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What is Forty Winks?

The term “Forty Winks” is a common one, but not many people know its origin

The phrase forty winks, meaning a short nap, can be traced back to Dr. Kitchiner’s 1821 self-help guide, The Art of Invigorating and Prolonging Life, as follows:

It is not better Economy of Time, to go to sleep for half an hour, – than to go on noodling all day in a nerveless and semisuperannuated state – if not sleep, certainly not effectively Awake – for any purpose requiring the Energy of either the Body or the Mind

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

Why 40?

Charles Earle Funk, in “Heavens to Betsy!” (Harper & Row, New York, 1955) postulates as to the reason behind the number 40: “to take forty winks – Though I’m not saying that the reading of the Thirty-nine Articles has an actual bearing on the ‘forty winks’ or short nap that is likely to succeed that reading – or interrupt it – such a sequel could be inferred. The Thirty-nine Articles, for the benefit of the unenlightened, are the articles of faith of the Church of England which the clergy are required to accept. Adoption became legal by parliamentary action in 1571 in the reign of Elizabeth I.  Needless to say, the perusal of these articles is likely to be considered most dreary. At least they led a writer in ‘Punch’ (November 16, 1872) to say: ‘If a man, after reading through the Thirty-nine Articles, were to take forty winks’ and that is the first literary record of this precise number of winks.”

How long is 40 winks?

According to Wikipedia a blink lasts for 300-400 milliseconds; if we surmise that a one-eyed wink lasts the same amount of time as a two-eyed blink, the duration of a “40 winks” nap would only be about 12-16 seconds. If pressed, most people would probably agree that they could not re-charge their batteries during the day on the back of a 15 second nap.

One amusing explanation for the length of 40 winks is, “A wink is much longer than a jiffy and about the same time as a single shake of a lamb’s tail”.

The Huffington Post’s article on Napping enlisted the advice of sleep expert Michael Breus, Ph.D. for his best tips on successful napping. The full article contains 7 napping tips, but states that a, “30-minute nap is particularly important for people who are tired during the day and didn’t sleep enough that night, and want to supplement their sleep a little bit.” Breus does warn, however, that, “If you take it longer than 30 minutes, you end up in deep sleep. Have you ever taken a nap and felt worse when you woke up? That’s what’s happening — you’re sleeping too long and you’re going into a stage of sleep that’s very difficult to get out of.”


Whatever the source of the term ‘40 Winks’, or the requisite nap time, the fact remains that for most people gaining a full night’s sound sleep, the need to nod off during the day is vastly reduced.  For many people, the problem they have sleeping is due to their mattress and poor sleep posture.  Sleeping in quality beds that adjust to a multitude of sleep positions to suit the ones your body requires is a logical step to gaining restful sleep. Those not sleeping well continue to struggle during the day and, sadly, not everyone has the luxury of spare time to get in 40 Winks!

There is help at hand. Comfomatic has a range of adjustable beds.  Over 200 customer testimonials are testimony to their effectiveness – click on this link to read more.