It happened to me many times. While travelling in Bus or Train, the person seated near by me may fall into sleep and slowly put his head on my shoulder.

It is really unacceptable because I don't want to support a stranger's head and I feel very uncomfortable.

But, since he is doing it unknowingly(I mean in his sleep), I don't want to be rude.

At present, I adjust myself to move a little to other side so that this won't happen.

But I would like to know how should I tell him that I don't like this without being rude?

  • What would you consider "rude" in such a situation? It's hard to help without knowing that. :) Jun 29, 2017 at 6:48
  • 1
    there may be some reasons for them to sleep in such a way. I want to politely let them know I didn't liked their action. If I push their head with my hand, it may be considered as rude. also if I shake my shoulder hardly, that will also not appropriate. Because they are doing it unintentionally. @curiousdannii
    – Sagar VD
    Jun 29, 2017 at 6:52

6 Answers 6


Posted from the comments (thanks for suggesting I do so), with an additional idea, because I'm not sure of the spacing in your trains. This may allow for possibilities.

One thing you can do is ask them if they need/want someone to wake them at their stop. That's pretty neutral, and it potentially does them a favor, too.

If you are also in a window seat, and they are in an aisle seat blocking your way out, you can/should ask if they would like the window seat so

  1. you don't have to wake them and stumble over them at once
  2. (this is a bit passive aggressive, but it's a valid follow up) you won't have to wake them again

This has the advantage that maybe, depending on how the train is designed, they will get to rest their head against the window, which isn't super comfortable, but it prevents further awkwardness. (In my case, we were in seats up against the side of the train, so a window seat wasn't an option.)


I find that constantly moving my position while doing activities will eventually wake them up. Do this gently, and apologize when he/she wake up. Decent person will apologize back instead.

Sorry, didn't mean to wake you up

Sorry, did I wake you up?

Easiest one is playing with your smartphone or reading books.

Or you can tap their shoulder and say "Excuse me?". Optionally you can pretend want to take something from your bag below (or above).

  • (+1) I prefer the first one. The second one I can't do b'coz I never carry a luggage on a short travel. even a small bag. But the first one seems good. But still there are some people in deep sleep and they won't knew even if I shake my shoulder.
    – Sagar VD
    Jun 29, 2017 at 6:25

Don't try to downplay the situation and pretend that it didn't happen. That just increases tensions and hard feelings. The person is going to find out exactly what happened when they wake up. White lies in social situations are like regular lies. They solve a problem temporarily but create a bigger problem for you to deal with later on.

When the person puts their head on your shoulder, just calmly push their head back up. When they wake up just say "It seems that you started to fall over. Don't worry about it" and maintain a cheerful atitude. You can offer to swap seats if your seat has something to lean on. It's not your job to ensure that the person is able to sleep comfortably while falling all the way over. You can if you want to be really nice but you don't have to do this! This also can make the person feel worse if they later find out that they were falling over on to somebody for a long time before you did something about it.

Some people seem to have a self victimizing attitude. They'll let something like this go on for an hour before finally doing something about it. Deep inside they want the person who fell asleep on them to feel really bad about it. They also want to have something to complain about. The longer the agony of dealing with the sleeping person the bigger the sob story. Please don't be this kind of person. If somebody does this kind of thing to me (me being the sleeper), I always call them out on it! You could have said something sooner is what I say.

  • I like your wording and directness, though I think touching their head with your hand (instead of their arm or shoulder) is a bad idea. Worst case scenario: they startle awake and either bite your hand (that's touching their head/face) or yell out and people just see you apparently violating social norms by touching a stranger's head/hair/face. Mar 28, 2018 at 8:14

Another good idea is to prevent them falling asleep in a position where they may fall on you. Depending on how much you "like" sitting next to the window, it might best to allow them to sit next to the window, so that they can rest their head on that rather than you. In addition, if it is a common enough occurrence, you can carry a travel pillow to offer to people who look sleepy so that is is more comfy (and preferred) that they lean on the window rather than on you. You could even engage in conversation with them so that they don't fall asleep, or even more sneakily offer to buy them a coffee, keeping them awake and preventing them from falling asleep in the first place.

If they do fall asleep on you, as mentioned above it's probably best to discreetly wake them, either by coming up with an excuse to wake them as you need to move from your seat (to use the toilet or get off at the next stop), or do something in which you move a lot, like reading a book or using your phone.


Gently shake their shoulder to wake them. Then ask them not to lean on your shoulder. For most people, they'd be apologetic for it happening in the first place and wouldn't object to this approach. I don't personally see the need for indirection here.

After this, you can offer to exchange seats etc. (if that might help) as others have suggested.


From the other side of the story, I would be deeply embarrased if I feel asleep on the train and woke up with my head on some stranger's shoulder. So please, please safe me from that embarrasement and wake me up. It's not rude at all.

And now consider that I might miss my train station because I'm asleep. That could be really bad for me and might have any kind of bad consequences. So the most polite thing you can do is to wake me up, preferably without a bucket of water and without using violence, and then pretend it never happened.

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