-up call for a country that's become so fast-paced that many say the traditional siesta is at risk.

"The modern life is a danger that we feel is against the siesta. When you sleep la siesta everyone has the image that your life is calm, you have a good life. And then, the modern life is a direct attack," said Daniel Blanco, president of the National Association of Friends of the Siesta.

His group, which includes about 50 of his friends across Spain, persuaded a shopping center, Islazul, to host and pay prize money for the siesta competition.

Nursing assistant Sara Ruz, 22, was one who stepped up to defend the siesta.

She gobbled down a quick lunch of fried chicken from a shopping center stand, not mentioning that it's just that kind of rushing which is blamed for hurting the siesta.

The Spanish siesta is in danger. Because you have to work a lot to earn money here
--Fermin Lominchar, construction masonry worker
Video: The art of napping
  • Spain
  • Madrid

Ruz then went to the competition area. A doctor attached a pulse meter to her chest so the judge, sitting in a lifeguard-type chair overlooking the five sofas, could tell whether she's really asleep.

In this competition, the siesta is limited to 20 minutes, a duration which the organizers and some doctors say is optimal; a quick nap after lunch to get refreshed, without entering a deep sleep cycle.

But the traditional siesta in Spain often lasts an hour or more.

Hundreds of contestants are expected in the siesta championship which began October 14 and continues through October 23.

The intricate rules award points to contestants depending on how long they sleep during the 20-minute competition time, any unusual positions they sleep in, eye-catching pajamas they might be wearing, and yes, a lot of extra points for snoring.

The bustling shopping center where the siesta championship is being held is a prime example of the changing times in Spain. The stores don't close at lunchtime -- which is what used to happen with Spanish shops -- so instead of sleeping the siesta, people are working or shopping.

Siesta lovers complain that Spain's frenetic push to compete in the global economy means longer, more pressure-package workdays, even if some Spanish workers still get a two-hour lunch break.

But Ashraf Laidi, chief market strategist for CMC Markets of London, said on a visit to Madrid, "The Spanish are basically trying to have their cake and eat it too. They're trying to be very Europeanized and at least in part keep some of the traditions."

"This is 2010," Laidi continued. "We're talking about the potential of a collapsing euro. We're talking about surging debt, and people are still wanting to preserve the tradition of sleeping while the rest of the world is working?"

Spain's 20 percent unemployed might reluctantly have more time for siesta right now.

But not Fermin Lominchar, a construction masonry worker who rarely takes a siesta, although he won the first round in the siesta competition.

"The Spanish siesta is in danger. Because you have to work a lot to earn money here."

Back at the couches, the doctor woke up Sara Ruz from her siesta. She said she did finally fall asleep, despite the shopping center noise and onlookers, because she's accustomed to siesta time.

A grand siesta champ will be chosen by October 23 by the public, including internet voting.

The first cash prize is €1,000, about $1,400, in credit to purchase goods at the shopping center. Spanish media have given a lot of attention to the championship.

But will it be enough to save the Spanish tradition of the siesta ?