How to Easily Sleep on Public Transport

5 min read

Last Modified 21 December 2022 First Added 23 November 2016

By Jessica Kadel

We’ve all been there, you’ve got a hefty 2-hour commute ahead of you, you barely had six hours sleep last night and you’re consequently in need of some serious shut eye. However, a crafty nap while you travel on public transport isn’t the easiest of tasks and if you’re like many others, you’ll find falling asleep in public a vulnerable venture. But if you’re ready to throw caution to the wind, pass the time and catch some zzz’s, here are some handy tips for how to get to sleep on public transport.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Daytime Napping

Find a Good Spot

First and foremost, it’s essential to find a good place to doze off. This is best if it’s a reclusive and quiet spot where you won’t be bothered, for example if you’re travelling by train, head for the quiet zone. Most importantly, ensure your seat is next to a window. This not only gives you something to lean on while you snooze, but also stops you being that irritating person blocking other passengers from getting off the bus or train.


Image of man asleep on public transport

Control the Noise

Even if you’d consider yourself a heavy sleeper, sudden noises can easily disrupt your dreams, especially while you sleep on public transport. The Sleep Foundation states:

‘While you sleep, your brain continues to register and process sounds on a basic level. Noise can jostle your slumber—causing you to wake, move and shift between stages of sleep. However, noises are more likely to wake you from a light sleep (stages 1 and 2), than from a deep sleep (stages 3 and 4).’

This being said, it will be more difficult to drift off on public transport. A quick and simple solution for this is to invest in a pair of ear plugs to drown out any background noise. If you haven’t got any ear plugs handy, a good substitute is a trusty pair of headphones.

Block out the Light

While we all love looking over the scenic views we pass on our travels, any daylight flooding through the windows will also hinder your sleep. Sleep expert Dr Susan Biali states that light is disruptive to sleep because it suppresses melatonin release, a hormone which makes you sleepier.

Light is easy to block out on planes where the windows have an optional blind, however it’s somewhat trickier on a train or bus. If you don’t want to be that person who is desperately trying to drape their jacket over the windows, the solution is to simply cover your own eyes. An eye mask is good for the well-prepared, however other things that do the trick include a scarf or even a pair of sunglasses.

Related: Why Bedroom Curtains Are Important to Your Sleep

An image showing a sleeping mask, books and alarm clock


Get Cosy

An obvious but important factor to aid how you sleep on public transport is how comfortable you feel. For example, if your train is over air-conditioned, like many trains are, be sure to have worn a few extra layers or packed a cosy scarf. However, trains and buses aren’t the most comfortable of places to sleep and certainly don’t compare to your bed.

Sleep expert Dr. Michael Breus adds:

‘Obviously you will be more vulnerable while asleep, so you will need to be in a safe place. It is very difficult to fall asleep sitting or standing. This is because your heart rate will be higher while sitting or standing because you heart needs to pump blood against gravity. So finding a comfortable sleep position will certainly help.’

So when sat in this awkward upright position, it’s also important to properly support your neck. Try and lean on the window to avoid any unnatural bends to your spine. If you don’t have a neck pillow handy, a good solution is to roll a jumper up into a U shape and place around your neck. Physiotherapist Vivian Eisenstadt suggests a comfortable sleeping position during your travels, stating:

‘I used to suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, so I would fall asleep on the train all the time. The best way that I would sleep would be by arching my lower back a little bit and sticking my posterior out so that I would be sitting up straight. I’d then lean back a bit and just close my eyes.’

Be Wise

By be wise, I mean remain travel savvy at all times. For example, research beforehand the estimated time of arrival and ensure to set an alarm 10 minutes prior to that so you don’t miss your stop. Also, as you would on public transport normally, ensure to keep your belongings close to you throughout your doze. This will help you avoid any unnecessary stress and worries which will only hinder your sleep.

An image of luggage with a luggage tag

Happy napping!

Do you have any additional tips for napping on public transport? Let us know in the comments!

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