Many children go to bed every night with their parents telling them, “goodnight, sleep tight, and don’t let the bedbugs bite”; but what does this saying mean and where did it come from? The idea of bed bugs biting you while you sleep would be enough to make the most desensitized child stay awake with worry, but it must have been whispered by concerned parents for a good reason.
In the 21st century, “sleeping tight”, means to sleep soundly or securely; an idea that first made an appearance in Susan Bradfords 1866 diary, Through Some Eventful Years that says “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.”
While some believe “sleep tight” refers to beds being supported by tightened ropes before the use of the box spring, others believe that sleeping tight has nothing to do with the tightness of the bed, but how secure the bed’s occupants were. The latter would seem more likely as no one wishes for the bed itself to have a restful sleep. Both ideas are accepted as fact by different groups. Some literature even suggested that hapless hosts loosen the bed ropes a little each night, thereby causing the mattress to sink, resulting in making the guests more uncomfortable with each passing night – as a way to make them leave sooner.
The idea of bed bugs biting was added later. People believed if your clothing was tight, bed bugs would not be able to bother you. This idea seems unlikely, as bugs will bother you regardless of what you wear to bed. A more likely explanation is that mattresses stuffed with moss would house bed bugs that would bite you. The exact origins of the entire phrase, “goodnight, sleep tight, and don’t let the bedbugs bite” continues to remain unknown for now, but like many sayings, probably evolved over time, but we are still left with a clever little bedtime rhyme that probably leaves children perplexed and a little nervous before going to sleep.