How to Use Hit the Hay and Hit the Sack – Comparing Sleep Idioms

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

Hit the hay and hit the sack are idioms that both mean to go to bed or to go to sleep. They are informal expressions commonly used to convey the idea of going to sleep or getting some rest. 

Idioms, like as hit the hay and hit the sack, are figurative uses of words that are defined differently than their literal uses. They are used to create analogies and are popular in informal speech patterns. Learning them can help you master the nuances of the English language. 

This article explores the meaning behind these expressions, their origin, synonyms, and various ways to use them, and even offers a quick quiz to test your knowledge. Keep reading to learn how to use them in your materials. 

How to Use Hit the Hay and Hit the Sack – Comparing Sleep Idioms

What Does the Idiom Hit the Hay & Hit the Sack Mean?

The idiom hit the hay or hit the sack means to get some much-needed rest or sleep after a period of activity or work.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, hit the hay/sack means “to go to bed in order to sleep.” Collins Dictionary names hit the sack as a US slang word to mean “go to bed,” while states hit the hay means to “prepare for sleep.”

Regardless of which definition you choose, you can use either expression to declare you are heading to bed. 

The literal usage of both terms is related to the old custom of filling a mattress with hay to cushion your body. Each evening before bed, you would “fluff” the mattress by hitting it to plump it back up. More information concerning this origin is found below.

How Is Hit the Hay Commonly Used in Context?

Hit the hay is an informal expression, and its usage is more common in conversational settings or informal writing. Use it casually in conversation to have the most impact with its use. Also, remember that context may be necessary for non-English speakers to fully understand its inclusion in speech or writing. 

What Are the Different Ways to Use Hit the Hay?

  • Literal sleep reference: “I’m exhausted; I think it’s time to hit the hay.”
  • Casual sleep plans: “We have an early morning tomorrow; let’s hit the hay soon.”
  • Encouraging rest: “You look tired; maybe it’s a good idea to hit the sack.”
  • Expression of fatigue: “After that workout, I can’t wait to hit the hay.”
  • Joking or lighthearted use: “I’ve had enough excitement for one day; time to hit the hay.”
  • Reflecting a need for rest: “I’ve been working non-stop; I need to hit the hay and recharge.”

Where Can You Find Examples of Hit the Hay?

Although informal and casual, hit the hay is a popular idiom and is regularly used to express getting oneself to bed. You’ll find it used in everyday conversation, as well as many of the following venues:

  • Literature
  • Movies and TV shows
  • Songs
  • Conversations and personal anecdotes
  • Online resources

Here are some uses within online journal publications:

  • The next morning was to be an early start, so we hit the hay early and set our alarms. (Vogue Magazine)
  • At 12:01 AM, we ascertained that all was well with the power grid, hit the hay, and the next week all the beets were donated to a food pantry. (The Cape Gazette)

What Are Some Tips for Using Hit the Hay Effectively?

Here are some tips for using the idiom hit the hay or hit the sack in your writing or conversation:

  • Know the meaning: The idiom is an informal way of describing the act of sleeping.
  • Use descriptive language: When using the idiom, you can enhance its effectiveness by combining it with descriptive language that conveys the need for rest, exhaustion, or the end of a long day. 
  • Be mindful of the audience: Hit the hay/sack may be more appropriate among friends or family, but it might not be well understood by individuals unfamiliar with the idiom.
  • Use alternatives sparingly: Be mindful of using alternatives sparingly to maintain the idiomatic relationship and clarity of the expression.
  • Use it in conversational phrases: Incorporate it into conversational phrases or sentences to make it flow naturally. 

What Is the Origin of the Idiom Hit the Hay?

Hit the Hay vs. Hit the Sack Ngram
Hit the hay and hit the sack usage trend.

The idiom hit the hay originates from the practice of sleeping on hay-stuffed mattresses, which was prevalent in the 19th century. While early instances in literature were non-idiomatic, its figurative use emerged in the early 20th century, with boxer Samuel Berger credited for its first recorded use.

Widely adopted in military circles by World War I, its quick integration into common language, possibly influenced by Berger’s popularity, indicates its early circulation. 

By the mid-1910s and early 1920s, it became a familiar expression, suggesting swift acceptance or earlier use within working-class communities. The idiom captures the connection to working-class bedding practices and reflects the enduring nature of expressions rooted in daily life.

How Did the Idiom Evolve Over Time?

The idiom continues to be used in its original form since it was first seen in publication. The inference to go to sleep or go to bed has stayed the same for well over 100 years and can be seen in various modern conversations and casual publications. 

What Are Some Related Terms to Hit the Hay?

To fully understand its idiomatic use, you want to pay close attention to context and fully understand the meaning of the expression. Knowing the related terms can help you better know how to properly define the idiom.

How to Use Hit the Hay and Hit the Sack – Comparing Sleep Idioms 1


  • Hit the sack
  • Go to bed
  • Turn in
  • Retire for the night
  • Catch some Z’s
  • Go to sleep
  • Get some shut-eye
  • Call it a night
  • Tuck in


  • Rise and shine
  • Wake up
  • Get up
  • Start the day
  • Begin the morning
  • Get going
  • Spring out of bed
  • Wake with the sun
  • Greet the day
  • Start the morning routine

Hit the Hay and Hit the Sack: Test Your Knowledge!

Choose the correct answer.

Let’s Review

Hit the hay and hit the sack both mean to head to bed or go to sleep. Even though the origins are not incredibly specific, the relationship between sleep and hay is very literal, as most mattresses were sewn from sacking material and stuffed with hay to provide cushioning. 

To hit the hay literally means to fluff up your bed, which makes the figurative use of the expression make much more sense. 

Whether you use hit the hay or hit the sack, you are expressing the same thing. We may not use sacks for mattresses or hay for padding, but the intent is still the same. When you hear the expression, it means it’s time to go to sleep.