The Paranoid Man’s Guide to Falling Asleep at the Beach

Will I get swept out to sea? Will a runaway beach umbrella impale my sternum? Will a hermit crab crawl into my butt??

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We know that long afternoons at the beach make you sleepy — this is in large part due to the sun suppressing your melatonin production, which helps control your daily wake-sleep cycle (also, those eight room-temperature beers you pounded might have something to do with it). It often, too, seems like the perfect setting for a nice long nap: You’re warm, sleepy-buzzed and the waves are whispering at your toes like a vast, aquatic ASMR video.

But then it happens: Just as you start blissfully drifting off on your towel, the paranoia kicks in about all the dangers that could befall you while you’re asleep. Will you burn to a crisp when the sun changes position? Will you get swept out to sea? Will a runaway beach umbrella impale your sternum? Will a hermit crab make its new home in your butt?

And now you’re awake. Crap.

But chill out, beach brah: I, a lifelong and habitual beach-dweller, spoke to Noel St. Hill, a veteran lifeguard with the Barbados National Conservation Commission, and with his help, compiled a handy FAQ for your next anxious siesta in the sand.

What if I fall asleep safely in the shade of my umbrella, but then the sun changes position and I get burned to a crisp?
This is a no-brainer, my beach-going genius! There’s this cool invention called sunscreen that contains chemicals that reflect the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays away from your skin (inorganic), or absorbs them so that your skin doesn’t (organic). Slather on sunblock that’s at least SPF 30 before you snooze, and you’ll be fine, provided you don’t sleep for more than two hours or so (since you’re supposed to reapply every two hours). If you forgot to bring some, welp, looks like it’s time to make some friends!

What if someone steals my stuff, though?
“I suggest that you always go to a beach that has supervision — not only by lifeguards, but with park rangers or police as well,” says St. Hill. “Each of them play an important role and work together to ensure your safety. Avoid areas with easy access from the street where unauthorized passersby might come across you. Also, don’t keep valuables like your wallet, your laptop or your phone in eyeshot of people while you’re sleeping. If you do, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a malicious thief who steals your stuff — it could be the average guy lounging nearby who sees an opportunity. So be sure to secure your stuff out of sight before you doze off.”

Stick my wallet and phone in my shoe, got it. What if the tide rushes in and I get washed out to sea?
“It’s rare for waves to come in and crash down on people while they’re sleeping,” says St. Hill. “But if you’re going to take a nap, you obviously don’t want to do so very close to the shoreline. I’d have to say that anyone who does so may have had too much to drink. In any event, it’s my job to head over and instruct anyone sleeping too close to the shoreline to move further away.” So wake up, sleepyhead, the sensible sober man says you’re being a doofus.

What if I want to nap under the shade of a palm tree and a coconut drops on my head?
“Beach supervisors like myself or rangers will let you know if you’re sleeping under a tree that may have ripened coconuts that could fall off and hit you,” says St. Hill, reassuringly. “But the local government agencies that oversee the beaches are usually good about keeping the trees pruned of coconuts to reduce the risk of them falling off and hitting people.”

What if I get skewered by a runaway beach umbrella?
It’s… certainly possible for this to happen! But outside of just not napping on particularly windy days, there’s really not much you can do beyond ensuring your own umbrella is properly secured.

What if — and just hear me out here — a hermit crab decides to take up residence in my butt?
“Believe it or not, beach crabs are actually non-threatening,” says St. Hill. “They only trouble you if you agitate them or corner them off. They’ll watch you first, and when you’re still or a safe distance away, they’ll move along. So it’s unlikely for a crab to come up and interfere with you while you’re sleeping, they’re just making sure you’re not in their way and they aren’t in yours. However, if you’re overly paranoid about them, I advise you sleep on a lounger.”

What if I anger the lifeguard by asking a whole bunch of dumb, paranoid questions?
Don’t worry about it — it’s kinda their job. “When you come to the beach, feel free to approach the lifeguards or rangers and ask questions,” says St. Hill. “I think it’s a great thing when patrons come up and ask me questions. And when they say, ‘Thank you’, I tell them, ‘No, thank you.’ After all, prevention is better than the cure, which makes my job easier. And so, it’s a very smart thing to do.”