Though you should probably stay awake anyways
Words by Karen Fratti
From the editors of HelloGiggles
There are two kinds of commuters. Those who are so anxious to get to their destination that they stay awake the whole time reading Twitter, and those who just pass the heck out, leaving the other anxious commuters to wonder if they’re going to miss their stop or not. They rarely do, those sleepy commuters. Thanks to New York Mag’s Science of Us, we now know the reason why people who fall asleep on the subway always manage to wake up at just the right time.
New York reporter Stephanie Bucklin wasn’t afraid to ask the tough questions of Dr. Marc I. Leavey, a primary-care specialist based in Lutherville, Maryland, and Dr. Ronald Chervin, a neurologist and director of Michigan Medicine’s Sleep Disorders Center. So why do people sleep so soundly on a subway when everything about the entire act goes against every fibre of some people’s being? (We raise our hand here.)
People who can fall asleep on a train have routine to thank.
Many of us can relate to the fact that on the weekends, for example, we still sort of wake up around the same time we do during the week, or whatever days we have to wake up for work and school, right? So if you conk out a bit on the train, just like you do falling asleep to Game of Thrones on your night off, your bod wakes itself up in time to catch itself, even if it doesn’t have to.
Much like you randomly wake up at 7 a.m. even when you don’t have to, a person’s body will likely be able to tell them that they went all the way to Coney Island on the N train when they just meant to get off at Prince Street in SoHo. It happens.
‘Your body is able to learn a routine as long as it’s a routine,’ Leavey told New York Magazine. For someone who takes the subway every day (and might nod off) the body sort of senses the ‘stop and go’ of each line and will rouse a person after a certain set of stops.
This is not a perfect science, though! As anyone who has descended into a subway system anywhere (and especially in New York City recently) there are delays and rerouting of trains to deal with.
Apparently, your body can adapt to these, too, and will wake your butt up. It might not always be on point, though. If you’re in a deep REM sleep, there is a lesser chance you’ll wake up at your proper spot, according to Chervin. However, it’s likely that the noises and outside stimulation on subways and trains mean that you aren’t falling into a deep REM sleep and will be jostled awake at just the right moment. Unless you’re exhausted and end up falling really, really asleep.
If that’s the case, you might consider downloading the MetroNap app, which will wake you up at the correct stop if you fall asleep on the train. You program it by inputting the name of your starting station and your destination, and then it monitors the stop-and-go of the train to predict when you’ve reached your destination, alerting you with an alarm.
‘If you’re falling asleep the minute you’re sitting down for 20 minutes, there’s probably something wrong with your sleep health.’ Chervin said.
So take notice. Your body’s internal clock will usually save you from sleeping all the way from one end of a train line to another. But don’t bet on it.
Be careful out there — and get more sleep if you can!