LONDON, Aug 7 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Faced with long, tiring commutes that make it impossible to go home until the end of the day and rushing to keep up with the fast pace of modern city living, Londoners are paying to sleep.
In dark rooms scented with lavender and supplied with ear plugs and eye masks, busy travellers, sore-headed party-goers and new parents desperate for a nap can rest in a so-called sleep pod for 18 pounds ($23) an hour.
Pop & Rest was co-founded in London's trendy Shoreditch area by Mauricio Villamizar, who said he aimed to "flood" the city with nap pods, setting them up in railway stations, offices and universities.
"There is a need for actually getting private space in the middle of the city. We like to call it an oasis of peace," Villamizar told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The pods - which are popping up in cities across the globe, from New York to Madrid - were inspired by the rise in remote working and long commutes, he said, as well as the popularity of third spaces such as coffee shops, that are neither home nor the office.
Britain is experiencing a housing crisis as homebuilding has declined since the 1970s, driving up property prices faster than wages.
That is forcing city workers to live further away from the centre, Villamizar said.
The number of workers facing commutes over two hours has risen 34 percent over the last 10 years, according to the Trade Union Congress, Britain's umbrella union group, with Londoners taking the longest to get to and from work.
With more people working further from their homes, eating out and using 24-hour gyms, some see sleeping on-the-go as a natural extension of busy lifestyles, while others worry it is outsourcing the concept of the home.
Nancy, a London tourist from Amsterdam, said that "the city can be quite tiring and you just want to find a place where you can relax a bit".
"I think this could be an addition to the home, so why not?"
Event marketer Sinead Khan said the sleep pods reflected the impact of high property prices on people's lives.
"There's a little bit of a moral issue with charging people to sleep, but at the same time this is a city and with the price of houses and property being so high it's still a space, and that's got to be a commodity," she said.
"It's just the way the world is moving... but I don't think it will ever replace the concept of having a base that you come to and a home, because there is no place like home."
Regular user and sports massage therapist Victoria Hickman, 24, said the sleep pods offer more privacy and comfort than sleeping in a park or elsewhere in the city and suit her busy freelance lifestyle.
"I'd rather spend my money actually recharging and having a really good sleep rather than going to a coffee shop and depending on caffeine or buying food just to keep my body awake," said Hickman.
"Sleep is such a vital part of health and I think because there's such a change in how we're thinking about wellbeing, especially in cities and they're so fast-paced... it (sleep pods) will definitely take off."
Public Health England, a government agency, recommends seven to nine hours of sleep per night and warns that a lack of sleep can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease and physical and mental health problems.
With the advent of smartphones as well as warmer weather many Britons are sleeping less according to advice body The Sleep Council, which found that almost a third of people sleep poorly most nights, blaming stress as the main cause.
For passerby Matthias Schuch, however, paying to sleep is "very strange... because everybody should be able to sleep."
Pop & Rest co-founder Yoann Demont said the sleeping pods are part of a broader "smart cities" movement - and hopes to roll them out to other cites in Britain.
The concept advocates a more interconnected use of public space and amenities to offer efficient services, which Demont said appeals to millennials who generally work longer hours and have families later in life.
"It's part of the trend of being a nomad... we spend less time at home," he said.
Rather than "monetising napping", Demont said he hopes to offer similar sleep services to low-income workers and homeless people in the future.
($1 = 0.7718 pounds)
Reporting by Adela Suliman; editing by Claire Cozens and Zoe Tabary.
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