Words in the News


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter

The results of a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association have been generating headlines such as ‘Too much sleep can actually be very bad for you’, ‘Getting too much sleep could be deadly’ and bluntly ‘Too much sleep could kill you’. The study, a review of dozens of other studies involving three million people, was carried out by researchers from several UK universities. It found that those who reported sleeping for more than ten hours a night had a 30% greater chance of dying prematurely than those who slept the recommended seven to eight hours.

Coming as it does in the wake of numerous stories about the negative health impacts of too little sleep, these results could potentially cause those sleeping too long to lie awake worrying, thus nullifying the effects it reports, although since worrying is also bad for your health  the overall benefit might be small. The authors of the study also pointed out that since the sleep duration was self-reported and people are notoriously unreliable reporters of their own behaviour, the results should be taken with a pinch of salt (they didn’t say that of course, and since too much salt is also bad for your health you shouldn’t be taking a pinch of it anyway.)

Sleep is both a noun and a verb and  has numerous meanings in addition to the core ones of ‘go into a natural state in which you are unconscious and your body rests’ and ‘the time when you do this’. We say that accommodation sleeps a certain number of people to mean that it has enough rooms or beds for that number of people, and the verb is also used figuratively when we say that a place is sleeping, or that it never sleeps. Sleep forms numerous phrasal verbs, and both the verb and the noun feature in many idiomatic phrases, including not lose sleep over something, can do something in your sleep, not sleep a wink and sleep like a log (or a baby).

The modern word sleep comes from the Old English ‘slæp’ (noun),slæpan’ (verb) and is related to Dutch ‘slapen’ and German ‘schlafen’. Sleep tight!

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Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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