- The Sleeper is dangerous and will cause havoc if they wake up. In effect, this is Sealed Evil in a Can, with a pillow instead of a canister.
- The Sleeper is doing something very important in their dreams: protecting something, defending the world from something, maybe even dreaming a world into existence.
- You should wait until they are most needed.
- Waking up would be traumatic. Often applies to sleepwalkers.
- The Sleeper is the Big Bad (and/or one of his henchmen) and has captured The Hero or his friend(s). The Hero or his friends are trying to get the keys to unlock their cage(s) and set them free.
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Anime and Manga
- The Kishin who's sealed in a prison below Shibushen in Soul Eater. They fail to prevent Medusa's minions from waking him up.
- The fantasy adventure heroine Zethari once encountered a temple protecting a man who was eternally asleep, dreaming up the universe. She is hired to protect the temple from a villain who is trying to end the world by waking him up.
- Near the end of Bone, Fone, Thorn, and Bartleby find that the valley they have to pass through is blocked by Roque Ja, sleeping. They've no idea whose side Roque Ja is on, and they know they can't beat him in a fight, so they sneak past without waking him.
- In one Donald Duck comic, Donald and his nephews have to stop the villain from waking up a Chtulhu-like monster, as the world as we know it is controlled by the monster's dreams. Of course, it wakes up, and while it's awake, the Ducks' bodies mutate horribly. Donald manages to make it fall asleep again by singing a lullaby for it.
- An odd kind of reverse form of this trope was the basis of The Thinker, a backup story that was published in the Scandinavian edition of The Phantom. Basically, the universe as we know it is the product of an entity called The Thinker. Agents of the Milky Way Empire conspire to shoot him (his physical form is mortal) to prove that it's all just superstition, though they limit themselves to a stun ray. Cue the Thinker getting knocked out... and the entire universe becomes an empty void. Eventually, the Thinker wakes up again, but the new universe he imagines to entertain himself is a surreal one.
- In one of Dragon Ball Insanity School chapters, Goku is sleeping and the rest of the main cast try to take a magazine from his clutch without waking him up. When this happens he's so angry that blast them all away with a kamehameha.
- In the Harry Potter fanfic King Of Kings Ruling Over Rulers, if Aernus is awakened then the universe (which is the physical manifestation of his dream) ceases to exist. The last time someone tried to "awaken" him in the form of a lucid dream, reality itself (not just the universe) was shattered.
- In A Gem of a Day, Sunset Shimmer, Sci-Twilight and Pinkie Pie end up having to sneak up to a chimera in order to recover a mystical gem it is holding. Unfortunately, it ends up being awoken by Pinkie's slide whistle.
Film - Animated
- In Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation, Dark Heart captures all of the Care Bears and Care Bear cousins. After Little Star Buddy injures his arm rescuing Grumpy Bear, True Heart Bear, and Brave Heart Lion, the three decide to return the favor and get the key from a sleeping Dark Heart to unlock the rest of the cages. The trick is that Dark Heart keeps changing shape as he sleeps.
- This trope figures into The Fox and the Hound, the scene where Todd is poking around Chief when Chief is asleep in his barrel-house.
- In Disney's Robin Hood, Prince John and his henchmen have captured all the townsfolk of Nottingham and are planning to hang Friar Tuck at dawn when he protests against the Sheriff taking a penny from the poor box. Robin Hood and Little John have to rescue the townsfolk and steal back their money without waking up the Sheriff or Prince John.
- Toy Story:
- In the original movie, Woody and Buzz try to sneak past Sid's dog Scud. Then Woody's pull string is caught and his voice box wakes Scud up.
- In Toy Story 2, Woody and Bullseye try to get Woody's missing arm back from Al without waking him up. The trick is that Al has spilled a bowl of cheese puffs all over the floor. Woody nearly gets his arm back when Stinky Pete turns on the TV and wakes Al up.
Film - Live-Action
- In Pan's Labyrinth, this is the secret objective of one of the quests given. The protagonist is not told that there is a sleeper, or that horrible things will happen if she wake him up.
- In Babe, Ferdinand enlists Babe's help with going into Farmer Hogget's house to steal an alarm clock so he can go back to crowing and not get eaten. Inside the house, Duchess the Cat is sleeping and it is revealed that Ferdinand needs Babe's help because he is allergic to cats. Babe promises not to wake up Duchess, but after he gets his foot caught in a ball of yarn, Ferdinand decides to help after all. However, on their way out, Ferdinand is about to let out a Sneeze of Doom. It isn't that that wakes up Duchess, though. It's Babe dropping the alarm clock telling him to hold it in and setting it off that does.
- Towards the end of Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird, the Sesame Street gang finds Big Bird imprisoned in a cage by Sam and Sid Sleaze, a pair of wicked carnival owners. Sam and Sid are asleep, so Big Bird's friends have to get the keys from Sam and unlock and open Big Bird's cage without waking them up (and to a lesser extent, Cookie Monster is trying to steal a box of cookies from Sid). Since Big Bird can't keep quiet about what key Maria should use to unlock his cage, Sam and Sid wake up. They drive their truck away just as Maria finds the right key and unlocks Big Bird's cage, leading to a car chase scene.
- Ur-Example: Kumbakarna, from the ancient Indian epic Ramayana. He was a giant demon prince who was cursed by the god Indra to sleep for six months of each year, and was cursed with death if he was woken during that sleep. His brother, the demon-king Ravana, woke him so he could help turn the tide of a decisive battle. It was working for a while, but then guess what happened.
- In Steven Erikson's and Ian Cameron Esslemont's shared Malazan universe, the whole world is a sleeping goddess, Burn, who dreams reality into being and whom it would be a really bad idea to wake.
- This is a discussed trope in Through the Looking Glass. Alice talks with Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum about the Red King sleeping under a tree. The Tweedles suppose that he's dreaming their world.
- In Jinx High by Mercedes Lackey, there's a Dangerous Sleeper under Tulsa, Oklahoma.
- In Lord Dunsany's "The Gods of Pegana", the gods created the world, but Māna-Yood-Sushāī created the gods, and from this task he now rests, lulled by the endless drumming of Skarl the Drummer (who is technically not a god, despite having been created along with the gods). If Skarl were to cease drumming even for an instant, Māna-Yood-Sushāī would wake up, and his awakening would destroy the world and the gods.
- Jody Lynn Nye's "Waking in Dreamland" and its sequels are set in the world of dreams. All dreams contribute to the setting, but Seven Sleepers give it structure and coherence. When one of these Sleepers wakes up, there is a cataclysmic event called a Changeover in which some other dreamer's vision replaces the previous one. The Big Bad of the first novel wants to find out what happens if they all wake up at once.
- The first Guardians of the Flame novel, The Sleeping Dragon by Joel Rosenberg has the titular creature, which guards the way back into the characters' reality.
- Mark Thirteen in Monster Hunter Legion. An army experiment Gone Horribly Right. They tried killing him. It didn't take. So scientists put M13 into coma and buried him in nuclear/toxic/nerve gas disposal ground.
- A running theme in the Cthulhu Mythos, with mad cults trying to wake up Great Cthulhu. The most extreme example is Azathoth, whose awakening would destroy the entire Universe.
- In the Lovecraft homage "A Colder War" by Charles Stross, the Soviet Union ignores the rule when they try to wake and control Cthulhu (codename: Project KOSCHEI) as a counter to the United States of America's technological superiority. Cthulhu eats everyone who remains on Earth.
Live Action TV
- Seen a few times in Doctor Who, most notably in "Ghost Light" and "The Rings of Akhaten". Per the Doctor's usual M.O., sleepers are invariably woken.
- The Horrible Histories skit "Don't Wake the Fuhrer" is this trope. It's about how Hitler failed to react in time to the D-Day landings because he was insistent that his sleep not be disturbed. So our messenger becomes insistent, but the two guards refuse him access because Mr. Grumpy Pants will be in such a paddy if he's woken up prematurely. Then the soldier stationed in the room opens the door and tells the guards that Hitler is awake and has issued his order. The messenger reads it, and to his shock it's "marmalade on toast und apple strudel." The guards explain that that is Hitler's breakfast order, which must be carried out immediately!
- Five minutes into the pilot episode of Grey's Anatomy, we have this trope stated as a rule, though we only ever see this rule enforced once (in the same episode).
Bailey: Sleep when you can where you can, which brings me to rule number three: If I'm sleeping, don't wake me unless your patient is actually dying. Rule number four: The dying patient better not be dead when I get there. Not only will you have killed someone, you woke me for no good reason.
- Tarsk Tavern has the song "Sleeper", based on the EverQuest raid dungeon Sleeper's Tomb, urging the listener to abstain from waking him up.
- Later addendums to the Arthurian myth have Arthur and the knights of the Round Table, hidden in a cave and magically kept asleep, only to be awoken when he is truly needed. Waking him up early would be a very bad plan indeed (although in that case, one wonders why Merlin apparently included a giant gong in the cave.).Their success would be a very bad thing.
- In the Táin Bó Cúailnge, Fergus notes that nobody dares to wake Cu Chulainn when he's asleep - the last man who tried found his forehead smashed all the way into the back of his skull.
- BIONICLE: Makuta Teridax used a virus to weaken Mata Nui to the point of causing the latter to sleep and cause the Great Cataclysm. A very long time later, Mata Nui is awakened, only to also cause him to slowly dying. Again he is put back to sleep and revitalized until the state of matters improves for him to be reawakened.
- World of Warcraft has the instance Sunken Temple, where the final boss is asleep and his underlings are fighting to keep you from waking him up. He was originally a guardian, his dreams protecting the world from an evil God - who managed to corrupt him and twist his dreams into nightmares.
- EverQuest had The Sleeper—or rather, his guardians—as one of the major bosses of the Scars Of Velious expansion. Waking him up results in destroying his dungeon permanently, robbing the community of an important source of loot. The Sleeper himself comes back in a later expansion.
- The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening inverts it: your mission is to wake the Wind Fish so you can leave Koholint Island, while the monsters infesting the island try to stop you from doing so. As it turns out, Koholint Island is just Link and the Wind Fish's shared dream, so waking the Wind Fish destroys the island and everyone you met over the course of your adventure.
- The Milkman Conspiracy segment of Psychonauts revolves largely about the Driving Question of "Who is the Milkman?" and various forces preventing Raz from waking him up.
- In Final Fantasy X, the summonable "aeons" are each the dream of a "fayth", who sleeps in that aeon's temple. There are also a whole bunch of fayth together on a holy mountain, dreaming something, but nobody knows what. It's Dream Zanarkand — Tidus's home town.
- In Super Mario 64, you must walk slowly around sleeping Piranha Plant enemies otherwise they will wake and attack you. While they are attacking you they are invincible, but you can kill them while they're sleeping.
- A level in Super Scribblenauts had an objective to sneak past a sleeping dragon to get a key. Naturally, the path is filled with chandeliers and piles of junk that will shift and wake the dragon if you so much as touch them.
- Gothic has the "Sleeper" as a deity worshipped by the cult that inhabits an entire camp in the prison colony. The members of the cult believe that if the Sleeper is woken up, he will free them from the colony. Then they all find out that the Sleeper is actually a powerful destructive demon, and waking him up is a very bad idea. Unfortunately, a particularly high-ranking guru of the cult refuses to accept this, and takes a band of loyal followers to wake him up anyway...
- The Adventures of Alice who Went Through the Looking-Glass and Came Back Though Not Much Changed, an Interactive Fiction game based on Lewis Carroll's Alice books, includes a version of the scene with the sleeping king who may be dreaming the world. If the player wakes him up, everything disappears and there is a Non Standard Game Over.
- In the original game, Banjo and Kazooie have to get a Jiggy from Napper, a sleeping ghost in Mad Monster Mansion, without waking him up. Since the floors creak when Banjo and Kazooie walk across them, they have to sneak in through the chimney and hop across the chairs to reach the table Napper is sleeping on.
- Banjo-Tooie has two instances in the first world: a sleeping snake and a sleeping caveman, both of whom need to be approached quietly.
- The Gauntlet-clone Demon Stalkers has an entire enemy type devoted to this: man-eating plants that don't move until you shoot one of them, at which point they all come alive at once.
- There's an Arthur flash game on the PBS Kids website called "Don't Wake Kate". The objective of the game is to get D.W. nine glasses of water without stepping on the toys scattered around her bedroom. If D.W. steps on a toy, she increases the chance of waking up Kate. If she steps on too many toys, Kate wakes up and the game is over.
- In one xkcd strip, Cueball accidentally wakes up the Sheeple from its 10,000 years long slumber, prompting everyone to run for their lives.
- The UA Newsletter has a series of articles by Alex D. Karaczun, supposedly about creating a setting and a plot, but the articles seem to mostly be an excuse to showcase Alex's invented setting about the sleeping god "Primion", whose dream is the entire setting of Rothon, and nobody knows if waking him up would cause a Dream Apocalypse or make Rothon a real place. (The articles: Part I, Part II, Part III.)
- There's a Sylvester the Cat and Tweety Bird cartoon in which Sylvester has to get past dozens of Angry Guard Dogs to get to Tweety. At the end he tries to sneak in at night when they're all asleep, but then Tweety turns on the alarm clock.
- Same gag is used in the Looney Tunes short "Roman Legion-Hare", this time with Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam and a cage full of lions.
- Another Looney Tunes short, "A Pest in the House", involves a tired hotel guest asking manager Elmer Fudd for peace and quiet as he sleeps in his room, and threatening to punch Elmer in the nose otherwise. His slumber is constantly disturbed by the blundering of bellboy Daffy Duck, with the expected results.
- The main plot for the Tom and Jerry short "Quiet, Please!", in which Spike tires of Tom's racket in trying to catch Jerry, threatening violence if Tom wakes him up one more time. Tom immediately has to sabotage Jerry's vigorous attempts to wake Spike. A later short, "Royal Cat-Nap", replays this scenario with the Mouseketeers, Tom having to prevent them from waking the king he is guarding. They relent and help Tom get the king back to sleep when they realize the penalty is a beheading, however.
- A villain in Teen Titans, Plasmus, is a not-actually-evil guy who has to be kept constantly asleep or he will transform into a mindless, nigh-unstoppable purple goo monster.
- The Chilly Willy short "The Legend of Rock-A-Bye Point" is half this and half Music Soothes the Savage Beast.
- In the Tex Avery-directed short "Rock-A-Bye Bear", a dog is rescued from the pound by a loud-mouthed bear who wants someone to make sure things stay quiet while he's hibernating. A rival dog tries to make noise to get the first dog in trouble so he can get the job.
- The Codename: Kids Next Door episode, "Operation: Q.U.I.E.T." has Numbuhs Two through Five protecting the tree house from enemy intruders (in the form of some of the show's villains), keeping them quiet so that Numbuh One can be well-rested for his Defense Grid Award acceptance speech the following morning. In the end, it's Numbuh Five who ends up waking Numbuh One.
- The Angry Beavers: The episode "Silent But Deadly" involves the eponymous characters waking up to find that several hundred wolverines have decided that the beaver's dam would be a good place to take a nap. The episode follows Norbert and Daggett's attempts to escape their dam without waking up any of the ferocious creatures up. In the end, the wolverines wind up waking up anyway after a fly lands on one. Norb and Dag run for their lives...only to find even more sleeping (but not for long) wolverines waiting for them outside. They scream in terror.
- In one episode of Ed, Edd n Eddy, based on Rolf's terrified reaction when Eddy beats on his door, waking up his grandmother in the middle of the night isn't a good idea.
- Adventure Time: Prismo is the physical manifestation of an old man's dream. Do NOT wake that old man up, or you go straight to superjail for murder.
- In the second act of the Tiny Toon Adventures episode, "Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow", when Buster is about to leave Elmyra's house, he hears the cries of help from Elmyra's captive pets. Feeling sorry for them, he decides to help them escape. To do that, he has to get the keys to their cages above Elmyra's bed without waking Elmyra up.