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Where Does The Term Sleep Tight Come From?

09-06-2011

You’ve probably said it hundreds of times without really thinking about what you are saying, but when you actually think about it, the saying sleep tight seems pretty weird, and the meaning behind it is not that obvious. How do you “sleep tight”? Can you “sleep loose”? And what about not letting the bed bugs bite, is that just tacked on because it rhymes?

There appears to be a reasonably logical etymological explanation. In the past, mattresses used to rest on a rope bed framework and as time went on, the ropes would sag, making the sleep less comfortable. Hence, the tighten up the ropes would make your sleep better, giving birth to the saying sleep tight. This type of bed was popular during the 16-18th Century and the saying has been dated to this time period. The addition of “don’t let the bed bugs bite” came a bit later, in the 19th Century and appears to have been added to form a rhyming couplet.  

However, a number of historians and etymologists believe this to be a spurious explanation. The word tight used to mean ‘well’, and the expression sleep tight basically means sleep well.

As with most conundrums of this type there is no real way of proving either argument, so its up to you which explanation to believe.


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