Home Asides To sleep, perchance to miss your stop

To sleep, perchance to miss your stop

by Benjamin Kabak

At one point or another, most straphangers end up dozing off in the subway. Perhaps it’s a beer-induced haze of sleep; perhaps it’s just shut-eye on the way home with a trusted companion or significant other to watch over your stuff; perhaps it’s a wave of sleep that you just can’t escape. Any way you slice, you wake up feeling a little groggy but perhaps a little more ready to tackle the next few hours of the day.

That sleep, however, is not a particularly restful one, The New York Times has discovered. Doctors who study sleep say that dozing on the subway is more akin to nodding off than to the sleep we need over it. In fact, during their 20-minute commutes, straphangers never fall into a particularly deep sleep, and even still, light and noise interrupt that rest. “I suspect all you get is Stage 1 sleep; it’s not going to be restorative,” Carl Brazil, a sleep specialist, said. “It’s kind of wasted sleep.”

It’s not, of course, wasted sleep for pickpockets who target the drunk, and in fact, it can be costly sleep when you awake three neighborhoods and eight subway stops away from your intended destination. But with the lull of the train and the peace after a long day, sometimes that sleep, like MTA service delays, is just unavoidable.

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Peter Smith December 8, 2011 - 2:29 pm

i _suspect_ the good doctor has never spoken to me before and after my catnap on the train.

oh, you mean my nap was not ‘restorative’? wow, ok, i’ll remember that next time i’m about to pass out — i’ll remind myself that it’ll just be ‘wasted sleep’, and even though i’ll feel like a million bux after my 5 or 10 minute nap, the good doctor doesn’t think it’ll be useful at all to me.


Mark Spano December 8, 2011 - 4:36 pm

Yeah, this “doctor” can only talk of his own experience. And it’s not typical. When you’re starved for sleep, it only takes a minute or two to fall into ‘restorative’ sleep, and this happens to me fairly often on the train. Another case of ‘just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not happening’…

SEAN December 8, 2011 - 8:10 pm


Miles Bader December 8, 2011 - 8:23 pm

Lots of amusing sleep-related subway scenes … the beautiful well dressed businesswoman, slowly nodding off, head drifts down to rest on the shoulder of … the dirty slobbish stranger sitting next to her … train suddenly stops, she awakes—shock!—sits bolt upright … train continues … slowly drifts off to sleep … [repeat, ad nauseam]

I agree btw, that a nice doze on the train (if I get a seat) can have a wonderfully restorative effect! The gentle rhythm and sound of the train, the cushy seats, the relief of getting a seat and just sitting there, along with the slightly-too-warm heaters in the wintertime are super-effective sleep-inducers.

[Actually my favorite ride for this purpose is back from the airport (obviously not NYC!)—it’s about a 1.5+ hour train ride (on the cheap train), and after a long flight, it’s so nice to finally be on firm ground again, seats so cushy, … :]

JP December 8, 2011 - 9:15 pm

I suspect heresay.

Ed December 8, 2011 - 10:21 pm

I live within a ten minute walk of the 63rd Street station on the F, but stopped taking that train to return home when I realized I always missed that stop because I was falling asleep. For whatever reason, it pulls into the 63rd Street Station and Roosevelt Island station very quietly. If I was sober, I would drop off immediately after the train left 57th Street and wake up somewhere between Roosevelt Island and the first stop in Queens. If I was drunk, it was the end of the line in Queens for me. I’ve missed stops on the F on the way downtown too, even wide awake, just through spacing out. This includes a few times when I was with a group of other people who were all going to the same destination.

I don’t seem to have this issue with other lines. On the N I can deliberately go to sleep, and always seem to wake up right before whatever my stop is. Probably the F is quiet enough that I actually fall asleep, while on the older lines the best I can do is to doze.

Kid Twist December 9, 2011 - 9:52 am

The worst is passing ou–, er, dozing off on the PATH train and waking up in Newark at 3 a.m. Trust me.


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