I looked up OED,it says that "turn in" could mean "go to sleep",I just want to know how does that come?

  • 4
    Does it actually mean 'go to sleep' or does it really mean 'retire for the night', that is to say, retire to one's room.
    – Nigel J
    Feb 21, 2021 at 1:48
  • The origin appears to be nautical. phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/58/messages/1383.html
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 21, 2021 at 2:33
  • @HotLicks Having followed your link I find the idea that "turn in" is the opposite of, and possibly a back-formation from, "turn out" as in "turn out the guard" to be quite persuasive.
    – BoldBen
    Feb 21, 2021 at 4:25
  • When you turn in for the night, you go, or "turn", in to your bed. In the morning, you get, or "turn", out of it. (You can also "turn out" the guard in a military emergency - this is a similar usage.) Feb 21, 2021 at 14:05
  • You might compare German kehren, specifically einkehren. I can't write an answer on that alone, but maybe you find something if you do a search. The dates fromdictionaries, which would post date a possible relation by far, are, as per ussual, entirely unreliable to rule out a perfectly fine analogy.
    – vectory
    Mar 2, 2021 at 17:29

1 Answer 1


Usage of “turn in” as an idiomatic expression meaning “go to bed” dates back to the 17th century and its origin appears to be from nautical jargon:

Turn in:

  1. to go to bed.

1695 [UK] Congreve Love for Love III i: I mean to toss a can, and remember my sweetheart afore I turn in.

1751 [UK] Smollett Peregrine Pickle (1964) 584: You sister Mrs. Clover keeps close watch upon her kinsman, without ever turning in.

1767 [US] ‘Andrew Barton’ Disappointment II i: Let’s step into the state-room and turn in.

(Green’s Dictionary of Slang)

Unluckily GDoS doesn’t explain how turn in come to mean “go to bed”, but one suggestion comes from The Phrase Finder

I believe the space on old-times boats was quite limited and the sailors' beds (most probably of hamac-type in two tiers) had a very restrictive clearance to accommodate a person (which is the case even nowadays on small boats). Therefore the person to go to bed had to literally "turn in".

and also Etymonline suggests a possible nautical origin

Turn in:

American English. Turn in "go to bed" is attested from 1690s, originally nautical.

and according to A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English turn in:

1695 (Congreve) colloquial nautical till mid 19th century, then a general usage.

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    The historical list based on when helps us understand how. I add that one sleeping space was often occupied by sailors in sequence (what is now termed hot-bunking). So when one got up, the next took his turn in the bunk or hammock.
    – Anton
    Feb 21, 2021 at 8:28
  • I think there might also be a connection to Webster: turn 4 c : a period or tour of duty : SHIFT (merriam-webster.com/dictionary/turn). So turn in might mean to leave the shift
    – Stefan
    Feb 21, 2021 at 18:49

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