Are both expressions correct? If yes, do they have different meanings? It seems to me that I came across both of them in books, but I'm not sure.

  • 3
    Possible duplicate of Sleep in bed or sleep on bed Jan 27 '16 at 20:16
  • 1
    Note that there's an idiomatic phrase "in bed", without an article ("time to get in bed", "he's in bed with..."); there's no similar phrase *"on bed".
    – david
    Jan 28 '16 at 9:57

They are both correct, but convey slightly different ideas.

I will sleep on a bed.

Implies that I will sleep on the piece of furniture I refer to as a bed. As opposed to sleeping on the couch or sleeping on the floor.

I will sleep in a bed

Specifically conveys the idea that I will be inside the bedclothes, typically underneath a blanket or duvet.

  • 3
    +1, but "bedclothes" is a new one to me. Had to look that up. Would normally call that "bedding", "sheets", "covers", or "blankets".
    – DCShannon
    Jan 28 '16 at 0:30
  • Ha, now you've drawn my attention to it, it is an odd sounding word - like clothes to dress the bed in! Maybe it's a north UK thing - growing up, it's what my mother and grandmothers always called them. Looked it up, it's pretty old - apparently from when 'clothes' was still the plural of 'cloth'. So I guess it makes a little more sense in that context.
    – Easy Tiger
    Jan 28 '16 at 17:47
  • 1
    In tropical countries, some places are so hot that we never use the bedding clothes to sleep in. So does it mean literally we don't sleep in bed?
    – user33284
    Apr 25 '16 at 2:48

Both expressions are correct and can have different meanings. A bed usually is made of a surface for sleeping upon and a warm cover of some kind. The phrase on the bed would be taken to imply that something is placed upon both. Take this example:

I placed my luggage on the bed.

This would mean the luggage was placed upon the top of the upper surface of the bed and bedding.

The phrase in the bed would be taken that something is placed between the warm covering (or bed cover) and above the sleeping surface. It is placed inside the bed, as illustrated by this example:

The hot water bottle was placed in the bed.

If the hot water bottle was placed on the bed it would get cold and not warm the bed properly.

Thus if we use sleep as the action being performed, you can see that we can both sleep in the bed and sleep on the bed. For example:

He was too drunk to sleep in the bed and was found sleeping on it.

There is a very famous bed in event which can also be used to illustrate the difference:

This is John and Yoko on the bed:

Wikipedia image of John and Yoko

This is John and Yoko in the bed:

Image of John and Yoko
(source: resolver.kb.nl)

  • 1
    +1 for the picture, although I think this answer makes the distinction seem more significant and more clear-cut than it actually is in practical usage.
    – DCShannon
    Jan 28 '16 at 0:32

Sleeping in the bed would actually mean to be inside the bed(covered by under the sheets") however, Sleeping on the bed logically mean laying on the bed on the surface of it, don't go deep into the holy crap of English literature.

Conclusion: *

"Sleeping in the bed", is correct one to use.


Normally, one would say IN bed when they are going to go to sleep.
But before sleeping or after waking up, you can say:

I'm sleeping (in bed)
I'm in bed reading
I'm in bed watching the TV
I'm in bed having tea and breakfast

The OP's example

(to) sleep in the bed

the article ‘the’ suggests that the listener knows which bed is mentioned; or there is only one available bed in which to sleep. The preposition in tells us the person is under the covers, sandwiched between the mattress and the bedsheets.

(to) sleep on the bed

suggests the same as the above with the exception that the person is lying on top of the bed.

  • Community Wiki post, if something should be added to the answer feel free to jump IN.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 11 '16 at 10:00

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