top of page

Can You Get Good Quality Sleep On The Subway?


The NYPD says crime on the subways is up almost thirty percent this year compared to last – that number includes slashings, sexual assault and robberies. And half of those crimes happened to sleeping passengers. That has cops asking riders to stay awake on the subway – and in some cases, threatening to wake them up. So if police get serious about stopping subway snoozing, will New Yorkers lose a real source of restful sleep? Daniel Rostas reports.

ROSTAS: It’s almost a New York City rite of passage – sleeping on the subway. If you’ve never done it yourself, chances are you’ve seen someone dozing off during their commute.

Nathan Elgha was taking the C train to TA a class at Baruch College – he says he got fined once for taking up too many seats while sleeping – and he still loves napping on the train!

ELGHA: Sometimes the rocking of the train reminds me of like, how you see babies being rocked by their parents, or maybe in the womb or something like that – but it’s something inherently relaxing. (0:08)

ROSTAS: Passing out somewhere public like a subway car seems crazy to some – like Rita Jones, who was getting off the B train at Columbus Circle with a few suitcases.

JONES: I would never fall asleep on the subway – it’s too dangerous, anything could happen! (0:05)

ROSTAS: Exactly what police say.

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said earlier this month that – because of high levels of crime on the subway – cops would wake up all sleeping passengers.

Transit Police Chief Joseph Fox later backed down on that, saying police MAY still wake you up if it’s late at night or you leave your cell phone visible.

But if the subway is so dangerous – never mind loud – can you really fall asleep deeply enough that you get any real rest? Dr. Carl Bazil is the Director of the Sleep and Epilepsy Division at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. He did a one-man study about the science of subway snoozing.

BAZIL 1: We got a volunteer from the department who allowed us to hook him up to some monitors and to put him on the A Train. He’s all wrapped up with his electronics and stuff. Of course, this being New York, nobody even gave him a second look. (0:13)

ROSTAS: Dr. Bazil says what happened next surprised him.

BAZIL 2: I thought the result would be nobody really fell asleep – you might doze off, very lightest stages of sleep – well he did, he actually went into Stage 2 sleep, which is, you know, not the deepest, but where you wouldn’t be expected to wake up really easily. (0:12)

ROSTAS: And Stage 2 Sleep is deep enough to give you a bit of a boost without leaving you feeling groggy.

As for the safety aspect, don’t worry – Bazil says you will wake up if a violent crime is happening – that’s why we get woken up by loud noises like alarm clocks…but…

BAZIL 3: … if it’s a good pickpocket, you know, that can happen when you’re awake, so it really depends on what’s going on. (0:05)

ROSTAS: So police are asking New Yorkers to give up on some verifiably good sleep for the sake of being a little more on guard.

But not everyone dozing on the subway is squeezing in a quick power nap.

Alexander Horwitz is the Chief of Staff at the Doe Fund, a non-profit that helps the homeless transition into housing and employment.

Horwitz says he thinks police should reconsider waking up some riders – the homeless. He says the shelter system is overcrowded, and sometimes the homeless sleep on the train because they have nowhere else to go.

HORWITZ: They will be on the subways because the subways are warm, they are clean, they are well-lit, and they are safe – and they are much safer than being on the street, and so it’s a perfectly reasonable thing for a person to do.

Whether or not they’ll wake everyone up, the NYPD says it’s pulling transit cops from desk jobs and putting more on platforms and trains.

So riders can rest easy… for now, at least.

Daniel Rostas, Columbia Radio News


bottom of page