New York

6 Tips for Napping on the Subway


You know that feeling, universal to the human experience, in which you are so very sleepy you can’t keep your eyes open and you must…shut down…immediately? You struggle against it, swaying back and forth, sort of give in, and suddenly remember you’re in a classroom, your pen dragging down the page in weird curlicues, or at the office, computer keys pressing into your forehead, or, maybe, on the subway, lulled by the dulcet tones of recorded transit information and the whooshing of air around the train. Mustering all your strength, you pry your eyes back open and grab something to read so as to act like none of that ever happened, really you were awake the ENTIRE TIME, you just had your eyes closed to rest them for a second, allergies, you know?

Since it is inevitable upon so many commutes in New York City that this will happen to you, we have some helpful hints for orchestrating the very best outcome, that being waking in a refreshed state, your pants and wallet still intact, no giant bruise or lump on your head, and no video for posterity to mock.

6. Dress warmly. It can get chilly on those trains, especially in the summer, and in the winter you need to dress warmly anyway. It’s also nice to have something soft to wrap around you, to remind you of home and to prevent weird things from touching you when you fall on the bench. A savvy subway sleeper will also tote along a neck pillow, or just wear one at all times.

5. Avoid traveling with liquids. Open beverages are illegal in MTA world, but also, spilling your coffee or stinky Kombucha is a real no-no on a crowded train, and chances are, you’d spill it on yourself, which would have the unfortunate consequence of waking you up. Also avoid foods, chatty companions, large packages, expensive packages, wearing a lot of gigantic diamonds, and falling asleep with your mouth open, because, ew.

4. Choose your train and travel time wisely. Think about your particular sleep needs and schedule. Will you be on the train for 45 minutes or so? It’s a good time, then (set an alarm). Only the quickest of cat naps should be planned for trips on the express train when you’re only going one stop. Also, do you prefer to sleep among strangers, or to have a whole bench to yourself to lie upon should the need arise? Travel at off-peak times if the latter! If you’re drunk, we recommend avoiding the subway nap, not only because it’s not safe, but because it can be most mortifying in retrospect (see #1) — but you’re going to do what you’re going to do when you’re drunk and we can hardly stop you.

3. Find a good spot. The best sleeping spot is not standing by the doors, for example. Nor is it holding onto a pole. The best subway sleep spot is adjacent to one of the arm bars, as our video sleepers demonstrate. (You can also choose the bar in the middle of the bench, or sandwich yourself in the midst of a bunch of warm bodies, like a baby panda, for your nap-time.) Personally, we like the freedom to move and protection on one side given by the arm-bar location, but you may have your own preference.

2. Own your nap. Also universal to the human experience is the feeling of shame when you realize you’ve been sleeping in a place not designated for sleep, and people may or may not have been watching you. And God knows what you did. But, really, it’s O.K.! A little shut-eye is a beautiful thing, and when you wake, instead of pretending that you weren’t sleeping or looking confusedly about, just shout, “Yeah, suckers, I was asleep, and you were all staring at me! Who’s winning now?”

1. Let your subconscious remain on alert! Be wary, you are still in a public place, and along with the “the lush worker,” who waits in hope of your drunken train pass-out so that he can cut the wallet out of your pocket, there is a more ominous breed, the YouTube videographer, who lies in wait hoping that you will fall asleep so that he can record something funny that everyone will laugh at and then the video will go viral and you will be infamous, and he will probably get seed money for his “people passing out in subways” website and impending movie. A word of warning: Watch for the paps of subway sleep before you snooze. They will steal your nap, and you will barely recognize it once it’s been tainted by the trappings of fame.

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