It’s three o’clock in the afternoon in Tokyo, and businesspeople across the city are bouncing between meetings outside the office, sneaking in breaks before heading back. Crouched over small tables in coffee shops with their faces down over their laptops, eyes glazed over, they eventually nod off. People are so tired, sleeping in cafés like this is commonplace. A couple of hours later, those lucky enough to get seats on their cramped train journeys back home shut their eyes again as soon as the train starts moving.
But no one around them bats an eyelid. Known as ‘inemuri’, drifting off in public has become synonymous with exhausted workers. However, tolerance of these frequent sightings of inemuri is contributing to the country’s chronic sleeping problem.
“It’s so easy to fall into it after an exhausting day at work,” says Takanori Kobayashi, whose sleep schedule was so wrecked by his former job as a businessman that he quit. Then he founded NeuroSpace, a start-up with a mission to implement sleeping programmes for companies. “What I didn’t realise until recently was how much it was damaging my quality of sleep overnight.”