'Hit the Hay': Definition, Meaning, Examples

By Carly Forsaith, updated on October 3, 2023

Have you ever heard the phrase 'hit the hay?' Do you know what it means? In this article, you'll learn all about this popular idiom's meaning, where it comes from, and how to use it.

The short version of this:

  • To 'hit the hay' is to go to bed, and it has been in use since the early 20th century.

What Does 'Hit the Hay' Mean?

'Hit the hay' is an idiom, which means it isn't to be interpreted literally (although its literal sense can help us understand the phrase's origins, as we'll learn later). We aren't alluding to doing violence to piles of straw, no; to hit the hay means to go to bed.

Imagine, for instance, that you're having dinner with your parents, but it's getting late and you're tired.

You might say:

Mom, dad, I have to get up early tomorrow so I'm going to hit the hay.

Another common variant of this expression is 'hit the sack.' Both these phrases are colloquialisms, so they shouldn't be used in formal contexts.

Where Does 'Hit the Hay' Come From?

While we haven't yet pinpointed the exact origins of the phrase, we do know that it refers to the fact that hay used to be a common mattress filler, so many working-class people would literally be sleeping on a bed of hay.

The verb 'hit' might have been meant in the sense of 'go to,' or it might have referred to the practice of plumping up a bed by hitting it with a wooden stick.

Either way, by the mid-1910s, it was in common use across the country. Its earliest apparitions are as follows:

In The Oakland Tribune (1903):

Sam Berger, the Olympic heavyweight…was sleepy and he announced that ‘he was going to hit the hay.

George Ade's People You Know (1903):

After Dinner he smoked one Perfecto and then, when he had put in a frolicsome Hour or so with the North American Review, he crawled into the Hay at 9.30 P.M.

Examples in Sentences

Now that we've covered this idiom's meaning and possible origins, let's look at some example sentences.

Sometimes we don't hit the hay until late at night.

She decided to turn in early because she had an important meeting at the office in the morning.

I'm more exhausted than I've felt in days;  time to hit the hay.

Oh look: sunset. It's time to hit the hay!

I haven't slept in days, so I'm going to call it a night and hit the hay.

The kids are finally hitting the hay after a fun day at the amusement park.

Every day I hit the hay at the same time.

After reading a few chapters of her book, she decided it was time to hit the hay.

Let's hit the hay for some much needed snuggles.

After the late-night party, we all hit the hay for some much-needed sleep.

Other Ways to Say 'Hit the Hay'

There are many other ways of telling someone you're going to bed.

Here are some of them:

  • Crash
  • Doss down
  • Go to bed
  • Turn in
  • Catch some Z's
  • Get some shut-eye
  • Call it a night

Concluding Thoughts

That pretty much concludes this article on the famous saying, 'Hit the hay.' In short, it just means to go to bed. You can use it interchangeably with 'hit the sack.'

Are you ready to learn more English phrases and expand your vocabulary? Check out our idioms blog for idioms, expressions, sayings, and more!

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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