forty winks


forty winks


  • a brief nap or short sleep.
  • a quick and light sleep, usually during the daytime.
  • a short period of rest or relaxation, often taken to refresh oneself.
  • a momentary doze or snooze to rejuvenate energy.
  • a brief shut-eye to alleviate fatigue or drowsiness.
  • a short siesta to recharge the body and mind.

Example Sentences

  1. The bank manager caught the security guard taking forty winks on duty.
  2. I must get my forty winks today since I haven’t slept well for a couple of days.
  3. Being on duty as a security person: catching forty winks is strictly prohibited.
  4. John generally catches forty winks on the bus when going to work early in the morning.
  5. Robert always likes to catch forty winks after lunch.
  6. When the pilot was catching forty winks, the plane was about to crash.
  7. I wonder how people can get forty winks when they are on a plane.
  8. Sassi deeply regretted those forty winks when Baloch people kidnapped her lover, Punnu.
  9. Mirza wouldn’t have been killed by the brothers of his girlfriend if he hadn’t caught forty winks at that time.


It is believed to have originated in Britain, where the term “winks” was used colloquially to describe brief periods of sleep or moments of rest. The expression “forty winks” likely derives from this sense of “forty” as an indefinite quantity.

The term “wink” refers to the action of closing one’s eyes in sleep. This meaning has persisted in phrases like “not to sleep a wink” or “not to get a wink of sleep,” both indicating the inability to sleep at all. This usage of the noun “wink” is derived from the obsolete sense of the verb “to wink,” meaning “to close one’s eyes.”

The number “forty” has not only represented the product of four and ten but has also served as an indefinite term for a large quantity. References to “forty days” in biblical texts often signify a prolonged period rather than an exact count, imbuing the number with a quasi-sacred significance. This perception of “forty” as a superstitious number has historical roots, as exemplified by various biblical events and religious observances. In literature, notable figures such as William Shakespeare and George Herbert used “forty” in a vague or indefinite sense to denote a substantial amount or a significant period of time.

The number forty became almost sacred due to the biblical references to forty days, which simply mean for a long period of time. Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, an English clergyman and schoolteacher (1810–97), explained this phenomenon in Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1st edition – London, 1870):

“Forty. A superstitious number, arising from the Scripture use. Thus Moses was forty days in the mount; Elijah was forty days fed by ravens; the rain of the flood fell forty days, and another forty days expired before Noah opened the window of the ark; forty days was the period of embalming; Jonah gave Nineveh forty days to repent; Our Lord fasted forty days; he was seen forty days after his resurrection; etc.”

The earliest known printed record of the idiom “forty winks” can be attributed to Dr. William Kitchiner, an English physician, author, optician and telescope inventor. The phrase appeared in Kitchiner’s popular book “The Art of Invigorating and Prolonging Life,” which was first published in 1821.

It’s in this context that Dr. Kitchiner likely introduced the phrase “forty winks” as a colloquial way of referring to a short nap or a brief period of sleep. While the exact passage containing the phrase may vary in different editions of the book, its inclusion in “The Art of Invigorating and Prolonging Life” marks one of the earliest known appearances of the idiom in print.

“A forty winks nap in a horizontal posture, is the best preparative for any extraordinary exertion of either.”

A related variant, “nine winks,” is mentioned in John Badcock’s “Slang: A Dictionary of the Turf, the Ring, the Chase, the Pit, of Bon-ton, and the Varieties of Life” from 1823. It describes a short period of sleep during the day, equated to the time it would take to blink the eye nine times.


  • a small sleep
  • a short slumber
  • a snooze
  • a nap
  • catnap
  • put your head down
  • sleep for a while, mostly during the day

Share your opinions7 Opinions

Somewhere in the ether the real reason exists.

‒ Fred Harvey July 23, 2023

Most British people nowadays refer to a nap as ‘having 40 wanks.’

‒ Michaei Jones June 15, 2023

I believed the origin of the phrase was a children’s programme on television in the 1970’s where a character called Orinoco used to say, “I think I’ll have 40 winks” and lie down for a nap. I’ve read the origin section here for forty winks, and it turns out I’m wrong about the wombles! It is very interesting that the expression is so old.

‒ Fiona Mackenzie February 9, 2023

If a wink, is like the wink of an eye, then 40 winks would be worthless for rest.

‒ Joe Sands February 6, 2023

It doesn’t make sense. If you are winking you aren’t asleep.

‒ Elaine December 13, 2022

I also had the same question as Denzel Finley. I was having a discussion about this with my wife and ended up searching for an origin of the idiom on Google, which led me to this website. I wonder if there are people who might have the same enquiry as me out there. If you do please leave a comment.

‒ David Lee July 30, 2022

Why 40 ? Why not 30 or 50 ?

‒ Denzel Finley March 5, 2022

What's on your mind?

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