Falling Asleep in Public

If you have narcolepsy, chances are you’ve been in this situation, too. You’re in the grocery store, looking at colorful cereal boxes, when suddenly it hits you – a sleep attack. Your vision becomes blurry, and the world itself smears into a warped, dreamlike hallucination.

You have to find a place to sleep, NOW! Where do you go? What do you do? And how does the world around you perceive the situation?

Options for a safe place to nap are limited

Falling asleep in public can be a scary ordeal. There are many reasons why this is the case!

For one, there are limited options when it comes to finding a safe place to sleep in public. I live in a big city where crime is high. It is important to stay vigilant in public spaces. Falling asleep in public feels extremely vulnerable. Simply put – I hate it. I absolutely despise sleeping in public, especially when alone.

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When I absolutely have to sleep in public, I make sure to wrap my arms around my bag or purse, even placing my head on it as a pillow. This ensures that if someone were to try to grab my bag while I was sleeping, I would probably wake up. If I am not carrying a bag, I put my hands in the pockets of my clothing where my wallet and phone lie. That way if someone were to try to steal these belongings, they would have to jostle my hands out of my pockets first, effectively waking me up.

Social stigma surrounding public sleeping

Falling asleep in public comes along with a lot of social stigma. People make assumptions about people that are sleeping in public, such as they must be houseless or on drugs. This can be especially harmful for people of color, who are more likely to be viewed as lazy or problematic.1

For people like me who live with a severe sleep disorder such as narcolepsy, this can be downright insulting. It can make it more difficult to get access to necessary accommodations. Already, disability accommodations are not lawfully optional. Regardless, they are often treated as such.

How I make public sleeping safer for myself

One way I make sleeping in public feel safer is by going out with other people – especially those people in my life that know about my condition and understand my limitations. If the people around me notice that I am starting to slur my words or sound confused (clear indications that a sleep attack is impending) they can help direct me to a safe place to rest and keep watch while I sleep. They are also able to advocate for me if I am unable to advocate for myself; I can be unable to advocate for myself due to sleep attacks or other narcolepsy symptoms such as cataplexy.

I can also research ahead and strategically make plans for locations that have napping spots. For example, I prefer coffee shops with couches for obvious reasons! Some of the weirdest places I’ve napped include on a couch at a thrift store, on a cement slab in front of a post office, and on a bench next to a trail I was hiking.

Do you have any stories about falling asleep in public? How do you plan ahead for unexpected naps in public?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Narcolepsy.Sleep-Disorders.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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