Tossing and turning (Talking about sleep, Part 3)

Listen to the author reading this blog post:

a woman lying in bed with her eyes wide open, holding her temples as she is unable to sleep
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by Kate Woodford

In my last couple of posts, I’ve looked at the language we use to describe how and when we sleep (Part 1 and Part 2). In this, the third of my ‘sleep’ posts, I look at the language of not sleeping and stopping sleeping.

The condition of being unable to sleep, often over a period of time, is called insomnia and someone who suffers from insomnia is an insomniac:

She’s suffered from insomnia for years. / Her mother was an insomniac.

An adjective that describes a night with no sleep (often caused by worrying) is sleepless and a slightly formal adjective meaning ‘unable to sleep’ is wakeful. It can also be used to describe a period of time when you are not able to sleep:

She’d spent many sleepless nights worrying about the business.

I spent a wakeful night going over what I’d said.

If you move around a lot in bed because you can’t sleep, you can say you toss and turn:

I was tossing and turning all night but couldn’t get comfortable.

There are a few nice phrasal verbs relating to not sleeping. If you stay up, you go to bed later than usual. If you keep someone up, you prevent them from going to bed and if you wait up, you don’t go to bed at the usual time because you are expecting someone to arrive:

He stayed up to watch the match.

You look tired, Al. Don’t let me keep you up.

I won’t be home till two o’clock so please don’t wait up for me.

And what about the language of waking? If you wake with a start, you wake suddenly and with a sudden movement of the body, for example because of a noise:

I woke with a start – someone was banging on the door.

If someone or something wakes you, you can say it rouses you. This is a slightly formal verb:

I tried to rouse her, but she was fast asleep.

The ringing of the doorbell roused him from his slumber.

Someone who moves slightly in their sleep, often because they are starting to wake, may be said to stir:

I said his name, but he didn’t stir.

So how do we describe the feeling of not having slept enough? Another UK adjective for ‘exhausted’ is shattered. An idiom meaning exhausted is dead on your feet and someone who has not had enough sleep, sometimes for several days, may be described as sleep-deprived:

You need to go to bed – you look shattered.

I’d been rushing around all day and, by nine o’clock, was dead on my feet.

She was so sleep-deprived, she could scarcely function.

That concludes my 3-part sleep post. May you sleep like a log tonight and wake up refreshed and ready for whatever the day brings!

12 thoughts on “Tossing and turning (Talking about sleep, Part 3)

  1. Anna

    Thank you very much for this interesting sleep post. I am only wondering why you did not mention ‘sleeplessness’ here?

    1. Kate Woodford

      Anna, you’re very welcome! Re sleeplessness, I didn’t include it because I couldn’t include everything in this fairly short post. But thanks for raising it.

  2. Thanks Kate, We learn from you. Nice to create new words. The English language lacks words, Knowing 3 languages I can say this…I have created >100 New Poetic Words published in my poetry books. As a physician, I advise eating a few spoons of yogurt before going to bed. It is an old tradition from my grandmother but it is very helpful…Try and let me know. Thanks

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