Inemuri: the art of sleeping in public

Sleeping in public is a common thing in the land of the rising sun. The Japanese nap in the office, on trains, in cafes and even on sidewalks. The word for it is inemuri, which can be translated as “sleeping while present.” Discover why inemuri is a true art, and how you can master it too.


Sleeping in public is a useful skill, especially for those who spend a lot of time travelling. Delayed flights, long bus rides and cancelled trains—there are many moments on a journey that are perfect for public napping. It can also be an exceptionally convenient talent to have in day-to-day life, but unfortunately not everyone has been blessed with a natural ability to sleep in public places.


Because we know that it can be challenging enough to get a good night’s sleep in the comfort of your own bed, we’ve already shared some our tips for better sleep. But sleeping in public is a whole different ball game, because how do you sleep through the noise of crying babies and trucks backing up or through the fear of missing your station and losing your belongings?


Sleep like the Japanese

The Japanese don’t let such concerns bother them. They are true masters of the art of sleeping in public. You might think that the Japanese practice inemuri because they work long hours and simply can’t stay awake on their commute, in the office or on their lunch break. But in Japan, sleeping on the train or a park bench is not necessarily a sign of exhaustion. There’s a lot more to it.


Japan is one of the safest countries in the world, with extremely low chances of getting your wallet stolen. That makes it a lot easier to close your eyes for a little while when you’re in a public place. But perhaps importantly, the Japanese have a different perspective on sleep. In Western countries, sleeping in public is often considered inappropriate, rude or embarrassing. In Japan, sleepers are not stigmatised as being lazy, sluggish or disinterested. In fact, napping during a lecture or a work meeting can be viewed as a sign of dedication and hard work in Japan. If carried out correctly, the Japanese consider sleeping in public to be an honourable act.


How to nap in public

Want to learn the rules of sleeping in public graciously? Here’s what you need to keep in mind when practicing the art of inemuri.


1. Use your bag as a pillow. This way, you avoid accidentally falling asleep on a stranger’s shoulder. It’s also a good way to keep your belongings safe when you’re taking a public nap in a country that does not have Japan’s low crime rate.


2. If you’re worried about missing your stop but you don’t want to disturb your fellow commuters by setting a loud alarm on your phone, put on your headphones. This will also mute the noise around you, allowing you to sleep in quiet no matter how crowded it gets around you.


3. Did you know there’s an app that wakes you when you’re nearing your destination? WakeMeHere relieves you of all your sleep-preventing worries about missing your station, waking you just before you arrive at your stop.


4. Avoid public snoring—while sleeping in public is okay, public wheezing is not. Using your bag as a pillow helps, because this will keep your head from tilting in a position that partially closes off your airway and makes you snore like chainsaw.