How long is a snooze? My boyfriend will invariable take an afternoon snooze which might last anything up to two hours. A nap on the other hand, can be short, quick or even long, and sometimes they are called power naps.

Is 40 winks shorter than a snooze but longer than a kip? Am I right in thinking that kip is considered old-fashioned although etymologically speaking it is probably one of the most recent. And what about the term siesta? OD states 2

Siesta: an afternoon rest or nap, esp. one taken during the hottest hours of the day in a hot climate.

But I'm sure one can take a siesta in the middle of winter.


  • Which of the above terms has the oldest, (and consequently the longest) history?
  • Has anyone ever specified the length or duration of any of these terms? For example, when does a nap stop being a nap?
  • And when did power nap first appear?
  • but if you are caught napping, that's not good. Kip, I associate with soldiers. Siesta is probably the oldest from its Latin origin.
    – KCH
    Commented Apr 17, 2014 at 15:17
  • 4
    My husband takes power naps (5-15 min), I take hour naps. ') Commented Apr 17, 2014 at 15:42
  • 5
    Measured in exact minutes: a snooze is a couple, a nap is a handful, a kip is several and a siesta is a few. For measuring winks, please us the SI approved conversion of 1 wink equals 27.4813 (repeating, of course) moments. In all seriousness, I think those terms are pretty interchangeable.
    – Patrick M
    Commented Apr 17, 2014 at 18:17
  • @PatrickM Ah! That's good to know, someone actually has measured a wink, a nap etc.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 17, 2014 at 18:23
  • 1
    I'm pretty sure that a catnap is shorter and lighter than any other kind of recognized nap. Other types of "light slumber" not accounted for here are the noun forms of drowse and doze. By the way a couple of 19th-century references assert that snooze was originally associated with sleeping while still (or slightly) drunk—which would have made snoozing a rather sound form of sleep.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented May 28, 2014 at 18:33

7 Answers 7


Nap and 40 Winks, at least, are interchangeable synonyms, both meaning a short period of sleep, with a special emphasis on those periods occurring during the day, or at least at a time other than when one is supposed to be sleeping (or turning in for the night, for the cultural meaning of 'the daily period of sleep at the end of the day').

So one could conceivably nap the entire afternoon away for a period of 4 hours, but at the same time one could turn in for the night at 2 am and get up and 6, and we wouldn't call it a Nap.

Definitions for both from the Merriam-Webster:

Nap: to sleep briefly especially during the day

Forty Winks: a short sleep; nap.

A Power nap is an expression coined by Cornell University social psychologist James Maas. It refers specifically to a short sleep of 20 (or sometimes 30) minutes or less which ends before the occurrence of deep or 'slow-wave' sleep.

Snooze is fairly interchangeable with the above words, but it introduces an element of lightness to the rest.

Snooze: to sleep lightly especially for a short period of time.

Kip seems to be a chiefly British word that's a lot more versatile. It may be the 'Britishness' of it that makes it feel 'old-fashioned' to non-British speakers, perhaps. And while it can be used to mean a nap, it can also refer to nightly turn in.

Kip: bed; eg. Get ready for the kip. OR

sleep, nap; eg. 1. Can I kip here tonight? and 2. After a rigorous walk, I needed to kip down a bit on the daybed.

As can be seen from the examples, kip is more interchangeable with sleep than nap. One can have a short kip or kip down for the night.

Siesta is a lot more specialized, though. One could siesta in winter, but you couldn't at 10 am in the morning or 5 pm in the evening. It specifically refers to a period of sleep in the afternoon, almost always post-lunch.

The special reference to certain countries and climates comes because in many of those countries, those post-lunch hours are (/were pre-air conditioning) too hot to do anything. So siestas are a culturally significant period of time, during which shops might be closed and schools might get out early during 'siesta time' in the summers.

Siesta: a regular period of sleep or rest in the afternoon in some hot countries; an afternoon nap or rest

Dates regarding etymology:

Nap: Possibly the oldest one here. From Old English hnappian "to doze, sleep lightly". In use from c. 1300, and in the construction "take [] nap" c. 1400.

40 Winks: Dr. Kitchiner, The Art of Invigorating and Prolonging Life (1821) Link

Power Nap: Maas, James B.; Wherry, Megan L. (1998). Miracle Sleep Cure: The Key to a Long Life of Peak Performance Link

Snooze: First used in 1789. The meaning "a short nap" is from 1793. Etymology seems to onomatopoeia referring to a snore.

Kip: Seems to have originated in around 1760s from the Danish word kippe (a hut or a mean alehouse) -> Irish slang term for a brothel (Earliest example in Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield (1761)) -> British slang for common lodging-house for tramps and the homeless (c. late 19th century) -> to the act of sleeping itself. The the modern informal or colloquial usage seems to have started in the twentieth century itself. Link

Siesta: The second oldest English word from 1650s, borrowed from the Spanish word siesta, from Latin sexta (hora) "sixth (hour); But its etymology might be the earliest thanks to the Latin root.

  • It's a pity you posted so late in the day, (you might have gained more recognition) but nevertheless thank you for providing a complete answer, and an excellent analysis of the differences in meanings between the various terms.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 11:36

Regarding how long a nap must last not to be a sleep, science tries to give us an idea:

How to Take the Perfect Nap:

  1. Watch the time. The most beneficial naps during the day according to sleep experts are relatively short. This is because short naps only allow individuals to enter the first two stages of sleep. Once you enter slow wave sleep, it's much harder to wake up and you may be left feeling groggy for hours afterwards. Ideally, keep your naps under 20 minutes. Naps of this duration are short enough to fit into a workday but still give the benefits of improved mood, concentration, alertness, and motor skills. If you've got more time, a nap of 45 minutes can also have benefits, including boosts in sensory processing and creative thinking. If you go longer, aim for at least 90 minutes so you'll work your way through all the stages of sleep and won't wake up disoriented.

Snooze(v.) 1789, cant word, of unknown origin, perhaps echoic of a snore. Related: Snoozed; snoozing. The noun meaning "a short nap" is from 1793.

Nap: "short spell of sleep," c.1300, from nap (v.). With take (v.) from c.1400.

Siesta (n.) "mid-day nap," 1650s, from Spanish siesta, from Latin sexta (hora) "sixth (hour)," the noon of the Roman day (coming six hours after sunrise), from sexta, fem. of sextus "sixth" (see Sextus).

Source: Etymonline.com

It appears that NAP has the longest history.


I guess most of them are interchangeable, but siesta means a very long nap. Here in Argentina, at least, it's not the same for people to relax for some minutes than to go to (really) sleep for 2/3 hours - that's what siestas are all about :)

  • The same applies in Spain and Venezuela. Unfortunately, this is not nearly as common a practice in English-speaking countries as it is in Spanish-speaking countries, and so this definition isn't really as portable as one might hope.
    – Pockets
    Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 5:14

Kip and nap are the same. Kip is more like the informal version of nap in BrE. Snooze also means nap and is the informal version of nap in both AmE and BrE. When it comes to their history, snooze, according to the ODE, emerged in the late 18 century and is of unknown origin; nap comes from Old English hnappian, which might have originated from German. The ODE doesn't list the date of this one. For kip the ODE has the following:

ORIGIN mid 18th cent. (in the sense ‘brothel’): perhaps related to Danish kippe ‘hovel, tavern’.

I think that going to an inn or tavern for rest might be the reason why it was used for nap in the first place.

For siesta the ODE has the following:

ORIGIN mid 17th cent.: Spanish, from Latin sexta (hora)‘sixth hour’.

Now, when it comes to whether one can use siesta in winter, I think it depends on the temperature of the day. If the day were hot, I'd say you could. If you think that's rarely a possibility, come to CA.

  • According to your post, it appears that siesta is the oldest term, is that correct?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 17, 2014 at 23:10
  • @Mari-LouA: No, nap seems to be the oldest one because it comes from Old English and German. My source doesn't list the exact date for it, but if you read on Old English and German, they existed way before the 17 century.
    – Noah
    Commented Apr 18, 2014 at 1:07
  • Kippe is an exceedingly uncommon word in Danish, to the point where I doubt any normal native speaker has ever heard it. Its base meaning seems to be a hovel or hut, later extended to mean a dirty, rough ale-house—a real dive. ‘Brothel’ seems to be the most recent meaning, at least in Danish. It's not quite clear to me whether the Danish word is just related to the English one, or whether it is actually a borrowing in English. Commented Apr 18, 2014 at 11:14
  • 2
    (Interestingly, there's another Danish word kippe that means ‘a bunch of 40 of something’, which circularly brings to mind 40 winks mentioned in this question.) Commented Apr 18, 2014 at 11:16
  • Siesta carries some ethnic connotations, predominantly Spanish. There are countries where siesta hours are protected by law, eg. in Greece the period from 3pm to 5pm is called [the] hours of common quietness. Telephoning someone during these hours is considered extremely rude even if the person is awake (and they'll be rude to you in return), and you can actually call the police if a neighbour is making too much of a racket. Wikipedia suggests napping during this time in non-siesta cultures is called power-napping.
    – rath
    Commented May 18, 2014 at 8:56

Haven't done the research for all the words. However, according to the OED an early instantiation of nap is:

  • Nap: Sampson wakind of his nap, Of bandis he lete him-seluen scap.

This is from Cursor Mundi, a Northumbrian poem of the 14th century (a1400–1450) (thought to have originated 1325). More information can be found on the OED site OED online. I think though, at the moment, that nap probably has the oldest history of the current contenders.

Nap also appears in Chaucer and so definitely predates seventeenth century words:

  • Chaucer Romaunt Rose 4005: He slombred, and a nappe he tok.

You can take a peek here Google books

Hope this is helpful for the current endeavors!

  • If you could provide at least one link, I'll upvote your answer!
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented May 29, 2014 at 2:53
  • Have added a link, but unfortunately you need either personal or institutional access (can be done through many local libraries). Commented May 29, 2014 at 19:34
  • Obviously the Google books link is not restricted. Is a link to a concordance of Chaucers works. Commented May 29, 2014 at 20:23

My 3 cents:

Nap: I define this as sleeping outside night hours with the intent of getting up again.

Siesta: Rest period in the afternoon.

40 Winks. == brb.

Either of them can be any length in theory.

But if you go to nap and sleep until the next morning it is no longer a nap.

Siesta - same thing. Usually 2h iirc.

40 Winks. I don't know this one. But this sounds like the shortest to me. Like 10 minutes.


NB: I've decided to take on the challenge myself. I'll be updating this post as I find relevant pieces of information, and tidbits of trivia. It may seem I won't be answering my question—but patience! This is work in progress.


The expression is first noted in 1789 but it is not until 1840 that it took its present meaning, to sleep lightly , to have a nap.
Eric Partridge in his The Routledge Dictionary of Historical Slang suggests that snooze is a blended word derived from sleep, nap and doze

Snooze gently in thy arm-chair, thou easy bald-head.

Forty Winks

There are several theories on the web as to the meaning and duration of forty winks sleep. Some suggest that each wink represents a minute of slumber, and forty minutes is considered to be the ideal quantity of sleep a person should take during the day in order to wake up refreshed and full of vigour. Others claim that the number forty is considered magical or almost sacred and cite that for forty days and forty nights Moses was on Mount Sinai; Elijah was fed by ravens for forty days; Noah and his animals endured flooding rains for forty days; and finally, Jesus fasted forty days and nights in the wilderness to be then tempted by Satan. Matthew 4:2

Looking at the etymology of wink we see that it predates 900 and is derived from Middle English winken, which in turn derived from Old English wincian. The meaning of a very brief moment of time is attested from 1585.

Alternative idiomatic sayings such as could not sleep a wink provide the mental picture of a wink being the shortest type of sleep available and "forty winks" therefore gives an indication of an appropriate short sleep. Wikipedia


@Calliumpthian posted a piece (three years ago) suggesting that the expression forty winks was coined by William Kitchiner M.D. (1775–1827) an optician, musician, inventor, and expert cook, in his book The Art of Invigorating and Prolonging Life dated 1821. The British doctor recommended two sleeping positions after dinner. The first, the "Semi-Siesta", while the second he called the “Horizontal Refreshment”* The asterix led to a footnote which gave readers the following clarification

A Forty Winks Nap”, in an Horizontal posture, is the most reviving preparative for any great exertion of either the Mind or the Body;

Dr. William Kitchiner considered “a Forty Winks Nap” the equivalent to half an hour.

There was also the expression nine winks in the 19th century, which is longer than a wink but significantly shorter than forty. Perhaps it was to this idiom Kitchiner was referring to when he placed his neologism “A Forty Winks Nap” in quotes.

snippet that says "nine winks" is comparable to "forty winks"


In the Chinese-English Dictionary of the vernacular or spoken language of Amoy By Carstairs Douglas, printed in 1873, London; the language Amoy or otherwise known as Xiamenese or Xiamen dialect might give us some clues indicating kip was loaned to the British English language to mean a short sleep or nap. It says

Kip [R. hasty; urgent; in extremity].
tioh-kip, in very great haste; not willing to wait a moment, as in some very urgent matter.
kip-kip, very swift, like the demon of thunder [...] said also figuratively of anything to be done in great haste.
kip-sio, a small thin flat-bottomed earthen kettle for warming things quickly.

Wikipedia suggests that kip is derived from kipper a smoked herring fish.

The English philologist and ethnographer Walter William Skeat derives the word from the Old English kippian, to spawn. The origin of the word has various parallels, such as Icelandic kippa which means "to pull, snatch" and the German word kippen which means "to tilt, to incline". Similarly, the English kipe denotes a basket used to catch fish. Another theory traces the word kipper to the kip, or small beak, that male salmon develop during the breeding season.

Apparently, salmon can spend up to five years in the open ocean before becoming sexually mature and return to their natal stream, where the female will lay up to five thousand eggs in a redd. A redd is a shallow depression made in (this case) a riverbed.

Which leads me to conclude that a kip, in light of its possible origins, is the longest short sleep.

  • I suspect that the last three of the five entries you reproduce from A Dictionary for Primary Schools by Noah Webster all refer to textiles, even though nap itself in that sense is not glossed. Commented May 28, 2014 at 23:57
  • @BrianDonovan that makes a lot more sense. I should have realized, but I was tickled by "napiness" which I linked to "sleepiness". And nappy, sounded colloquial, as in He's just having a nappy, he'll be awake soon :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented May 29, 2014 at 3:22
  • In Britain, kip is used synonymously with sleep, with no connotation as to length. Example usage: 1. If I was up late I might leave saying "I'd better get some kip", meaning go to bed for the night. 2. If I said "I'm going to have a kip now", you could infer from context (daytime, article) that I meant a nap, just as you would with "I'm going to have a sleep now". 3. If I were to use the word kip in reference to a nap, I'd also use a size modifier, as in "I'm gonna get a little kip."
    – AndrewC
    Commented Jun 2, 2014 at 16:08
  • With regard to the 40 in "forty winks" Farmer & Henley, Slang and Its Analogues, offers this note: "Forty is often used to signify an indefinite number; cf., Shakespeare's usage, 'I could beat forty of them' (Coriolanus, iii, 1); 'O that the slave had forty thousand lives' (Othello, iii, 1); 'forty thousand brothers' (Hamlet, v, 1); 'The Humour of Forty Fancies' (Taming of the Shrew); and Jonson 'Some forty boxes (Silent Women)." By this reasoning, the idiomatic "forty winks" are 40 not because the number is mystical but because it is indeterminately large.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Jun 3, 2014 at 1:55
  • By the way, the first instance of "forty winks" that Farmer & Henley identifies is in George Eliot's novel, Felix Holt, the Radical (1866): "She was prevented by the appearance of old Mr. Transome, who since his walk had been having 'forty winks' on the sofa in the library."
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Jun 3, 2014 at 2:00

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