Where does the phrase sleep tight, make sure the bugs don’t bite come from? Is it part of a longer poem?

A Google web search didn't reveal anything useful. I'm not a native speaker of English, I don't know the English nursery rhymes.

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    I think when searching, you should use the English or American Google search engine. I found this site on the first page just by copying the phrase phrases.org.uk/meanings/sleep-tight.html
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 15, 2019 at 21:55
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    For what it's worth, I've always known it as "... don't let the bedbugs bite", not "...make sure the bugs don't bite."
    – Hellion
    Commented Jul 15, 2019 at 21:59
  • The way I heard it, "sleep tight" refers to keeping a sheet pulled tightly around you, to prevent the ever-present bedbugs from reaching you as you sleep. This practice is still followed in the US, in environments where bedbugs have established residence.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jul 15, 2019 at 23:03
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    Mythbuster Friday: “Sleep Tight, Don’t Let the Bedbugs Bite” - chaddsfordhistorical.wordpress.com/2015/07/04/…
    – user 66974
    Commented Jul 16, 2019 at 4:00
  • The version I learned from my mother in the 1940s was "good night, sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite; if they do, hit them with a shoe, hurrah for the red, white, and blue."
    – bof
    Commented Jul 16, 2019 at 9:13

2 Answers 2


It begins with the rhyme that good parents (from at least the 50's) tell their children as they tuck them into bed and immobility.; Good night, Sleep tight, Don't let the bedbugs bite.

Like any good rhymes the origin is in dispute.

This source is so good I've included a bit below. it is here: https://www.bedbugguide.com/dont-let-bed-bugs-bite-origin-rhyme/

Some historians refute these theories [above] and point to the Oxford English Dictionary, which claims ‘sleep tight’ simply means to ‘sleep soundly’.

Etymologist [bug scientist] Barry Popik claims the rhyme actually originated in the USA in the 1860s, and in some versions the biting referred to mosquitoes. One version from the 1860s is ‘Good night, sleep tight, wake up bright in the morning light, to do what’s right, with all your might.’

In a novel called ‘Boscobel’ written in 1881 by Emma Mersereau Newton, a boy says to his parents, ‘Good night, sleep tight; And don’t let the buggers bite.’ And in the 1884 book ‘Boating Trips’ by Henry Parker Fellows, a little girl says ‘Good-night. May you sleep tight, where the bugs don’t bite!’.

The precise phrase ‘Good-night, Sleep tight, Don’t let the bedbugs bite’ first appears in the 1896 book ‘What They Say in New England: A Book of Signs, Sayings, and Superstitions’, and it later appeared in a 1923 text by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

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    Note that the bedbug is a "thing".
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jul 15, 2019 at 23:14
  • The rope-mattress origin of the phrase sleep tight definitely seems far-fetched. Tight has several closely related senses from where ‘deep, sound’ could very easily have evolved, and there’s no reason to assume elaborate stories. It’s especially suspicious when they try to bring in the full rhyme, because the part about the bed bugs is clearly much younger than the phrase itself – much more recent than the use of any putative rope-mattresses. Commented Jul 15, 2019 at 23:54
  • As a thing the bedbug makes a reliable noun. Not sure about the comment though. There must be a science or study of origins of words or ideas that can explain and map out how a single idea can branch out in reverse time to create more than one verifiable original source. Human's pattern matching and solution finding never stops.
    – Elliot
    Commented Jul 16, 2019 at 3:06
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    A 'bug scientist' is an entomologist - an etymologist studies the derivations of words! Commented Jul 16, 2019 at 8:12
  • If tied in this phrase was a reduction of tired, considering the various senses of tire then German die Bettdecke zu-ziehen might be informative (viz ziehen ~ zerren), i.e.."pull up your blanket", which figures in with the curiously English (American?) idiom of tucked in (cp. to tug?). Maybe tire points to anglo-french origins. Earliest written records of nursery rymes are hardly sufficient evidence. tight - sound - fast, Ger fest schlafen is of course a much simpler explanation.
    – vectory
    Commented Jul 21, 2019 at 19:44

The exact etymology of the entire phrase you question is unclear. The following citations thought provide much food for thought:

Huffington Post 2018 'Here’s Why People Say ‘Don’t Let The Bedbugs Bite’

There are multiple origin theories around the rhyme, specifically the “sleep tight” portion and its relation to “don’t let the bedbugs bite.” One popular theory suggests that it relates to the way beds were made during the 16th and 17th centuries. Before the introduction of spring mattresses in the 19th century, mattresses were often filled with straw and feathers and sat on a latticework of ropes.

Read more at the link.

And here mention by a user in comments:

The Phrase Finder

'Sleep tight' didn't derive from either bedcoverings or ancient furniture and, in fact, isn't a very old expression at all. The first citation of it that I can find is from 1866. In her diary Through Some Eventful Years, Susan Bradford Eppes included: "All is ready and we leave as soon as breakfast is over. Goodbye little Diary. ‘Sleep tight and wake bright,’ for I will need you when I return."

Again read more at the link. I could not find one etymology for the entire phrase, but did find multiple etiologies collectively to give a 'consensus: the entire phrase was mid 20th century:

Also, '...bedbugs bite' is an extended version of the original 'sleep tight' bedtime message, which didn't start to be used until the mid-20th century - well after 'sleep tight' was first used.

This is from the Phrase Finder link.

  • 1
    I did hear it once claimed that "sleep tight" refers to old beds where the mattress was suspended on criss-crossing ropes, and keeping the ropes reasonably tight was key to a good sleeping experience. (This was on a TV show about some couples living like it was 1900 in the rural US, but I can't recall the name.)
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jul 15, 2019 at 23:12
  • @HotLicks yes, that is in the links i posted. Nothing definitive though.
    – lbf
    Commented Jul 16, 2019 at 0:02

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