You're welcome to sleep at these cafes

The inside of the healing room of Mr. Healing located in Myeong-dong, Seoul.
PHOTO: Video Screengrab

Many people turn to coffee to wake themselves up. But that's the last thing on the minds of customers of a new breed of cafes devoted to helping people relax and, if possible, take a nap.

"The (regular) cafes are inconvenient," said Shin Jeong-sik, a regular customer at a sleeping cafe. "They're crowded and the chairs are stiff. I like it here because I can rest on a bed."

Shin is not alone in needing a good lie-down. Data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development suggests that Koreans are deeply deprived of sleep, partly because they work the second-longest hours among member countries of the group, after Mexico.

"I'm usually in a state where I need more sleep," said Lee Ji-hyun, a student at a private academy in Gangnam, Seoul, who also frequents a sleeping cafe. "If you go to a regular cafe, you need to sleep sitting up in a chair. That's not much different from sleeping at the academy."

Targeting Lee and other fatigued Koreans, Mr. Healing, a "healing" cafe franchise, has opened 47 branches in just two years. Three more are set to open by early May.

"The customers vary from people who come alone to couples, friends, families, travellers -- simply anyone who needs a break in their life," said Park Hye-sun, manager of Mr. Healing in Myeong-dong, central Seoul.

The coffee store devotes half of its 115-square-meter space to a healing room. Customers who purchase beverages can nestle in big massage chairs and relax for up to 50 minutes.

On a Saturday afternoon, all 18 massage chairs were occupied by weary customers. Wearing eye masks and slippers, customers relaxed their knotted muscles with gentle massages. Mozart's "Andante" was playing, while a blend of lavender, rosemary and peppermint scents filled the space to help customers drift off.

"I have to sit on a chair and stare at a computer monitor all day due to my job," Kim Eun-kyum, a 24-year-old noncommissioned officer said. "The healing room was truly effective to relieve fatigue and stress from weekdays."

Among Mr. Healing's competitors is Shim Story, a cafe in Gangnam, Seoul, where customers are encouraged to rest by immersing themselves in a lounge-like atmosphere.

"It is a resting place, a 'lounge,' not just a sleeping cafe," said Jung Oon-mo, who runs Shim Story. He said the most ideal place to relax is home, so the cafe aims to create "home in the middle of the city."

Jung said the concept of lounges is disappearing in Korea, but Shim Story is his attempt to regain the notion of a lounge where people can fully rest.

"It has a similar structure to a house. You have bedrooms, a living room, a reception room and a kitchen," he said.

To make it more like home, the sleeping area is separated into personal cubicles fitted with beds, bedside cabinets, televisions and table lamps. Other areas offer different kinds of resting space with massage chairs and bean bags.

Jung said cafes tailored for those seeking to relax, get a massage and sleep are not a temporary fad. "It's a business model that can make profit even after 30 years, as we need this kind of place," he said.

Kwon Mi-suk, a 43-year-old freelance worker who visited the cafe, appreciated the concept mimicking home. "You can have your own time. The space becomes your own as if it's your home," said Kwon.