Origin: 17th - 18th Centuries, England. A candle may burn at both ends if it is held horizontally, causing it to burn up much faster than it normally would. This expression was more literal when it first came into use and referred not so much to time as to two people, such as a husband and wife both engaged in something which would end quicker than if only one of them were doing it, such as spending money. The idea of using up too many hours of the day came later.
Usage: Informal and formal, spoken and written, general British and American English.
Idiomatic Meaning: Too much work or too much play or both and not enough sleep. Over-extending yourself by trying to do too much in a limited amount of time, usually a 24 hour period, thereby not getting enough rest to “recharge your batteries.” The result can be fatigue and impaired performance
Literal Meaning: A candle has a wick that runs end to end, inside it, so it’s possible to set fire to a candle at both ends, simultaneously
Why is this funny? The caption for this photo is “Life in the fast lane.” It’s a title of old song by the Eagles about a couple who stay up all night partying, doing sex, drugs and rock and roll. Eventually they burn out and expire just like a candle. In the photo you see the birthday candles with wicks at both ends. If you light these at both ends they will burn up quickly and you won’t have that many birthdays
Sample sentence: She works all day and parties all night; she’s definitely burning the candle at both ends