What Does It Mean to Go to the "Land of Nod"?

Cynde Gregory

People nod in agreement, but a secondary use of the word describes falling asleep. A child who is in the land of Nod is for all practical purposes completely asleep, although that little head might be fighting sleep with gentle nods every now and then.

Sleepers go nightly to the "land of Nod."
Sleepers go nightly to the "land of Nod."

The phrase itself is both charming and mysterious enough that it has found its way into children’s storybooks and songs as well as into a famous poem by Robert Louis Stevenson of the same title. Eugene Field’s poem "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod" has been set to music by a wide range of performers, including Donovan and the Doobie Brothers.

A child who is in the land of Nod is for all practical purposes completely asleep.
A child who is in the land of Nod is for all practical purposes completely asleep.

This magical land of dreams might sound like a sweet, safe world, but it has a dark history. This idiom goes all the way back to the Old Testament. References to Nod are found in the Book of Genesis. It is specifically located east of Eden.

Someone who is resisting going to the "land of nod" might have an anxiety disorder.
Someone who is resisting going to the "land of nod" might have an anxiety disorder.

According to the passage in Genesis 4:16, the land of Nod became home to Cain after he murdered his brother, Able. God banished Cain to Nod. The fact that it is geographically pinpointed to the east of Eden, a world in which all things are done for man and there is no misery, indicates that Cain was banished from a more comfortable world to one in which he would suffer.

How this negative reference transformed into a positive one is unknown. Loving parents would not create fairy tales and bedtime stories containing this reference if they meant the original land of Nod. Whether the land referred to in the idiom developed out of the biblical reference or came into being on its own, these words have come to be associated with falling asleep.

English is a language rich with idioms. In daily communication, in the professional arena, and even in literature and academia, idioms are used to express complex ideas in a handful of words. New idioms enter the linguistic stream as speakers hear and use them, and older idioms may drop into obscurity as fewer and fewer users reference them. Some, however, remain, even as their obvious meanings fade.

English speakers who understand the meanings behind the thousands of English idioms are better able to express themselves and understand others. Oftentimes, idioms are readily understandable, even to those who have not heard them before. More obscure idioms, such as the land of Nod, must be understood in context or explained.

Aches and pains can keep someone from going to the "land of nod".
Aches and pains can keep someone from going to the "land of nod".

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Discussion Comments


What you neglected to mention was that in this land Cain met his wife. So not only is it east of Eden somewhere, it's filled with women waiting to be married. This makes more sense than it being named after a location.


@SarahGen-- That's a good point and I didn't know that Nod meant to wander. That's really interesting, thanks for sharing that.

It think that the land of Nod is an actual geographical location that existed in the past. If it wasn't, why would Nod be capitalized?

Later on, when "nod off", as in, the head falling down while falling asleep was used, it was said that the state of being asleep was to be in the imaginary land of Nod. This makes the most sense.


@Zipline-- The present use of the phrase "land of Nod" must have been taken from the Bible since this is the first mention of it ever. How the land of Nod came to mean sleep is another matter and I don't think anyone has an exact answer.

The other issue is that the Bible, like all religious texts, is open to interpretation. Especially considering that it is a translation from Hebrew. I have read in the past that the word "Nod" in the land of Nod mentioned in the Genesis means "to wander" or "wandering" in Hebrew.

In my opinion, there is not significant proof that the original land of Nod was a very unpleasant place. If anything, it talks about how Cain was left wandering without a home of his own in the land east of Eden.

If you think about it, in our sleep, we also wander through dreams. Some claim that our spirits leave our bodies and wander around after we fall asleep. This might be how the Biblical land of Nod came to mean sleep.


I always thought that the land of Nod came from the phrase "nodding off" which refers to when people start falling asleep. I wasn't aware that there is also a land of Nod mentioned in the Genesis.

It is odd that the meanings of these are contrary though. I definitely don't think of the land of Nod as being a negative thing or as a place for punishment. For me, the land of Nod is the land of sleep where there is peace and comfort. Because when we sleep, we are at peace.

It's also a cute idiom when it's used about children. There was video of a baby nodding off online that became a rage recently. His head kept falling forward because he was so sleepy but at the same time, he was trying hard not to sleep. So he kept nodding his head! It was really cute.

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