How did you sleep? (Talking about sleep, Part 1)

Listen to the author reading this blog post:

a young man asleep in bed holding a pillow
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by Kate Woodford

Sleep is a necessary activity that allows us to rest and recuperate. Although it’s essential, we sometimes find it surprisingly difficult. Perhaps for this reason, we often talk about sleep. This post – in two parts – will give you lots of useful vocabulary for speaking about this subject.

Let’s look at the word ‘sleep’ itself and consider its collocations. Starting with the verb, another way of saying sleep well is sleep soundly or like a baby. An idiom for this is sleep like a log.

James was sleeping soundly upstairs.

While I was away, I slept like a log.

To tell a child who is going to bed that you hope they sleep well, you might say sleep tight!

Good night, Holly. Sleep tight!

Sometimes, we sleep badly or fitfully (= waking repeatedly). If we didn’t sleep at all, we might say we didn’t get a wink of sleep or we didn’t sleep a wink:

She slept fitfully and woke with a headache.

I was so nervous about the interview the next day, I didn’t get a wink of sleep.

If you sleep late, you sleep for longer than usual in the morning and if you oversleep, you sleep for longer than you intended to, especially when this means you miss or are late for something:

Unfortunately, she overslept and missed her train.

Not surprisingly, there are several ‘sleep’ phrasal verbs. If you sleep in, you sleep late and if you sleep through a lot of noise or activity, it does not wake you. To sleep over is to spend the night at someone else’s home.

I usually sleep in on Sundays.

Amazingly, Tom slept through the thunderstorm last night.

Finally for the verb, in UK English, someone who sleeps rough sleeps outside because they have no home and no money:

He’d spent years sleeping rough on the streets of the capital.

Focusing now on the noun ‘sleep’, to go to sleep is to start to sleep and get to sleep means to succeed in starting to sleep:

Come on, Jamie, it’s late – go to sleep now.

I couldn’t get to sleep because of my cough.

Another way of saying that you manage to sleep is to get some sleep: Try to get some sleep while you’re away. / I didn’t get much sleep last night.

A deep sleep is one that you have difficulty waking up from and a light sleep is the opposite. Meanwhile, broken sleep is a period of sleep in which you wake several times:

I fell into a deep sleep that lasted several hours.

Six months of broken sleep had left me feeling pretty weary.

If you do something while you are sleeping, we say you do it in your sleep:

Sophie says I talk in my sleep.

She died in her sleep, peacefully in her bed.

Moving on to the adjective asleep, when you start to sleep, you fall asleep and if you are sleeping very deeply, you can say you are fast/sound asleep. If you are awake but feeling sleepy, you can say you are still half asleep:

By the time I came to bed, you were fast asleep.

I’d only just woken up and was still half asleep.

Finally, a child who wants to keep sleeping (especially when they need to wake up) is sometimes addressed affectionately as sleepyhead:

Come on, sleepyhead, it’s eight o’clock!

If you enjoyed this post, look out for Part 2 which will include other words for sleep and phrasal verbs for going to sleep.

50 thoughts on “How did you sleep? (Talking about sleep, Part 1)

  1. Denis

    Well written! 🙂 However, there’s one thing I’d like to clarify…
    You say ‘a deep sleep is… and a light sleep is…’ and then ‘meanwhile, broken sleep is…’
    Is ‘broken sleep’ an uncountable phrase (since you do not use any article before it)?

  2. I found this article on the Cambridge Dictionary blog about sleep fascinating! It provides a lot of useful vocabulary and expressions related to sleep. It’s interesting to learn about different collocations and phrases such as “sleep tight”, “sleep like a log”, and “get some sleep”. The author also mentions various ways to describe different sleep states, like falling asleep, fast asleep, and half asleep. I can’t wait to read Part 2 and learn more about words for sleep and phrasal verbs related to sleeping. Great job, Kate Woodford! Jacob Brown

    1. Abeel elias

      This blog is so interesting that i read it twice.added phrases and words about sleep to my vocabulary.the blog was really helpful..

      P.S please keeping posting such blogs.

  3. Davinder

    Mind blowing. Sometimes I feel that we are nothing without people like are so compassionate that i don’t have words to express your favor. You vocabulary will enlighten not only me but my students also. A bunch of 😊 thanks again.

  4. And recently there have been “sleepunders”

    where you spend time with your friends in the afternoon and do all the activities of a sleepover except sleep.

    Or you take an afternoon nap.

    More about sleepunders in Sarah Bren’s Between the Sessions – “Is my child ready for a sleepover?”.

    A lot of Commonwealth countries also use the “rough sleeper” or “sleeping rough” idiom.

    [a very small proportion of the houseless or unhomed or unhoused].

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