“What time did you sleep last night?”

Ben Zotto
2 min readFeb 7, 2021

Help me solve a linguistic mystery. Does that question sound right to you?

Photo: Cat Branchman/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

I grew up in New England, and when I go to sleep at 10pm, that’s how I say it: “I went to sleep at 10 last night.” Sleep, as a verb, only describes the action over a time span, as in, “I slept for a full 8 hours.”

But in the years that I’ve lived on the west coast of the US, I’ve heard many people say things like “I slept at 10 last night,” meaning that that was the time they went to sleep. Similarly, they might say “I slept late,” meaning, they didn’t go to bed until later than usual. Or ask, “what time do you sleep?” meaning of course, when do you typically go to bed.

This has always sounded ungrammatical to my ear. But it’s not one person, or two, and I’m not talking about foreign language speakers whose English is less than fluent. If you’re reading this and thinking: this sounds crazy! It did to me too. But I assure you, it’s real.

I have searched for information about this phenomenon, and asked the internet, to no conclusive avail. It’s not part of the famous NYT dialect map quiz.

The best theories are that some communities have seen the influence of certain (?) foreign language grammars influence this verb and create a sort of dialect with it. But it’s not obvious where and for whom this is the case.

So I’m trying to figure it out. Please help me! I have made up a small survey that I’d love you to take — it’s real quick and easy. All responses welcome but especially if you use the form “I slept at 10 last night” and it sounds normal to you. I want your help to map this bit of dialect! I’ll follow up with another article detailing any conclusions.