What is Sleeping in Prison Like?

Sleeping in prison is one of the biggest adjustments new inmates are forced to make; they soon find themselves on a very strict sleep schedule. Sleeping in prison carries a different experience for every inmate, but one thing is for certain, it is not the most comfortable.

In this blog post, we will discuss the following topics:

  • What is an inmate’s sleep schedule like?
  • What are the sleeping conditions for an inmate?
  • Do inmates have the option to “sleep away the time”?
  • How can inmates have better sleep?

What does an Inmate’s sleep schedule look like?

If often comes as a rude awakening to many new inmates to learn that they will be put on a timely schedule; from when inmates eat to when they get their exercise, all of their actions are scheduled and planned out in advance. Sleeping has its place in the schedule and it rarely changes.

The North Carolina Department of Public Safety released an informational “24 hours in prison” document that reveals all of the tasks and activities inmates endure during that time period. The document details that prisoners can expect to receive an average of six hours a sleep a night. The amount slept may vary based on the correctional facility and the security level, but six hours of sleep a night is a fair average to assign to the majority of prisons across the country.

In prison, inmates must follow all of their assigned duties and tasks for the day, one of these “duties” is sleeping. Prisons typically have a period called “lights out”. ‘Lights out” usually begins at 11:00 PM and ends around 5-6:00AM. “Lights out” is a period of time when there is little/no activity- it is designed to allow inmates to catch some sleep without disruption.

Inmates roughly sleep from 11:30PM – 5:30AM, but what happens after inmates wake up? The first activity listed by the North Carolina Department of Public Safety after inmates wake up is breakfast or travel. The time allotted for this/these activities is 1 hour and does not increase or decrease based on an inmate’s schedule, 1 hour is all inmates are given. Now, it is important to understand that regardless of how long it takes an inmate to finish breakfast does not matter from a scheduling standpoint, 1 hour is given for this activity and that is exactly how long the activity will last.

A large part of prison is the schedule the inmates live on. Every correctional facility has their own schedule that is designed to suit their operations, as well as to run the tightest facility possible. Sleeping is in every schedule, therefore the amount of sleep inmates get across the United States varies, since every facility is different.

What are the Sleeping Conditions for Inmates?

Prisons are not known for their high-quality facilities, quite the opposite actually. The quality of beds, pillows, sheets, and blankets ranges based on the institution, but typically the quality is lackluster.

Prison supplies is standardized. Prisons order items in bulk from manufactures and wholesales that specialize in detention center products. “AmericanDetentionSupplies”, “Anchortex”, and “icswaco” are some of the most known dentation supplies in the United States. These suppliers’ source everything from bedding to hygiene.

The reason it is important to know different detention center suppliers is because their quality of products vary- some prisons will pay more money for higher quality products, while other prisons choose to opt for more affordable options.

The reason some prisons spend more money on products than others is strictly due to their budget and the amount of funding they receive. The prisons that get more money typically choose to spend more on products, while the prisons that get less money lean towards the more practical options.

There are different styles of beds and cells for different institutions, prisons that are of higher security for example tend to only house one inmate per cell, requiring one bed per person instead of the standardized two beds (bunkbed style) per cell.

The quality of the pillow, blanket, mattress, and sheets vary, below are the corresponding items and the most common material they are made of.

  • Pillow (70% Polyester, 30% Cotton)
  • Blanket (Acrylic, Polyester, Wool, and Cotton)
  • Mattress (Polyester, material data varies based on supplier)
  • Sheets (70% Polyester, 30% Cotton)

If anyone is familiar with these products, they can tell you that they are not the most comfortable, but not the worst. Sleeping in prison is not like sleeping at a five-star hotel, but it is humane.

Can Inmates Sleep All Day?

No. Inmates are not allowed to sleep all day. If an inmate were to attempt to sleep all day long, it would be noticed by prison staff. Every prison has different procedures and punishments for dealing with inmates who break the rules (yes, oversleeping in prison is against the rules). Punishments range anywhere from extra hours of work, to being moved to a new cell where the inmate can be closer monitored.

The idea of inmates being able to “sleep away the time” is just wishful thinking. For some inmates, it is actually the opposite. In California, a judge ruled that is was unethical for prisons to continually wake their inmates during the night. This ruling is an important step in increasing the quality of sleep prisoners receive because it allows inmates to complete their REM cycles.

Sleep is important for humans, and inmates are human too. Disrupted sleep is unsustainable and can have grave effects on one’s health. Even though inmates cannot “sleep away the time”, they are protected by law to receive an ample amount of sleep.

How Can Inmates Get Better Sleep?

This section is focused on how inmates can get better sleep when locked up. It is important to know how inmates are able to make the most of their time behind bars. Sleeping takes up a good amount of time in prison, so it is helpful to know how to increase the quality of sleep one receives.

Keep the sleeping area dark. This may seem like a no-brainer, but the darker the sleeping area, the better sleep someone is likely to have. In order to reduce the amount of light in a cell, inmates can try to use spare clothing to block windows. In most cases, the outside will already be quite dark, but it won’t hurt to place a shirt over the window.

Relax and care for yourself before bed. A busy mind makes it very hard to fall asleep; constant, nagging worries can make sleep seem like a distant dream. Many inmates find peace in writing down their thoughts before bed. Journaling is also something that many prisoners find therapeutic- by writing down thoughts that are causing distress, it can transfer the thoughts from the mind to the paper.

Breathing. Breathing techniques can slow down the mind and the body, helping to prepare the body for sleep. The brain is a powerful tool. The brain can alter the body and make it very hard to fall asleep. Deep breathing is a meditation method that millions of people across the world use on a daily basis to fall asleep and stay asleep. Deep breathing relaxes the muscles in the body by increasing the oxygen level in the body. Oxygen has also been proven to relax the mind as well. It is a win-win for both the mind and he body.


Do prisoners wear pajamas?

No. Prisoners are not allowed to wear pajamas for a number of reasons, the biggest being that the pajamas could be used or altered to make escape clothing. Prison relies on conformity. Prisoners wear uniforms so that they are able to be recognized by prison staff and members of the public. By adding pajamas to a prisoner’s wardrobe, it complicates the conformity aspect that prison has.

Do prisoners get to shower daily?

Prisoners that are in general population are able to shower every day. Showering in prison looks different in every correctional facility, but the showers themselves are quite standard. Group showers are what are typically used by the general population in prison. For inmates who are not within the general population, either because of the inmate’s charges, or their actions while inside the correctional facility, get to shower three days a week. The inmates that are not in the general population are most likely in segregation, separated from the rest of the inmates.

Do prisons have air conditioning?

Air conditioning is not standardized across United States prisons. Some prisons do have air conditioning while others do not. There have been a number of problems with the lack of air conditioning in prisons recently; in Florida, prisons without air conditioning are quite dangerous. A number of deaths have been attributed to overheating, prompting the question whether air conditioning should become standard practice within prisons across the country.

Thank you for reading! How do you sleep at night? We hope the tips we shared with you will help improve your sleep. Let us know in the comments how you sleep!






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