Nap cafes flourish in sleep-deprived South Korea
Workers and parents are spending their lunch hours in an increasing number of business offering a place for a quick snooze
By Park Jin-hai
Kim Min-chul, an office worker with three years at his job, frequently skips his lunch and goes to a nearby “nap cafe.”
With continued days of working overtime and drinking, he says a nap cafe is the place to recover quickly from his stress and fatigue.
“I visited the place out of curiosity then I’ve become a regular since,” he said. “Having a half-hour sleep in the cosiness of a dark and aroma-filled cafe refreshes me to spend the rest of the day at work.”
Another frequent nap cafe user, a female office worker with a baby, agrees.
“Because of my baby, I cannot have a good night’s sleep and during the day I need more sleep,” she said. “I used to take a nap at my desk during lunch hour, but it was inconvenient.”
The latest OECD data suggests Koreans are deeply deprived of sleep, partly because they work the second-longest hours among OECD member countries, after Mexico.
As a result, the local “fast-healing market,” where people look for a quick remedy for relaxation the same way they consume fast foods, is up and growing.
According to a Shinhan Card study, customer spending last year showed the fast-healing market, including nap cafes and massage chairs, is the hottest new trend.
“In a country notorious for long working hours and heavy workloads, the demand for sleep and fast healing is being provided in nap cafes,” the study observed.
People in their 20s made up 63 per cent of such cafe users, people in their 30s made up 22 per cent, and people in their 40s made up Nine per cent.
“Although the younger generation, who tend to accept new culture, is leading the trend, there is a strong increase in users in all age brackets,” the study says.
Those in their 30s and 40s doubled their visits to nap cafes, while those aged 60 and over jumped 177 per cent.
Offering a nap in a hammock or reclining chair, various themed nap cafes are operating across the country. With prices ranging from 6,000 won (US$5.28) to 13,000 won (US$11.44) including beverages, visitors can have an hour of relaxation.
“Mr. Healing,” one of the biggest nap cafes with 60 branches across the country, specialises in massage. “Cool Jam” in Gangnam and many others have a similar concept.
Hearing classical music, people can sit in large massage chairs and relax for up to 50 minutes.
“We opened the first cafe in 2015 and riding on the booming healing industry, customers have been increasing quickly,” a worker there said.
The owner of “Shim Story” designed the cafe to provide home comfort in busy Gangnam. Customers can lie on bean bags, sleep in a private area or chat in an area like a living room.
“Nazzzam” in Anguk-dong has brought hammocks into cafes, while “First Class” offers first-class airline comfort.
At “Beauty Sleep” in Banpo-dong, southern Seoul, women can lie in a lace-decorated room and experience a tourmaline stone bed and the aroma of the forest.
CGV, Korea’s biggest cinema chain, has also jumped on the bandwagon. In March, the chain began offering a siesta service. During lunchtime, customers can lay on a fully reclining chair in its premium theaters listening to the sounds of nature, with a cup of tea and blanket.
Use of the service has jumped 65 per cent since it was introduced, according to the company.
The steep rise in the number of citizens with sleep disturbance is contributing to the growth of the market for various sleep-related services and items.
A “sleep coordinator” or “sleep consultant” advises customers on how best to have a good night’s sleep.
Home textile company Evezary has launched “Sleep & Sleep,” stores, where sleep coordinators recommend products to solve sleep disorders.
In three years since its 2014 launch, the number of shops has risen to more than 80.
Lotte Department Store also runs shops at 11 branches offering sleep solutions. Products range from small home appliances to aromatherapy products.
Although the local sleep market is relatively small — one-third that of Japan and one-10th the U.S. — the steady rise in fatigued Koreans has helped the annual sleep industry grow in recent years to about 2 trillion won (US$1.76 billion), according to the Korea Sleep Industry Association (KSIA).
Online shopping mall Gmarket says its sales of sleep-related products — including soothing sound machines and eye masks — rose 83 per cent in the first quarter from the same period last year.
Beverage maker Lotte Chilsung recently released relaxation drink “Sweet Sleep,” a mixture of herbs and vitamins, targeting sleep-deprived Koreans.
Industry insiders predict the local sleep industry will continue to grow steeply.
“Although accurate statistics on the market are unavailable at the moment, the local sleep-related industry is estimated to have surpassed 2 trillion won already and is forecast to show stronger growth in coming years,” a KSIA official said.