It’s just after midday in a quiet studio in Beijing, and Xuan Yi is finally getting the deep sleep she’s craved for months.
Xuan is one of an estimated 300 million Chinese people suffering from insomnia, the product of a high-stress, high-pressure culture that has left many young people choosing to “lie flat” instead.
She tried everything, she says — from psychological counselling to essential oils.
“I had a lot of work pressure. I could not go to bed before 2 or 3am and had to get up at 7am to start work,” she says. “I also worked weekends, and my sleep was not very good for a long time.”
But when the curtains close and the singing bowls start humming at healer Li Yan’s studio, she can finally drift off.
To the sounds of a gong, Ukrainian water drum, rainstick and handpans, Xuan and her fellow millennials enter a gentle slumber.
Fifty minutes later, they awake after what they say is the best sleep they’ve had in years — at a cost of 180 yuan (US$25).
“Dozens of people with tense minds lay down together and want to give their brains a short break,” Li says.
“It’s like charging your cell phone battery from three percent to 100 percent.”
‘LIE FLAT CONCERTS’
“Pressure”, “anxiety” and “insomnia” are the words Li hears most often.
She says she often fields calls from clients desperate for a break.
“I need this therapy right away, in half an hour, I’m so tired,” Li says they tell her.
Many come from China’s competitive IT industry, which has some of the highest incidents of depression and anxiety in the country, according to a National White Paper on Health.
Giants like Alibaba — whose ex-CEO Jack Ma (馬雲) was notorious for demanding that his employees work long hours — have even used Li’s sessions as team-building exercises.
Li calls her work “lie flat concerts,” a reference to a popular meme extolling the virtues of trading the high-pressure life for something a little more easygoing.
But the singing bowls also tie into another growing trend: “short escapes,” in which young people snatch small, zen moments for themselves to escape the daily grind.
HAPPINESS A ‘LUXURY GOOD’
Surrounded by office buildings in the heart of Beijing, Li’s studio offers time slots tailored to the busy routines of young workers.
She says she has seen growing demand in the so-called sleep economy since the COVID-19 pandemic, which the WHO says sparked a 25 percent increase in incidents of depression and anxiety worldwide in its first year.
“Many emotions and problems have come to the surface and people need to deal with their inner selves,” Li says. “Many are actively seeking solutions since the pandemic.”
And in a country where many turn to video games or shopping to unwind, she says, “relaxation and happiness seem to be a luxury good.”
Xuan, for one, is happy to shell out for some decent sleep.
“If I don’t pay for these healing sessions, I might have to pay for the doctor.”
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