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I once asked some English people the following question: "At what time do you go to sleep?"

They gave me a blank stare.

You see, I tried to avoid the standard expression "At what time do you go to bed?" because it is ambiguous. I may get into my bed but may not fall asleep right away. I may be reading or emailing on my iPad or watch TV.

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Must have been your accent. It sounds perfectly ok to me - perhaps adding "at night" but that would not work if they are shift workers –  mplungjan Aug 9 '13 at 7:26
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The question isn't entirely idiomatic (it's more usual to use "When" instead of "At what time") but the reaction is probably due to being asked about what goes on in the bedroom -- however innocuous the question. It just isn't done! –  Andrew Leach Aug 9 '13 at 7:36
    
    
Naturally, you got blank stares. There'd be no answer because no one really knows what time one "falls asleep." You will need an EEG to record brain activity while you are preparing to go to sleep. –  Kris Aug 12 '13 at 8:00

1 Answer 1

Well, it's not incorrect, and it's perfectly comprehensible, but to my ear it's not the most idiomatic way to ask the question. As a native speaker, I'd phrase it as "When do you go to sleep?" or simply "What time do you go to sleep?" (the preposition makes the sentence clunkier, and you don't need it).

Based on the reactions of the people you were speaking to, I'm guessing they either misheard you (perhaps due to your accent?) or were taken aback because the question felt intrusive and/or like a non-sequitur.

It depends on what you were talking about before you asked it, and on what your relationship with these people was. If the context didn't involve talking about sleeping, then I second the suggestion to add "at night" to the end of the sentence to clear that up. Or, if you didn't know them well, it might simply have been that they didn't feel comfortable sharing that kind of information.

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