Sleep is so important! It can get you through the day and help to refresh your brain afterwards. Everyone needs sleep so it’s natural that everyone would be talking about it.
Here are some idioms to talk about sleep! We’ve split them into the following groups:
- Not being able to sleep – Creative ways to say that you can’t sleep.
- Waking up – Different ways to express getting up early!
- Feeling tired – Ways to say that you’re tired.
- Sleep formalities – Different ways to say good morning, good night and more!
- Colloquial idioms – Both British and American expressions for sleep.
Not being able to sleep
Tossing and turning
This is a phrase used to describe when someone has not slept well.
If you can imagine laying in bed, to toss and turn means that you would be moving and turning all night, meaning you can’t sleep!
James: How did you sleep Maggie?
Maggie: I didn’t sleep well at all!
James: Oh no, I’m sorry to hear that! Was the bed uncomfortable?
Maggie: No, no, don’t worry! It was just so hot, I was tossing and turning all night!
A Night Owl
A night owl is somebody who loves to stay up late. It can be seen as quite strange to be up late, so we need a name for it!
Owls are, of course, nocturnal which means they only come out at night. They are naturally the best animal to fit this description.
Liam: Right, time for bed I think!
Margaret: Oh, okay, but it’s so early.
Liam: What? It’s ten o’clock!
Margaret: Yeah I know, I’m a night owl. I like to stay up later than most people
Waking Up Early
To get up at the crack of dawn
Okay, so this one is about waking up as opposed to sleep but still relevant! The crack of dawn is seen as the first light of the day, so it is the moment that the sun rises over the horizon.
If you are up this early then you are probably crazy and very tired. Nevertheless some people do wake up this early and this is a great phrase just for them.
Lucy: Hi Ernie!
Ernie: Hello Lucy, how are you?
Lucy: I’m tired, I had to get up at 8 o’clock this morning.
Ernie: That’s not early! I was up at 6:30, right at the crack of dawn!
Lucy: You’re crazy, I would never get up that early.
An early bird
Following the theme of being up early, this is how to describe someone who wakes up early very often.
An early bird is someone who wakes up at the crack of dawn consistently. There is also a saying in English that goes: The early bird gets the worm.
This is usually used to say that you have gotten an opportunity before someone else because you were ready while they were sleeping and not paying attention.
Julie: Marcus, what time were you up this morning? I thought I heard noises at 6 o’clock!
Marcus: Yep, that was me! I’m an early bird.
Julie: You certainly are!
I can barely keep my eyes open
This is a great phrase to tell people how tired you are. Maybe you have friends over and they want to watch just one more film, but you are not so keen.
A great way to tell them just how sleepy you are is to say I can barely keep my eyes open with a big yawn and a stretch!
Lyn: Wow, that film was good! Anyone for one more?
Frank: I wish, but I can barely keep my eyes open!
Lyn: That’s fine, it is late after all.
Another cool way to say that you’re very very tired.
To exhaust something means to use it all up until nothing is left. In this case, you are referring to energy in your body. Usually, we talk about resources such as oil or coal being exhausted.
Exhaustion is also a medical state and means that someone literally cannot do anymore and needs to rest and recover. Usually, you aren’t really as bad as this if you say I’m exhausted!
Brian: Well, it has been a really long day today hasn’t it, Emma?
Emma: Yeah it has, all this travelling has taken all my energy, I’m exhausted!
To tuck someone in
This is usually to do with parents and children.
Parents tuck their children in at night to help them sleep, specifically, the parent makes sure the covers (duvet) of the bed are wrapped tightly around their child so that they can sleep feeling nice and warm.
Tim: Dad, dad!
Dad: Yes, Tim?
Tim: Can I watch TV for half an hour longer?
Dad: No, it’s bedtime. Now go and get into bed and I will come and tuck you in.
This is a phrase used to wish people a good night’s sleep.
As you’re going to bed, you can say the formal good night and then if you are friends with the person or on any kind of informal terms with them, you can add sleep well! to which they will most likely respond, you too!
Tony: Time for bed I think, Mary.
Mary: It certainly is! Good night, Tony, sleep well!
Tony: You too!
Rise and shine!
This is an informal way of waking somebody up.
Perhaps if you have friends over at your house and everyone is up and ready for the day except one person, you would go to their bedroom and shout rise and shine!
You may have noticed that rise and shine is exactly what the sun does in the morning. This phrase refers back to the sun, basically saying that the sun is up and you should be as well!
Russell: Lisa! It’s 12 o’clock already! Get up!
Lisa: No! I’m sleeping!
Russell: Rise and shine young lady!
Sleep on it
To do with sleep, but more figurative, this one asks someone to take a little while to think about something.
Usually, with a difficult business proposal, you can tell someone to sleep on it to emphasise that they don’t have to rush their decision. This can put people at ease and help you to close a deal!
When you say sleep on it, you then have to wait until at least the day after to ask for the person’s decision again. So make sure you have time to wait!
Steven: So Mark, what do you think of our offer? Does 3 million sound good?
Mark:I don’t know Steve, I still need to think about it.
Steven: No problem! I’ll tell you what, sleep on it and let me know in the morning!
Mark: Sounds great Steven, thanks a lot.
To burn the candle at both ends
This is a common one in British English, it means that you are waking up early but also sleeping late.
The analogy of the candle is very appropriate as if you continue to do get up early (light the candle at the top) and go to bed late (light the candle at the bottom), there will eventually be no candle left. In real terms, if you do this regularly, you will always be tired and unable to function to the best of your ability.
Janet: Keith, you look so tired today!
Keith: I know, I was up late working and then I got up early this morning to get to work.
Janet: Keith, that’s bad for your health, you’re burning the candle at both ends!
Keith: I know. I’ll try to go to bed earlier tonight.
To sleep like a baby
This is quite a clear one, it means to have a fantastic night’s sleep or sleep very well. It is a bit of a strange phrase if you think about it!
It’s supposed to mean that you sleep very well or have slept very deeply, but when you think about how easy it can be to wake a baby up with just a small noise, it seems quite a strange choice!
Nevertheless, you can see where it’s coming from and what it’s trying to say. Usually you say this phrase in the past tense if someone asks you “how did you sleep?”
Mary: Good morning Alan, how did you sleep?
Alan: Do you know what, Mary, I slept like a baby! I feel so refreshed!
Mary: I’m glad!
To sleep like a rock / to sleep like a log
This is another one to say that you sleep very deeply but even more so. It’s more habitual and describes your general sleep pattern. Again, this is rather amusing as rocks do not sleep and are not conscious!
If someone sleeps like a rock it is extremely difficult to wake them up, sometimes impossible. Even the loudest noise wouldn’t wake someone up if they sleep like a rock. They will not be disturbed no matter what!
Joe: Nancy, did you hear those fireworks last night? I couldn’t sleep!
Nancy: Oh no, I didn’t hear them. I sleep like a rock! Nothing could wake me up!
Joe: Wow! They were so loud I can’t believe it. I thought the sky was falling!
Another variation of this phrase includes ‘to sleep like a log’.
Hit the hay/sack
This one is more American than British and is used to indicate that someone is going to bed.
Usually, as a conversation winds down and time goes on, people will get tired. Someone is likely to wait for a silence and say Okay! Time to hit the hay!
Then, they will wish everyone a good night and go to bed. Its a less awkward and more social way of saying that you’re going to bed.
Jay: Dinner was delicious Karl, thanks very much!
Karl: No problem Jay, it was a pleasure.
Jay: Okay! Time to hit the hay I think!
Karl: Yeah, it’s ten o’clock already. Good night!
To have a lie in / to sleep in
These are British and American ways of saying that you are sleeping a bit later than normal, perhaps until 9 or 10.
British people tend to say that they are going to have a lie in, or they had a lie in.
Americans tend to say I’m going to sleep in or I slept in.
Gill: What time are you getting up tomorrow Jane?
Jane: Well, it’s been a long week so I think I’m going to have a lie in.
Gill: That’s fair enough, you have been working hard!
A catnap / forty winks
A catnap is primarily an American phrase but can be used in British English as well.
Forty winks is a British term with the same meaning. It’s used to refer to a very short sleep during the day. As you can imagine it is taken from the way that cats sleep during the day for short periods of time before continuing their day!
Catnaps can be refreshing and help you to complete what you need to do with greater resolve and competence.
Graham: Tim, you look like you’ve just woken up!
Tim: That’s because I have!
Graham: But it’s 1 o’clock in the afternoon!
Tim: I know, it was just a quick catnap! Now I’m ready for the rest of the day.
Sleep tight (don’t let the bedbugs bite)
Now, bear with me here. Saying sleep tight to someone by itself is a way of saying have a good sleep or a variation on sleep well.
Don’t let the bedbugs bite is a joke that is added to the phrase to make it funny. This is usually only used in an informal setting with friends or family. Also, note that it could scare children to say this to them, they may believe that there are really bedbugs in their bed.
Use with caution!
Mickey: Good night kids! Sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite!
Andrea: Bedbugs? You’re just joking, right?
Mickey: Of course I’m joking! It’s just an expression, don’t worry!
To catch some Zs
This is an American way of saying that you’re going to sleep.
It comes from the way that snoring is depicted in cartoons. When someone snores in a cartoon, there is usually a speech bubble coming from their mouths with “Z Z Z Z” coming from it. Also, this is quite an antiquated phrase and is not generally used but you may hear it as a joke to make a situation more comfortable, similar to saying they are going to hit the hay.
Another variation of this phrase is to say catch (or get) some shuteye. It may seem strange but it does make sense believe it or not!
Nina:Hey, John, have you seen Richard?
John:Yeah I have. He said he was going to catch some shuteye.
Nina:That makes sense, he did look tired.
What do you think? Are you feeling sleepy yet? Are you exhausted? Ready to catch some Zs? Which phrase is your favourite and do you have any more to add? I hope you enjoyed this post, let us know your thoughts in the comments!