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Sleep for the stressed-out: Vienna studio offers half-hour power nap for 11 euros ($15)

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VIENNA - One sleepy little side street in Vienna just got sleepier.

Tucked behind a Gothic church and surrounded by Renaissance-era houses, a new studio is offering deal-makers, movers and shakers and foot-sore tourists respite at a price: a half-hour power nap for 11 euros ($15).

But Reflexia is more than just a place for shut-eye. The establishment's massive arches and thick walls built centuries ago act as if they were made specifically to protect from the outside world, and visitors who cross its threshold are offered soft mood music; a heaping plate of prosciutto with chunky bread; coffee, tea and soft drinks, and a wake-up that is personal — and gentle.

"People know sleep as a need but not as a product," owner Peter Schurin says. "Our task is to change that in some ways."

Schurin describes his establishment as "a fitness centre for the spirit," and his business model might be well-timed, even if the Austrian capital is anything but an edgy city that never sleeps.

Most stores here are closed on Sundays. On Fridays, the work day ends at 3 p.m., or earlier, judging from the traffic jams clogging the main arteries out of the city of 1.8 million. In fact, Vienna regularly tops Mercier surveys as the world's most livable city in part because of its outsized calm factor.

At the same time, Austria's status in Europe as an "Island of the Blessed" is being eroded by the kind of work-related stress common to other Western societies.

A study last year involving doctors, unions and employers estimated that stress-related illnesses are costing Austria's economy 7 billion euros — almost $9.5 billion a year — in treatment and absences of its 3.7-million strong work force. Michael Musalek, head of Vienna's Anton Proksch medical institute, says the number of burn-out victims "is steadily growing."

Enter Schurin and his establishment.

Services at Reflexia range in cost and substance. The 11-euro, half-hour cat nap takes place in a dim room where black leather loungers are separated by Japanese folding screens; a one-hour snooze in a private chamber can be purchased for 40 euros ($60).

Those who can't sleep can play computer games, grab a book off the club room's shelf or just sit back and relax with a drink and a bite for 6 euros ($8) an hour.

The only thing missing so far? Sleepy customers.

On Tuesday, a day after the grand opening, candles were burning and the Italian ham was waiting — but the couches were empty except for one.

On it was Gundula Schatz, who described herself as both a client and a prospective partner looking to offer yoga courses at the establishment. Asked how her couch felt, she replied "like in seventh heaven!"

Schurin says he's patient.

"While we were still building with all the mess and dust, people passed by and saw the word 'sleep' ... and turned to me and said, 'Can I sleep here?' And I said 'Yes, but please wait until we're open.'

"Austrians are cautious people," he added. "It takes them a while to get used to new ideas."

But the concept left at least one passer-by cold Tuesday.

"I sleep on the job," said Rolf Bachler, when asked if he was in need of a power-nap.

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