There are countless expressions for going to sleep. Some sleep metaphors include:
- Stealing Sleep
- Catching Zs
- Hitting the hay
There are also many sleep idioms that we use in our everyday language, like:
- Going to the land of Nod
- Counting Sheep
- Going out like a Light
Below, I’ve outlined 33 examples that are some of the most common sayings about sleep in the English language.
List of Expressions for Going to Sleep
1. Nodding off
You could imagine that this expression comes from the idea that when someone (maybe they’re sitting up) starts to fall asleep their chin drops to their chest, making the process of falling asleep look like a nod.
Example: “Looks like dad is nodding off while watching the football again.”
2. Steel some Sleep
You steal sleep when you get a short nap between tasks. People talk about stealing sleep when they don’t have much time in their day. They might be able to get to have a nap for 30 minutes between dropping their kids off at school and going to work, for example.
Example: “I’m so tired I might just steal some sleep on my lunch break.”
3. Catch some Zs
When we look at cartoons of people snoring, there are often ZZZ’s written above their head to indicate the snore. So, to “catch Zs” is an idiomatic expression meaning to get some sleep.
Example: “Joe’s in the bedroom catching some Zs.”
4. Hit the Hay
Hundreds of years ago people didn’t have the nice comfortable spring beds we enjoy today. Instead, they would often sleep on piles of hay. It may be a little uncomfortable, but at least it’s squishy and better than sleeping on the floor. Today, you still hear people saying “I’m going to hit the hay”, meaning that you’re going to bed.
Example: “I’m feeling tired, I’m going to hit the hay early tonight.”
5. Counting Sheep
Counting sleep is a mantra that could help people to fall asleep. You essentially close your eyes and … count! You can imagine sheep passing by your eyes and as each sheep passes by, you count it. This helps to clear your mind of other thoughts that might come into it.
But we often just use this phrase when talking about someone who is going to (or even currently) asleep.
Joe: “Where’s Jane?”
Mark: “She’s in the bedroom counting sheep.”
6. Getting Some Shuteye
While I would still consider this phrase to be figurative language, you can see the literal origins of the phrase, too. You need to shut your eyes to sleep. So, to “get some shuteye” is to get some time where you can shut your eyes and (hopefully) “nod off”!
7. Drifting Off
Imagine a raft in the water ‘drifting’. It slowly gets carried away further and further away until it’s nowhere to be seen. Drifting to sleep is similar. You might be lying there and slowly losing consciousness. You can feel yourself getting more and more drowsy. It doesn’t happen automatically, but before you know it, you are dozing off. So, it has the feel of slowly ‘drifting’ away, much like when your boat or raft drifts in the current of a river.
Idioms and Metaphors about Having a Good Sleep
8. Sleep Tight
If you tuck the sheets under your bed then slip in, it can feel tight and cozy under there. Now imagine if you toss and turn all night. You’ll probably untuck all those sheets overnight and you’ll wake up with a bundle of sheets at your feet.
So to say “sleep tight” is a way of wishing someone they have a good sleep – so good that you didn’t untuck the sheets and slept cozy under those nice smooth sheets all night long.
Example: “Good night, sleep tight, and don’t let the bed bugs bite!”
9. Heavy Sleeper
A person who is a heavy sleeper is someone who is hard to wake up when they’re asleep. They are “fast asleep”. Chances are they will also wake up feeling very refreshed because they gave their body and brain a good long time to rest and recover without interruption.
10. Over Slept
Someone who over slept is considered to have slept too long, which may cause problems! One problem might be that you feel groggy and disoriented. You might also miss work or school!
11. Slept like a Rock
This rock simile invokes the features of rocks (they’re heavy and hard to move) and applies them to someone sleeping. You can imagine someone who sleeps like a rock will be hard to wake up and hard to budge. They’ll be heavily flopped onto the bed, not moving an inch.
12. Fast Asleep
This doesn’t mean you’re going fast or dreaming about driving a race car. The lesser used definition of “fast” is to be tightly sealed, hard to move, or secure. For example you can say that a rock climber’s harness is tied fast so that they won’t fall.
So a person who is fast asleep is not going to wake up easily.
13. Went out like a Light
A light turns off the minute you flick the switch. A person who falls asleep straight away will “go out like a light”. You’ll hear parents saying this about their child if they manage to get them to go to bed right away – which of course isn’t common!
14. Hit the Sack
Like “hit the hay”, hit the sack is an idiom of yesteryear. Before we had lovely sheets and bedspreads, you could imagine people in the past slept on sacks. You could even imagine people sleeping under hessian sacks to keep them warm, before they had blankets.
15. Slept like a Log
Like “fast” and “heavy” sleepers, this simile implies someone is hard to wake up. Logs don’t move. They can also be very heavy! So if you sleep like a log, you’re immovable. You’re not tossing and turning. You are perfectly still.
16. Slept like a Baby
This one also means to sleep deeply. I find this one funny because sometimes babies don’t sleep too well at all. But sometimes when they’re asleep they seem to be really enjoying their peaceful moment. So this simile means you have a peaceful enjoyable and “heavy” night’s nap.
Idioms and Metaphors for Sleep Deprivation
17. Rough Sleep
Something that is rough is not comfortable. Imagine sleeping on a rough gravel road. Ouch! We say “rough sleep” to imply someone did not have a good night’s sleep. They may have woken up multiple times throughout the night. Of course, they may have slept on something perfectly comfortable, but this analogy helps us understand how they might have felt all night, given their inability to stay asleep through the night.
18. Light Sleeper
This is the exact opposite of the “heavy” metaphor discussed earlier. A light sleeper is someone who wakes up very easily. They might wake up multiple times through the night to go to the bathroom or when they hear dogs barking outside.
19. Tossed and Turned
This phrase is a common way to talk about someone’s rough sleep. To me, it invokes the image of someone cooking a stir fry and constantly tossing the vegetables in the wok. But, in this idiom, we mean someone has been rolling around in the bed all night long.
20. Over Tired
If you’re “over tired”, you might start doing crazy things. You’ll often hear parents talking about this when their child is misbehaving. They will explain that their child is misbehaving because they’re “over tired” – they need a good night in bed and the next morning they will be back to normal again.
21. Not Sleeping a Wink
We sleep with our eyes closed. Winking is also closing your eyes – for a split second! So if you didn’t sleep a wink, it means that you didn’t even get to close your eyes for a slight moment.
In practice, we’ll often use this phrase even if we just lay in bed with our eyes closed for hours and hours. It is simply used idiomatically to talk about a sleepless night.
Expressions for Waking Up
22. Rise and Shine
You might use this phrase when telling someone to get out of bed and enjoy the day. ‘Rise’ means to get out of bed while ‘Shine’ means that the sun’s out so the day has started.
I imagine someone who is really positive and bubbly saying this, rather than someone who is begrudgingly starting their day.
23. Got up at the Crack of Dawn
To get up at the crack of dawn is to wake up very early. You could literally interpret it as getting up as soon as there’s a tiny bit of light in the day. But more realistically, it just means waking up very early and not sleeping in.
You could come up with a few other fun metaphors similar to this one, like “woke up with the cows”, “beat the rooster out of bed”, or “rose with the sun” to create great images in the mind of the person you’re talking (or writing) to.
24. Was an Early Bird
In English we have a great phrase that goes: “the early bird gets the worm”. It means that people who wake up early have an advantage over others. They get to the shop first so they don’t have to wait in line. They have more time to finish their tasks. And they’re probably more organized, too!
So, an ‘early bird’ is someone who wakes up before everyone else.
Other Sleep Metaphors and Idioms
25. I’ll Sleep when I’m Dead
This is something people say when they’re really ambitious and living a fast-paced life. They don’t have time to sleep because they have so many things to do! They want to be out at night partying, or might be busy building up a business so they just don’t have time to get to bed.
26. Night Owl
A night owl is the opposite to an early bird, and the two metaphors are probably related. I can imagine years ago someone saying “I’m an early bird – I wake up at the crack of dawn!” And their brother responds: “Well I’m a night owl – I stay awake all night.”
Of course, this metaphor works because owls are nocturnal animals, meaning they are awake at night and sleep during the day. So you can use it to talk about anyone you know who stays awake at night to get things done and then sleeps in every morning.
27. Sleeping Giant
A sleeping giant has nothing to do with sleep, really. It’s a euphemism we use to refer to something strong and powerful that perhaps isn’t aware of its own strength. The strongest example of this is the old saying that China is a sleeping giant. It’s a big populous nation that could rise to rule the world one day. But through much of the 20th Century it was mired by internal poverty, which meant that it was considered a “sleeping giant” unaware of (or unable to exercise) its true strength.
28. Beauty Sleep
This idiom comes from the idea that beautiful people need a lot of sleep to keep themselves beautiful. While we might use it jokingly, there’s a grain of truth to it. Skin regenerates during sleep which helps it look healthy.
It may come from the story of sleeping beauty, who was a beautiful Disney character who slept for years until being awoken by her prince charming.
Bob: “Good morning honey, you slept in today. You must have needed your beauty sleep!”
29. Forty Winks
Forty winks means a short sleep during the day. Winking involves closing your eyes, which is required to sleep. And forty is a term to imply ‘many’ or ‘a lot’. So you’re not just closing your eyes for a split moment, but for a sustained amount of time to get your daytime nap.
This term can be traced back to the book The Art of invigorating and prolonging Life, by Food, Clothes, Air, Exercise, Wine, Sleep, &c by William Kitchiner, published in 1821 in London, UK.
30. Got up on the Wrong Side of Bed
This is an idiom that means you’re grumpy. It implies that your day started wrong from the very beginning and it’s had you in a bad mood all day. If only you had gotten out of bed on the other side, then maybe things might have gone better for you!
31. Let Sleeping Dogs Lie
This saying isn’t about sleep at all, really, but it does have the word in it. It really means not to aggravate someone (or something) more than is necessary. Literally – if dogs are asleep, don’t wake them up or they’ll bark and cause a problem. But, figuratively, we might use this saying when we know bringing up a topic might cause your spouse to get angry at you. You might choose not to bring it up because you want to “let sleeping dogs lie” (in other words, you don’t want to cause a fight).
32. I’ll Sleep on It
If you need time to think about something before making a decision, you can say “I’ll sleep on it.” If you say this, you’re asking for a day to have a think. Maybe after you’ve had a rest and wake up the next day there might be more clarity for you and you can make a better decision.
33. Don’t Lose Sleep over It
If something is really concerning or worrying for you, you might lie awake all night thinking about it. So to tell someone not to lose sleep over an issue, you’re telling them that there’s nothing really worth worrying about. It’s not an important problem, so don’t spend your time thinking about it.
Bob: “Oh Jane, I’m so sorry but I lost the book I borrowed off you!”
Jane: “Don’t lose sleep over it Bob, I didn’t really need it anymore anyway.”
34. In the Land of Nod
This is a funny one! It relates back to the concept that you appear to nod when you fall asleep. Your chin drops to your head in a nodding fashion. To make this a more colorful saying, we have over time developed this idiom of there being a “land of nod” which implies you’re fast asleep, and probably dreaming of a far off magical land!
There are likely countless sleep metaphors and idioms. They range from the absolute cliché through to the unique, strange and inventive. And if none of the examples on this list suit you, why not make one up yourself? Think about what sleep is “like” to you and invent a metaphor that works for your situation. That’s the great thing about figurative speech – you can be as creative as you want!
I’m a Scorpio, I love the outdoors, and I’ve written articles in some major online publications like Medium and The Weekly. My favorite metaphor? Anything that’s got to do with baseball. I’m fascinated by the fact our language has baseball weaved all through it. Read more about me here.