Appalachia Appalachian Dialect

The Big Eye

The big eye

big eye noun Insomnia (esp in phrs have the big eye, take the big eye). Cf moon eye.
1976 Garber Mountain-ese 8 The chilurn allers git the big-eye on Christmas night. 1994-97 Montgomery Coll. (Adams, Cardwell, Jones, Ledford, Ogle, Oliver, Weaver).

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


I’ve always been good at sleeping. By nightfall I’m so tired that I swear I could lay down just about anywhere and soon be fast asleep. The Deer Hunter says he’s timed the amount of time it takes me to go to sleep. He teasingly says it’s 30 seconds till snore. If I get woke up during the night I have no trouble going right back to sleep. I’m telling the truth when I say my sleeping ability is worthy of a fairy tale.

One of the reasons I sleep well is because I need sleep. If I don’t get enough sleep my brain doesn’t work and I get teary eyed over the least little thing. Lack of sleep makes me feel like a toddler who stayed up way too late and then missed their nap the next day.

The Deer Hunter sleeps good these days but when we were first married he had a hard time getting enough sleep. It took him forever to go to sleep and then if he got woke up during the night he might as well forget about ever drifting off again. I used to cringe every time the girls called out for me in their younger years because I knew he’d wake up and not be able to go back to sleep.

I feel for folks who have insomnia-we call it the big eye. One of my close friends told me she has so much trouble sleeping that sometimes she just gives up and sets up watching tv for the rest of the night.

The other day Pap told me he had a terrible time trying to sleep the night before. Since most of his recent sickness seems to have happened at night, I was worried and asked him if he was in pain. He said “No I reckon I just had the big eye because I felt fine I just couldn’t sleep.”

Do you ever have the big eye? If so what do you do to combat it?

Go here for a catchy song about chasing sleep and having the big eye.



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  • Reply
    October 6, 2016 at 8:47 am

    If I could sleep from 2a to 9a every day, life would be perfect. Unfortunately, I’ve only been able to do that on summer break from school. Adult life hasn’t given the same opportunity. As one who has always struggled to keep a grown-up sleep schedule, I’ve come to the opinion that with sleep, you have to play hard-to-get. Let it come to you. You might be sleepy if it doesn’t come soon enough, but you won’t be filled with anguish while you wait.

  • Reply
    Rev. Rose Marie "RB" Redmond
    February 19, 2016 at 10:14 pm

    I remember our Great Aunt Rose saying that about one of the children who was so tired they were staring into space. She went (and made a swish with her fingers toward the child) and said, “Oooo, Big Eyes!” I don’t remember ever hearing that before or since that time.
    I have NEVER been able to sleep well. I remember laying awake for hours as a child. I lay awake for hours now. I might get an hour or two here or there, but no more than that before I’m up walking the floor again. It’s awful.
    For years while I had a career in offices, doctors gave me sleeping pills so I could sleep at night and function during the day, but when I retired, I tossed them all and decided to do what my body told me to do, sleep when it let me sleep and wake when it told me to wake, and I’ve found the best sleep I get is between 8-9am and Noon-1pm every day. It’s weird, but that’s what works for me.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    Cullen in Clyde
    February 19, 2016 at 8:50 pm

    Very seldom I’ll have a difficult time sleeping. When I do, I know I’m gonna sleep good the next night for sure.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    February 19, 2016 at 6:45 pm

    If those with a clear conscience sleep well then those with no conscience at all should be similarly blessed. How would the rest of us know the difference?

  • Reply
    February 19, 2016 at 4:01 pm

    Because of our Daughters condition sleep has alluded us for years, especially my wife because of her seizures my wife sleeps with her at night, but it’s very hard to go back to sleep after a bad night, so to help a little melatonin at the recommended dose is used, as you get older your body slowly stops producing at the rate it should, not a cure all but it helps…

  • Reply
    Mel H.
    February 19, 2016 at 3:20 pm

    There are just two kinds of people in this ol’ world—them that can sleep, and the rest of us…

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    February 19, 2016 at 2:37 pm

    Mama called it the big eye too. I’ve had it all my life–sometimes better, sometimes worse. I used to get up & mop or wash clothes, etc. Now I just lie on the couch & read.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    February 19, 2016 at 1:25 pm

    My TV stays on all night. You’d be surprised at the knowledge I have when I wake up, especially all the news. But as the morning wears on, my Senior Moment takes over and I can’t remember crap. I just don’t get sleepy until after midnight and sometimes it’s later than that. When Whisky sees me lay back in the recliner, he gets up there right beside and sticks those little feet up pointing at the moon. He feels safe when he’s touching me…Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    February 19, 2016 at 12:45 pm

    I worked third shift 6 nights a week for over 25 years so a good nights sleep wasn’t even possible. I went to bed at 1:00 PM and got up at 9:00. I had to black out the windows and get a rainfall/waterfall/surf machine to mask the world’s noises. To top it all I have tinnitus. All my life I have heard a constant hissing sound 24 hrs. a day. The sound machine helps with that too somewhat.
    I also take medicine to help me sleep. I take diphenhydramine HCI which is exactly the same thing as Benadryl, Sominex and Unisom. I get the Walmart brand for $4.00 for 32ct – 50 mg pills. I take double the dose on the label but I asked my doctor first and he said it was OK. It is an antihistamine so it can cause dry mouth but if you have a runny nose or are itching it helps that.
    I’ve tried all the natural remedies but none seem to help. I tried Ambien but that makes me do things in my sleep that I don’t remember when I wake up. I hate that I have to take medicine to sleep but I am a zombie without it.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    February 19, 2016 at 11:43 am

    Yes, we have more than once when traveling, stopped at a rest area to use the facilities during the day. We then will grab our pillows and nap a while, before going on toward our destination….
    I think more should do this while traveling, keeps one more alert, especially at our age!
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    February 19, 2016 at 11:36 am

    I’m so happy for you that you sleep well. When I was your age, I also had no trouble falling asleep or sleeping through the night…
    I haven’t slept well in so long, that I am now used to the sleep juggle….I now just sleep when I get sleepy, no matter whether it is late morning, early afternoon or at night….
    We had doctors appointments yesterday and told him of our insomnia and sleep patterns…He wasn’t overly concerned…our age, life-changing events and life long routine changes, etc. play a major role in our insomnia….He said, go with the flow If we can and sleep when we feel sleepy…
    Guess we are blessed to be retired…so we can nap If we need to…ha
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    February 19, 2016 at 11:29 am

    Had forgotten about “big eye”, but have heard that expression. I sleep like a baby; wake up every couple of hours crying and wet myself.

  • Reply
    February 19, 2016 at 11:14 am

    Sleep for me has always been unpredictable and mostly in winter. It is wonderful to be retired and not have to worry about rolling out at 6 a.m. to scrape windshields. It seems sleep is the one thing there was always difficulty controlling. If I have to get up early that is the very night I will have middle of night insomnia. I find myself napping if something on television I really want to watch.
    About the only thing unfavorable about summer is the days are much too long. I just run out of energy before night, and there is usually less problem with the big eye. I have never heard of getting the big eye, but not something I am usually bothered with in a hard working summer. Every now and then you have an expression that is foreign to me.
    Also, for any night there is difficulty falling asleep, Melatonin works very well. Not so much on those 3 a.m. bouts of insomnia.

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    February 19, 2016 at 10:30 am

    I don’t sleep well at all. The medicine I take for my Parkinson’s cause the weirdest of dreams. I can start a dream get up for a drink of water, go back to sleep and fall right back into the same dream. The most frequent dream is being dressed in the wrong uniform on an aircraft carrier and being unable to find my locker. But then, many of my old shipmates tell me they also dream of uniform problems on strange ships.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    February 19, 2016 at 10:05 am

    I definitely have the Big Eye! I have Obstructive Sleep Apnea, which causes me to wake many times during the night. I sleep with a CPAP machine, which helps some, but in addition, I have insomnia, in my case causing frequent inability to get to sleep until I toss and turn for a couple of hours. I occasionally take prescription Sonata, which puts you to sleep fast, then dissipates quickly so that your body keeps track of and regulates sleep.

  • Reply
    N Sky
    February 19, 2016 at 9:52 am

    I recently attended a summit on Fat based diet as opposed to a carb diet. (Fats meaning omega-3 fats like fish, avocado, coconut oil, olive oil, butter, eggs, NOT others) One of the things about carb- grain- wheat/corn based – low fat diets is that, in some people, it can disrupt sleep. It’s a brain thing- the brain NEEDS fat and chlorestol to function properly. Without enough of the right fats in the diet, brain function, even dementia, can result. This is much too broad a subject to discuss in depth here, but it seems that so many “illnesses” are actually caused by our diets. I found the information on Fat (high veg, full fat, meat) based diets compelling enough to change mine and I’m 63 years old….

  • Reply
    February 19, 2016 at 9:22 am

    I sleep well. I’ve always said it’s because I have a clear conscience. I’d bet you have the same advantage!

  • Reply
    February 19, 2016 at 9:14 am

    My grandkids get the big eye if they have any sugar or caffeine a few hours before bedtime. I’ve always been a sound sleeper who is lucky to get Amen out of my mouth before I start storing. I have an occasional sleepless night when nothing is hurting or troubling me. There is nothing worse than starring at the walls all night. My cousin swears she never sleeps any more than three or four hours a night. The doctor told her to take Benadryl right before she goes to bed. It’s non-habit forming and works just as well as anything the doctor can prescribe.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    February 19, 2016 at 9:06 am

    “Big Eye” is common with me, especially in recent years. Come 2:00 a. m., or, if I’m lucky, 3:00 a. m. and my “sleep” is over for awhile. (But unlike many, I’m an early-to-bed person, as now I usually have retired by shortly after 9:00 p. m., so if I’m fortunate to sleep until 3:00 a. m., I’ve had almost 6 hours of sleep.)
    What do I do when I can’t sleep? I keep a good book handy to read awhile. And yes, I even remember what I read at 3:00 a. m.! I also keep a daily journal in which I jot down thoughts that cross my mind. The number of journals I’ve thus filled during years of “sleeplessness” is amazing! Sometimes in them I find some ideas worth keeping or a poem that either came “full blown” or can be polished a bit into better form. So I don’t despair at all that “Big Eye” attacks me at seemingly inopportune times when most of the rest of the people I know are sound asleep!

  • Reply
    February 19, 2016 at 8:38 am

    I never heard the term “big eye” but it’s a good way to describe being unable to sleep. I’m glad to hear you don’t suffer from it!

  • Reply
    Bob Aufdemberge
    February 19, 2016 at 8:22 am

    Get the “Big Eye” (though I’ve never heard the term until reading this post) every now and then. Seems to happen more often as I get older. Nothing much to be done about it except wait it out.

  • Reply
    colleen Holmes
    February 19, 2016 at 8:00 am

    I too fall asleep easily. My days are full from 5:30am to 9:00pm. Some evening my pillow calls for me at 8:00.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    February 19, 2016 at 7:30 am

    I sleep restlessly. I toss and turn at lot. I sleep better when I get exercise and fresh air. When I have trouble getting to sleep I get up and read.
    The Deer Hunter sleeps now because he is always exhausted from work. Mine and the Deer Hunter’s temperament’s are a lot alike, we both tend to be hyper vigilant of things in our world and that makes rest not come easily.

  • Reply
    February 19, 2016 at 5:41 am

    You are so lucky! I think sleeping ability like yours is a sort of superpower 🙂
    (I recently heard the best term for what I experience: “painsomnia.”)

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