Across the world, drop-in decompression spaces, from nap pods to cuddly kitten cafés, are helping a stressed-out population relax.
It’s no secret humans are incredibly stressed out. We’re overworked, underslept and filled with an abundance of anxieties. The World Health Organization has gone so far as to declare a sleep-loss epidemic. A 2017 report by Statistics Canada says one in three Canadians aren’t getting enough sleep and almost one-third of those surveyed have trouble staying awake during the day.
People are literally working themselves to death in developed nations, with Stanford University organizational behavior professor Jeffrey Pfeffer estimating that, each year, 150,000 deaths in the U.S. and over a million in China can be attributed to overwork. In Japan, a country where almost a quarter of companies demand more than 80 hours of overtime per month, have a name for this: karōshi, which literally translates to “overwork death.”
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, more than half of Canadians consider anxiety and depression to be epidemic and over 1.6 million Canadians report unmet mental health needs each year.
Despite clear evidence that something needs to give, governments aren’t stepping up to enact new workplace regulations, fund mental health care or even educate their populations about the importance of a good night’s sleep. While traditional health and wellness institutions flounder in the face of heavy demand and limited budgets, the private sector has stepped in to fill the void with a new type of solution: public decompression spaces.
In Seoul, nap cafés are the new Starbucks. These cafés offer quiet, dark spaces, sometimes with aromatherapy, that customers can pay for by the hour. Some cafés have reclining chairs, while others boast hammocks, massage chairs, beanbags and even tourmaline stone beds accompanied by a forest aroma. These are more than small indie boutiques; some chains, such as Mr. Healing, boast upwards of 50 locations.
Mattress startup Casper brings its own version of a nap cafe to New York City with The Dreamery, which offers 45-minute nap sessions for $25 USD. The price includes beverages, comfy pjs, Sunday Riley skin products, a toothbrush, toothpaste, and a private “nook.” Each nook is a sleek circular pod that contains auto-fading lights, a pendant light for reading, a sound absorption back wall and, of course, outlets to recharge electrical devices. Beds are stripped between sessions, offering the cleanliness of a hotel room.
In cities such as London and Tokyo, de-stressing comes in the form of popular pet cafés. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Positive human-animal interaction is related to the changes in physiological variables both in humans and animals, including a reduction of subjective psychological stress (fear, anxiety), and an increase of oxytocin levels in the brain.” Numerous peer-reviewed studies show a link between spending time with pets or therapy animals and lessened anxiety, depression, and feelings of social isolation.
In Tokyo, a city where everything is just a little bit extra, there are also cafés dedicated to owls, rabbits, snakes and hedgehogs. While some of these experiences may initially sound like cheap tourist thrills, the National Health Service in England has used snakes as in-clinic “therapists” to help patients overcome low self-worth and communication issues, rabbits at mental health hospitals, and skunks to help schizophrenia patients (they’re similar to cats, but won’t jump off your lap and further hurt your self esteem).
While 45-minutes naps and cuddly animals may temporarily bring down stress levels, these certainly aren’t comprehensive, long-term solutions for sleeplessness and anxiety. If we truly want to increase our collective wellness, the public sector needs to step up.