40 Winks – Meaning, Origin & Examples

Sleep is glorious. It is glorious and we need it to survive. Sometimes, a restless night might stand between you and sleep, leaving you tired all day. In this scenario, there’s only one solution: take a nap.

Today, we’re going to look at another way to describe such a nap.

40 Winks – Meaning

The phrase “40 winks” is an idiomatic English expression meaning to take a short nap. A wink is not a specific unit of time and is just used to describe something happening quickly. As such, there is no set amount you need to sleep to achieve a “forty winks” nap.

40 Winks Meaning

The concept of a “wink” comes from the idea that the activity takes the amount of time it takes to wink. This isn’t meant to be taken literally though, as that would be a very short nap indeed.

Here are some examples of how “forty winks” can be used in a sentence:

  • We’ve got a bit of time before we need to go out again; I’m going to try and grab 40 winks.
  • She’s just upstairs now catching 40 winks – she should be down soon.
  • I’m going to try and catch 40 winks while I’m on the train.

40 Winks – Origin

The first use of the phrase “40 winks” comes from 1821. It was William Kitchener, a famous cook, optician, and the possible inventor of crisps, who said “forty winks” in his self-help guide, The Art of Invigorating and Prolonging Life.

Here is an extract from his book:

  • “A Forty Winks Nap” in a horizontal position, is the best preparative for any extraordinary exertion of either.

While the use of quotes might suggest Kitchener borrowed the phrase from elsewhere, there’s no evidence of this. There is, however, evidence of “winks” being used in reference to sleep.

In John Badcock’s 1823 book, Slang: A Dictionary of the Turf, the Ring, the Chase, the Pit, of Bon Ton, an entry can be found for the term “nine winks”:

  • Nine winks – a few minutes of sleep in the day, assuming to be for the space of time that would be occupied in winking the eye nine times.

There is no entry for “forty winks” in this book, which indicates that “nine winks” was an established term before Kitchener adjusted it to give us all a longer nap. Thank you, Kitchener, for that and the crisps.

40 Winks – Synonyms

If you’re looking for another way to say “forty winks”, try using one of the below synonyms:

  • A short nap
  • A power nap
  • Catch a few Zs

Correct Ways to Say “40 Winks”

It is correct to write either “40 winks” or “forty winks”. Normally, in formal writing, you’re encouraged to use the word rather than the numerals, but this depends on context. 

The best thing to do is be consistent. So, if you choose to write it as “forty winks”, don’t switch to using “40 winks” halfway through your story (like we did, but we’re rebels).

Incorrect Ways to Use “40 Winks”

“40 winks” is a phrase that represents having a short nap; it doesn’t literally refer to winking at someone forty times and shouldn’t be used in this sense.

  • Person 1: You look like you need 40 winks!
  • Person 2: I’m very tired right now, please don’t try to flirt with me.

It’s also specifically referring to a nap that won’t be very long, not a full sleep, so don’t use it if you’re planning on going into hibernation mode!

In What Situations Can You Use “40 Winks”?

Use the phrase “40 winks” when you want to let people know that you’re taking a short nap, that you desire a short nap, or that you think they could do with a short nap!

Basically, use it whenever you want to discuss a short nap. Or don’t, we’re not in charge of you.