Can You Sleep In Prison?

By Prison Insight Staff

Updated: May 28, 2019

As a former inmate, I often get questions about the sleeping situation in prison. The common belief seems to be that prisoners sleep their time away, and get out of bed just to eat and go to the bathroom.

The images most people seem to have in their mind are of prisoners locked inside a tiny cell, surrounded by bars and concrete, and they having nothing to do but get fed through a tiny hole in the door, sleeping on their bunk 24/7. However─for the most part─that just doesn’t happen.

In this blog post, I’m going to talk about the ins and outs of sleeping in prison. Since jail is a completely different animal, I will touch on that, too. Keep reading, because I’m about to answer the question: can you sleep in prison?

This blog post will cover:

  • Are inmates allowed to spend the entire day sleeping?
  • What are the sleeping conditions in prison?
  • Can you sleep in jail?

Are inmates allowed to spend the entire day sleeping?

Honestly, just hearing this question makes me laugh, and the simple answer to this questions is: ABSOLUTELY NOT. Even if you are in a SuperMax prison or in AdSeg (administrative segregation), which in some prisons is called, “the hole,” or the, “SHU,” (segregated housing unit), and you are locked in your cell 23 hours a day, sleeping the entire time just isn’t an option.

First of all, there are count times in prison, and they happen every few hours. Where I was incarcerated, the count times were at 5:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., 4:00 p.m., 9:00 p.m., and midnight. The 5:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. counts were, “I.D. counts,” which meant when the officer came to your room, you had to show your photo I.D. when they counted you. At other times, they conducted, “head counts,” so the officer would come by and count the number of people in the room.

You had to be counted twice during each count time, so two officers would come by within a few minutes of each other to count. With the exception of the midnight count, you always had to be sitting up in your bunk, with TVs and radios turned off, and you had to stay put while the officers were on the wing. That meant no getting up to go to the bathroom or grabbing ice from the day room for a drink.

If you were caught sleeping during count, that was a violation and you would be punished. Usually, the punishment turned into, “extra duty” hours, which meant that you had to complete different tasks when the officers needed help.

At the women’s prison, where I was incarcerated, there were six women in one room. When the officers came into the wing for count time, they loudly announced their presence. If someone in the room was sleeping, the roommates would wake them up so they could sit up and be counted without getting punished.

Count time usually lasted anywhere between thirty minutes to three hours. If the officers’ count matched perfectly, it wouldn’t last long. But often times, they would mess up and have to come through for a recount, and it would take forever for count to clear.

The count times alone meant your sleep was always interrupted at some point during the day or night, but sleeping all day wasn’t an option because in most prisons, everyone was required to have either a full-time job or be a full-time student.

Between work or school and other required classes and treatment programs, most prisoners were required to be somewhere from early morning until the evening. When you did get a chance to sleep, the conditions were less than ideal.

What are the sleeping conditions in prison?

There is a weird hierarchy in prison, based on sleeping mats. Your bunks are made out of metal, and each bunk has a sleeping mat. The people who have been in prison the longest have the best mats. They are newer and thicker, and much more comfortable compared to the old, beat up mats that newbies get.

The reason this happens is because when someone is moved out of their bunk, they have to leave their mat, and the prisoners left behind will start swapping out the mats to get the best one they can find.

The older mats are so worn that there is almost no cushion at all. Other times, they are incredibly lumpy and extremely uncomfortable. The biggest reason mats get torn up is because the inmates would use string in the mats for other things.

The older mats are stitched with string that you can tear out to use as floss, sewing string, or hair string. Inmates do the same thing with their prison-issued coats. They tear out the string in the inner lining and put it to good use. Nothing goes to waste in prison.

You are also issued a pillow, two sheets, and a pillowcase, and when you leave the room, your bed must be made.

If you want to sleep during the day, it is extremely difficult because so much is going on. People are constantly in and out of the room, your roommates hang out and watch TV or listen to music, and the light is always on. Inmates are also extremely loud,

You have zero privacy in prison, so being able to find a quiet, cozy place to take a nap is impossible. During my four years behind bars, I can count on one hand how many times I was in my room alone long enough where it was quiet enough that I could take a nap.

At nighttime, lights out doesn’t mean quiet time. However, because most everyone had to get up early in the morning for a job or school, the majority of inmates were quiet and respectful, and allowed everyone in the room to try to get some sleep.

You always had to use headphones at night for your TV or CD player, so there was no loud music. And, there was rarely shouting or conversation going on. If that happened, it was in the communal bathroom area outside of the rooms.

If someone in your room snored, there was nothing you could do about it. Many people had to get up in the middle of the night to go to their jobs, so if they needed to get up and get ready to go to work at 2 a.m., you had to deal with it.

Depending on the facility, you may hear the big heavy electronic doors opening and closing for a variety of different reasons. There was also an issue of safety when you were trying to sleep. Inmates who were in a facility filled with gangs and violence didn’t often feel safe, and rolling over to get some sleep was hard because you were always on edge.

Getting a decent night’s sleep in prison was literally impossible.

Can you sleep in jail?

I wanted to bring up the sleeping conditions in jail because they are quite different from prison. In county jails, most inmates are all housed in a giant pod that has cells inside. No matter if you are inside or outside of your cell─or if it is day or night─it is always loud.

While I’m not the biggest fan of the A&E show 60 Days In, it does give people a decent glimpse at what life is like in a county jail. Most jails don’t issue anything other than a nasty, worn out mat and a blanket that doesn’t cover your entire body. So, good luck sleeping in those conditions!

Being in jail can really mess up your body clock. Your sleep schedule will be completely destroyed, and you will always feel tired and hungry. It’s a crazy environment, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

So, can you sleep in prison? You can grab a few hours every now and then. But, if you can’t sleep without it being dark and quiet, then you are out of luck.

One of the first things I did when I was released was buy a brand new mattress, sheets, and pillows. Never again will I take getting a good night’s sleep for granted.  Are you surprised by the sleeping conditions in prison? Let us know in the comments below.


Prison Talk: Getting a Full Night of Sleep in Prison

60 Days In: The Inmates Discuss Sleeping in Jail (Season 3, Episode 13) | A&E
  • Very informative. This was something I was thinking about and glad I found this. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • A new scary world I wouldn’t like to discover In person. Thank you for sharing your experience. I wish you the best life can offer you.

  • I spent two months in a country jail, then went to trial and was found not guilty of all charges by a jury of 12. Did I sue after it was over? You bet I did. I didn’t have a problem sleeping that I recall. It was somewhat noisy but certain people, I was one of them, ran the pod. We ran the pod appropriately and there were no issues during my two months as a guest of the county.

  • I dont ever plan on committing a crime to even be put in prison. Why would anyone hearing of these conditions do anything to be sentenced to prison. Its insane to do so.

      • A bit of a stretch to make your ‘joke’.
        That’s not what he said, at all.
        People do CHOOSE to break the law knowing the consequences .. absolutely!
        He’s merely asking why would you, knowing what the conditions are there.

    • Brian, you don’t really think someone’s goal in life is to become an inmate, do you? If so, your level of ignorance is bar none. A great deal of inmates had tremendously bad childhoods. Numbing the pain can be all consuming and often takes negative habits that are very hard to break from. A childhood full of trauma brands you for life!

    • I don’t think anyone ever PLANS to go to jail or prison. I’m currently facing jail time for driving poorly after a Dr prescribed me psych meds that had no warning label about driving. Sometimes things happen in life that aren’t planned for.

    • I’d like to know what prison you were at because the 4 I was in from one arrest were all super uncomfortable and exactly as she described but she left out the part about the ITCHY wool blankets! Omg they were so itchy and uncomfortable but it was always super cold with all the metal in the jail cells.

    • Attention Whinny Emo Goon. PLEASE go get locked up in County for six months and when you are done “sleeping better”on a one inch thick,extremely,I mean EXTREMELY USED mattress pad that lays upon a rack of steel.. then by all means feel free to explain to me how conditions in jail are far superior to actual FREEDOM. Also be sure to wear those exact earrings when you take said “vacation from the horrors of freedom” and start life a new in the luxurious glory that is County Jail. Nothing screams respect like a white guy in lock up with donuts hanging off his lobes. You’re gonna do great in there. ??

  • I dont know how prisons are ran outside of Oregon, but we got to sleep at least 85% of the time. The only things that were required of us were to be awake for sit up counts(twice a day) and to not sleep under your sheets or top blanket from 7:15AM to 9:15. PM. But we could totally sleep under our spare blankets as long as your sheets were still tight.We didn’t even have to get up for cell sanitation. If I didn’t have a call out, and if I wasn’t playing cards or whatever, I was up in my cell watching tv and dozing off.

  • What about who only sleep in jail. Can they sleep? What if you are in your period during that night? What about the pads in that night?

  • Can I contact or write letters and help others in confinement. I woke up with interesting intuitive feeling that someone is in confinement and well first time but I feel I could help by writing letters? I’m in MN I hope there’s not solitary? Anyway I’m going to try to go back to sleep.

  • I just spent 297 days in jail. I’ve been in every setting they had: 2 different dorms, 2 different cell blocks, and seg. Noise, cold, light, mats, smells, what’s going on in your own head all conspire against sleep. Even in the cells, you had a nose count every 15 minutes, night and day. At night you’re getting a 200watt tactical flashlight shone in your face, again every 15 minutes. I have PTSD from a car accident, so the sound of crashing metal doors and it’s machinery triggers me something awful and that happens all day long in the blocks. I actually found the dorms to be quieter as the noise was more dispersed, but still, everything echoes and made my tinnitus even worse. We didn’t get issued pillows, but you can buy them in comms or from the neighborhood tailor but run the risk of getting snagged during a shakedown. Since it is jail, not prison, work details are all voluntary so if you want to, you can try to sleep as much as you can as long as you don’t feel like going to chow (5:30/10:30/4:30). One other think, real earplugs are contraband, but you could use your covid facemask as an eyemask for sleep.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience. That’s a significant amount of time to spend behind bars and your experience is something that’s easy to imagine bc you write so evocatively and include the little details that make it seem real (which of course it was). There are some things that smack of the truth, like a tactical flashlight in your face – I’m reminded of when I did medical residency and we routinely “rounded” at 5 AM by turning on the fluorescent light over the patient’s bed. That the patients should have been allowed to rest (ie. sleep) as a central part of their recovery, was deeply ironic, and clearly not important to the surgeons, who wanted to be in the OR gowned-up by 7 AM sharp.

      On reflection, it occurs to me that a medical residency is good practice for either being in prison or having a new baby, in so far as you lose nearly all control over your own time. The difference being, of course, that in prison, one can’t decide to opt out of that choice. Wishing you the best as you find your path again and appreciate you sharing this very vivid experience. Cheers.

  • With marijuana now legal in Canada and many parts of the US, hearing of someone doing any real “prison time” – never mind a lengthy sentence like the author’s was – is hard to comprehend. While I don’t use marijuana myself, it’s hard for me to understand the rationale behind this being so “dangerous” that someone would be locked-up for years. One can’t help but wonder if prison really is nothing more than big business, with a need for “customers.”

    While it’s small comfort, I’m sure the experience has provided the author, who clearly a skilled writer, with ample material for her trade. I wish her the best in her future, though I sympathize with the ordeal she endured, for reasons which even now must be hard to fathom.

    • It most definitely is big business—it was so even before the advent of “private prisons” those run by companies contracted by the government rather than said government taking on the job of running that particular prison.

  • I know that is right because I myself serve 10 years I am 37 and it is crazy sleeping patterns and once you get out just the way things are I still had the concept of being into civilized I should say but slowly for surely things change and seem to get better my thing was opening in the refrigerator and seen the light come on

  • i fee sad reading many of your experiences. i think you deserve to be treated better; do not give up

  • Wow. 30 years for pot that is slowly being decriminalized. We incarcerate the most by far of any nation. No one goes to jail for crimes big businesses do; tank the economy, pollution, addicting the country to pain killers. Thanks, conservatives.
    Appreciate the time you took to share your story.

  • I’m happy ur out of prison Natalie . But I just have to kno! How mad r u that u lost 4 yrs of ur life y u were stuck in hell n now that ur out weeds legal… good luck to ya n make sure u smoke a joint for the ones left behind.

  • I wonder how’d they deal with someone like me: I have moderate to severe kyphoscoliosis amongst a slew of other severe medical problems. I must sleep sitting partially up because my upper back kyphosis has me bent forward at about a 60 degree angle, so it takes four pillows to prop up my head or it’ll just painfully hang in the air! A single pillow would me useless to me.

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