What Does the Expression “Forty Winks” Mean and Where Did the Phrase Come From?

In 1571 the Church of England introduced thirty-nine articles which clergymen of the church were required to accept before their ordination.

An 1872 publication of the British humor magazine Punch suggested that reading these catechisms was tedious and that their meaning could be missed:

“If a man, after reading through the thirty-nine articles were to take forty winks.”

From this point on, “forty winks” has meant a brief nap.