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10 French expressions for talking about sleep

The Local France
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10 French expressions for talking about sleep
Former French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe takes a nap. France has a myriad of expressions for talking about sleep. (Photo by Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP)

Data suggests that the average French person spends close to nine hours sleeping each night - far more than Brits and Americans. Here are some of the best phrases for talking about sleep in France.

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Before getting on to some of the funkier expressions for talking about sleep in France, it is useful to know two basic verbs: dormir (to sleep) and réveiller (to wake up). You could use those words as follows:

Je vais dormir - I am going to go to sleep. 

As-tu bien dormi? Je n'ai pas bien dormi - Did you sleep well? I didn't sleep well

Je commence à me réveiller - I am beginning to wake up 

Un bruit fort m'a réveillé en pleine nuit - A loud noise woke me up in the middle of the night

As a nation of sleepers and poets, it is unsurprising that the French have a huge array of phrases to talk about sleep. Here is a selection of some of our favourites. 

Faire dodo 

Faire dodo means 'to go to sleep' and is mostly, but not exclusively, used when talking to children.

It is not a reference to the flightless bird that went extinct in the late 17th Century. Dodo is simply an abbreviation of dormir

In a sentence, you could use the expression like this:

Je vais faire dodo - I am going to go to sleep

C'est l'heure de faire dodo - It is time to go to sleep

Charles, fais dodo! - Charles, go to sleep! 

The expression métro, boulot, dodo ('metro, work, sleep') is often used by people with no free time to talk about the 'daily grind'.

Le quotidien des habitants des grandes villes c'est métro, boulot, dodo. - 'The daily lives of people who live in big cities is commuting, working and sleeping.'

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Dormir comme une marmotte 

Literally translated, this phrase means 'to sleep like a marmot' - for British readers, this is an animal that looks something like a squirrel crossed with a beaver. During the winter, these animals hibernate underground. 

Dormir comme une marmotte means to sleep well. To that end, j'ai dormi comme une marmotte means 'I have slept well'. 

There are several variations of this expression, all of which have the same meaning:

Dormir comme un loir - To sleep like a dormouse 

Dormir comme une souche - To sleep like a tree stump 

Dormir comme une bûche - To sleep like a log 

Dormir comme un ange - To sleep like an angel 

Dormir comme un bébé - To sleep like a baby 

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Dormir à poings fermés

This phrase literally translates as 'to sleep with closed fists' - but really is just another expression to say that you have slept well. 

On lui avait conseillé de dormir à poings fermés avant le match - We advised him to sleep well before the match 

J'ai dormi à poings fermés - I slept well 

Un sommeil de plomb

Another expression to convey having a good sleep is dormir d'un sommeil de plomb, which literally translates as: 'a sleep of lead'. As a heavy metal, the word 'lead' is used to suggest that someone has slept heavily. 

Elle s’endormit d’un sommeil de plomb jusqu’au lendemain matin - She slept heavily until the next morning

T'as un sommeil de plomb - You are a heavy sleeper 

Ma mère a toujours eu un sommeil de plomb - My mother has always been a heavy sleeper 

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Tomber dans les bras de Morphée 

In ancient Greek mythology, Morpheus is a god of sleep and dreams. 

Tomber dans les bras de Morphée literally translates as 'to fall into Morpheus' arms'.

But it is used more accurately simply to mean 'to fall asleep'. Despite its classical origins, this phrase remains widely used in France today - particularly in the print media. 

Je suis tombé dans les bras de Morphée - I fell asleep

Dormir sur ses deux oreilles

This phrase literally translates 'to sleep on one's two ears' but once again is really used to mean 'to sleep well'. 

Avez-vous dormi sur vos deux oreilles? - Did you sleep well?

Ne dormir que d’un œil

Even for the French, it is difficult to get a great night of sleep every single night.

Ne dormir que d'un œil is a phrase used to convey getting a bad night of sleep and literally translates as 'to only sleep with one eye'.

The next day you might be fatigué (tired), crevé (wiped out), épuisé (exhausted) or sur les rotules (on your knees). 

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Nuit blanche 

Nuit blanche ('white night') is the term used in French to describe an all-nighter. 

It is a versatile phrase that can be used when you have spent all night in the club or when you haven't slept a wink because your baby has kept you awake. 

Après une nuit blanche avec le bébé, il était en retard au travail ce matin - After a sleepless night with the baby, he was late for work this morning.

Il y a une grande variété de musique réservée pour la nuit blanche - There's a great variety of music booked for the all-nighter.

Se coucher avec les poules

This phrase literally translates as 'to sleep with the chickens' but actually is used to describe going to bed early. This is because most chickens go to sleep as soon as the sun goes down. 

Elle a l'habitude de se coucher avec les poules - She is used to going to bed early

Aller au pieu/Pieuter 

A list of top sleep expressions wouldn't be complete without a bit of slang thrown in. 

If French, pieu is slang for bed. So instead of saying aller au lit ('to go to bed'), you can say aller au pieu

You can even take this one step further, using the verb pieuter

Je pieute chez ma copine - I am sleeping at my girlfriend's house 

Je vais me pieuter - I am going to sleep 

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