Japanese

How To Say Good Night In Japanese

When the day’s winding down and you’re ready to catch some winks, you typically say good night to your friends or family before brushing your teeth and then going to bed. So today’s lessons will teach you how to say good night in Japanese.

It’s a common phrase with both a polite form and a casual way to say it, but above all keep in mind that it’s not something you typically say to people who are above you in social standing, such as your boss for example.

The Japanese Word for Good Night

Here is the more formal form of the phrase now, written in both Japanese and roman letters:

おやすみなさい!
o yasumi nasai!

There are two aspects of this phrase that you’ll want to know if you’re a native speaker of English. The first is that this phrase is really meant to be used shortly before a person is going to bed.

If you are at the office and are leaving before others, you’ll want to use a different way to say goodbye that is more appropriate for the situation.

The other thing to keep in mind is that the ending 「なさい」 is often used as a form of command by parents and teachers to their kids and students respectively. In other words, you wouldn’t use it when speaking to a superior.

That being said, おやすみなさい is really more of a set phrase so it’s still fine to say it to friends and family members before one of you prepares for the night’s sleep.

You can also drop the なさい completely from the phrase and instead just say おやすみ which is the casual way to say this phrase.

I would say that just 「おやすみ!」is more like saying g’night instead of the full good night in English.

The Kanji Used For The Phrase

Of course there are some potential kanji used in this phrase, so now would be a good time to go over them.

The most common way is お休みなさい which focuses on the kanji 休 which means rest; to take a break and is actually formed by combining the radical for “person” on the left hand side and the kanji for “tree” on the right.

So as you can tell, this is one of those perfect pictographs that clearly and visually represents the meaning of the kanji!

Now there’s also another possible way to write this phrase using kanji, but it’s not used nearly as often. So it’s not necessary to memorize it now, but I think just being aware of it is a good idea.

  • 御休みなさい (full kanji version)

What’s different in this version is the kanji 御 which is the humble prefix that often gets added onto nouns, and sometimes verbs in order to make them more polite.

This is something that Japanese women tend to do more often than Japanese men, as their speech tends to err on the side of being very polite.

Japanese Words For Sleep

If you want to talk about going to sleep, or laying down in Japanese, then there are a couple of key words you’ll need to know, and some common phrases that use them.

Let’s go over a couple of them now!

The first word is 寝る (neru) which means to sleep (lying down); to go to bed and is a very common word that gets used pretty much every single day. Here are some example sentences:

  • I sleep eight hours a night.
    私は毎晩8時間寝ます。
    watashi wa maiban hachi jikan nemasu.
  • Sometimes I oversleep.
    僕は寝過ごすことがある。
    boku wa nesugosu koto ga aru.

The other common word for sleeping is also pretty common, but has a different connotation to it than the one we just went over.

The other word is 眠る (nemuru) which means to sleep (not necessarily lying down). This is the verb form of the word, but there is also a related adjective form which is 眠い (nemui) which means sleepy; drowsy.

Let’s see some ways that we can use these new words to help understand their meanings a little more.

  • I couldn’t sleep much last night.
    夕べ、あまり眠れなかった。
    yūbe, amari nemure nakatta.
  • Although I was sleepy, I stayed up all night.
    眠かったのに、徹夜をしました。
    nemukatta noni, tetsuya shimashita.

Related: Learn what のに means in Japanese.

Now let’s combine both ways of saying “to sleep” into a single phrase!

  • The more you sleep, the sleepier you become.
    寝たら寝るほどもっと眠たくなる。
    netara neru hodo motto nemutaku naru.

There is also one more way to say that you are going to go to sleep that I want to cover.

The expression 横になる (yoko ni naru) which means to lie down (and rest) and it literally says “to become sideways” in Japanese.

  • Pops, if you’re going to sleep, you should lie down.
    親父、寝るなら横になった方がいい。
    oyaji, neru nara yoko ni natta hō ga ii.
  • Lie down, please.
    横になってください。
    yoko ni natte kudasai.

With these three ways to say “go to sleep” in Japanese, you should be able to understand it when people start talking about catching some Z’s.

You Will Sometimes See This Next Word…

I have, on occasion, run into the word 睡眠 (suimin) which also means sleep (why are there so many Japanese words for the same thing?) but only in two different situations.

Not that it can’t be used in more, but I’ve only run into these two.

The first one is 睡眠不足 (suimin busoku) which means lack of sleep. The second one is 睡眠薬 (suimin yaku) which is the Japanese word for sleeping pill.

You will no doubt have noticed that the word 睡眠 uses the same kanji as the one from 眠る. So what does the other kanji in the word mean? This one 睡?

Well, it is actually just an alternate spelling for ねむる (nemuru)!

So 眠る and 睡る mean the same thing, and then they can be combined together in 睡眠 to form yet another word for sleep.

Japanese is crazy, am I right?

This is one of the reasons why learning how to read Japanese is one of the hardest aspects of the language. And also why, while possibly a simple process, it takes a long time to learn all the meanings and their readings as well.

That’s all for today! Remember to sleep tight tonight!

What other Japanese words have you seen for sleep? Have you heard any other ways to say good night?

6 Comments

  • Holly

    This is a great help for someone new to Japanese culture. There is so much more to language than direct translations. It’s important we not only learn how to say or write things, but also have the situation in which we might use it might be slightly different than we expect it to be. Great post, I really learned a lot about this phrase in Japanese.

    • Nick Hoyt

      Yeah, I think you’ve hit on one of the main problems that English natives have when it comes to using Japanese correctly. That is, instead of translating English words directly into Japanese and then using it, it’s much better to look for the equivalent Japanese way to say the same thing.

      The meaning or thought that you are wanting to communicate it much more important than the individual words, but usually this takes a lot of exposure to really get a hold of.

  • Cathy Cavarzan

    Not just informational but educational as well. Wonderful and easy to follow your lesson on o yasumi nasai

    I will have to use some of these with my son’s aunt next time I am in town to see her. I love learning and will come back to your site often. Thank you

    • Nick Hoyt

      Hey Cathy, glad you enjoyed it and learned a lot! I think using the phrases you’ve learned with people in the real world is a fantastic way to make the words come alive, and then remember them forever. Good luck! 

  • Sujandar Mahesan

    I always wanted to learn different languages. And I haven’t thought about Japanese before this. But after reading this article looks like learning Japanese would not be as hard as I thought. As I read through this article it was so fun to be honest. I loved reading it till the end.

    Thank you for writing this article it really turned my perspective of this language.

    • Nick Hoyt

      Yeah, language learning is something that’s certainly not necessary in major monolingual countries around the world, but in my experience most people would actually really like to be able to speak and understand at least one other language. 

      And it’s pretty cool to just check other ones out and see some of the basic differences like the sounds, the writing systems, and so on.

      Glad you enjoyed the article! 

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