The main character dreams that a giant cantaloupe is out to get him, then wakes up with a start. After a moment of sitting up and panting, he realizes it was All Just a Dream, then gets up and goes to the bathroom for a glass of water — only to find the giant cantaloupe there waiting for him. He wakes up with a start again, because of course the first waking-up bit was part of the dream. Also available in 'Dream Within a Dream Within a Dream', 'Dream Within a Dream Within a Dream Within a Dream', and so on, although some discretion is preferred.
If taken out far enough, and if all the many-layered dreams are substantially the same, what you can get is a "Groundhog Day" Loop.
Sometimes will pull a twist by having a character wake up from a dream, then something else bizarre happens, and an altogether different character will wake up from that dream.
Compare Droste Image. See also Nested Story, Schrödinger's Butterfly, and Recursive Reality. Not to be confused with marriage. May require an Orphean Rescue to finally wake up.
This trope is largely Truth in Television and is a fairly common phenomenon.
Galaxy Angel A: Milfuelle appears to go through a series of dream-within-a-dream alternate universes, where her fellow Angels are everything from pirates to robots to giant lizard creatures. Only then is it revealed that a Lost Technology she was using as a pillow really was transporting her to the various universes - and the other versions of her are appearing back in the show's original one.
The suspense film Perfect Blue use this device multiple times (as well as showing us conversations or scenes that seem like they're really happening, only for a director to yell "cut!" — the main character was just filming a scene in the television show she's in) to ramp up the suspense and paranoia that the main character feels.
Pyuu to Fuku! Jaguar: One chapter of the manga ends with Piyohiko waking from a dream and becoming inspired to take up playing the recorder. Then it turns out this was a dream Jaguar was having.
Paprika: Dr. Chiba wakes up from a dream that was going wrong and goes with her colleague to confront the villain at his house, but realizes she's still dreaming when the bad guy shows up with tree roots for a lower body.
In GA Geijutsuka Art Design Class, after falling asleep at a lecture on surrealism, Kisaragi ends up going into a bizarre dream. Then wakes up from that into another weird dream. This repeats a few more times until she finally wakes up.
Urusei Yatsura: An episode centering around Mrs. Moroboshi involved her continually waking up, discovering that everything up until that moment had been a dream. There is even a suggestion that the events of the series are a dream, and the book The War of The Worlds is the actual reality. (Though she does wake up in another reality where both are true) The episode ends with the characters ringed around Mrs. Moroboshi and singing a children's song which is very chilling when you consider it's lyrics ("Oh little bird, when will you escape the bird-cage?")
School Rumble: The final episode of the first season involves a manga within a dream, within a dream, within another dream. ... Maybe.
heat haze daze: a boy named Hibiya and a girl named Hiyori go for a walk in a park, as Hiyori cradles a cat it leaps out of her hands and into a nearby road. Hiyori runs into the road after it, the traffic lights suddenly turn red and a truck appears almost out of nowhere and runs her over in front of Hibiya. He then blacks out and later awakes in his bed. he looks at the time which is sometime past 12 in the morning,on the 14th of august.(this was the day before Hiyori was killed),Later him and Hiyori go for a walk in the very same park. As he realizes that the same events that lead to Hiyori's death begin to happen, he says to her "why don't we go home now". And as she steps off of the pathway everyone surrounding them looks up; a large iron pole falls from a building and pierces through hiyori's body...killing her. Hiyiba blacks out again and wakes up on his bed, this cycle continues for decades until Hiyabi pushes Hiyori out of the way, saving her but killing himself.
In The Sandman, written by Neil Gaiman, Dream (the eponymous character) punishes the son of his captor by condemning him to "eternal waking," basically a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream... ad infinitum, with each dream quickly turning into a nightmare.
One of the Super Mario Bros. comics used this as a Running Gag. Mario would wake up, find a note that the Princess had been captured by King Koopa, and run off to save her. He is immediately and humorously killed by the first mooks he encounters, only to wake up in bed and find a note...
Happens in Little Ego at least once. Ego wakes from a dream where she was trapped in harem only to find one of the harem girls is in bed with her. She awakes a second time as the harem girl starts trying to have her way with her.
The comic Future Shock starts with a woman at her home being attacked, only to wake up in her bed. After a short while, we discover that this is also a dream; she is in her psychiatrist's office .... or is she?? At the end of the comic, we discover "said" psychiatrist is actually a patient himself having his own dream. Trippy, isn't it????
The main focus of Inception. The protagonists are professional dream-thieves, hired to steal information from inside people's heads. For the plot of the film, they've instead been hired to alter a man's behaviour by altering his dreams; the more subtle manipulation requires multiple recursive levels of dreaming. For this job, they attempt to create a dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream. Later, a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream, hitting a dangerously deep fourth layer.
It's become so well known for this that a "[blank] within a [blank]" is often dubbed "[blank]-ception." * Mistakenly, since in the movie, the word "inception" only refers to using a dream to plant an idea in someone's mind.
The A Nightmare on Elm Street series: This is a common staple of the movies, where the villain Freddy Krueger killed people in their dreams. He's chasing someone, and they wake up! They're safe! Oops, no, they aren't, waking up was a dream too!
The Matrix: Subverted in the beginning, where the main character later finds out that all the "nested dreams" were real after all. Well, real inside the virtual reality he inhabits, at least.
Morpheus: You are a man who accepts what he sees because he is expecting to wake up. Ironically this is not far from the truth.
An American Werewolf in London: In this horror movie, the protagonist dreams of a group of werewolves wearing Nazi uniforms and carrying machine guns breaking into his home and ruthlessly gunning down his family, before one of them slits his throat. When he wakes up in the hospital he's staying at, he's comforted by the nurse he's infatuated with, but she is shortly attacked by one of the aforementioned Nazi werewolves, brutally stabbing her to death. The guy wakes up for real afterwards.
In Star Trek: First Contact, Picard wakes up after dreaming about his assimilation into the Borg Collective some years earlier, during which various robotic parts were grafted onto his body. As he freshens up, one of these (long-removed) components breaks through his cheek from the inside — and he then wakes up for real.
The Wicker Man: In the 2006 version, Edward dreams of himself swimming towards the lifeless body of his daughter floating in the water. He then wakes up, only to find himself holding her soaked, lifeless body in his arms. He wakes up for real the third time around and curses.
In the Korean film A Tale of Two Sisters, Su-Mi is dreaming of a strange, confusing and creepy encounter in the forest with her dead mother, in which she reaches out and grabs her mother's arm, which suddenly starts to bleed profusely, staining her dress. She is startled awake. A few seconds later, however, she hears a faint scratching sound at the foot of her bed. As she slowly sits up and looks, she sees a ghostly woman with long black hair and deathly pale skin crawling along her floor (who also seems to bear a close resemblance to the girls' late mother), who suddenly rears up and begins to slowly make her way towards Su-Mi, who is paralyzed with fear. When the ghost is standing directly above her, her leg starts to bleed as a hand suddenly emerges from between her legs. Su-Mi then wakes up for real.
The Deaths of Ian Stone begins with the hockey player Ian Stone having a bad night due to a biased referee. On the way home, he gets run over by a train, and wakes up and realizes he's the office worker Ian Stone. He lasts a day before getting stabbed by his girlfriend, and wakes up just in time to avoid crashing the taxi he's driving. And it only continues from there...
In the Mouth of Madness: The protagonist dreams of witnessing a cop beating a graffiti artist in a dark alley, an event he witnessed earlier that night, but now the cop is a deformed monster. He wakes up... and sees the monster-cop sitting next to him, and wakes up again.
Body Double: At least one entire theater full of moviegoers left in frustration when Brian De Palma's ended with multiple instances of this.
Shrek the Third: Shrek experiences a dream within a dream within a dream during the boat ride to Arthur's school.
Subverted in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The Pevensies are chasing the White Stag at the end of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. When they see the Lamp Post, it seems vaguely familiar- as if it were from "a dream within a dream". But it turns out that the Lamp Post was real, and so was the "Spare Oom", and now they were heading back to England- to the exact same moment in time they departed it.
Played straight in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Lucy is dreaming that she gets up from bed, looks at the mirror, and has transformed into Susan. She wakes up, looks at the mirror, and Aslan talks to her. Then she wakes up again- and is in the real world.
In Hugo, the title character is having a nightmare in where the train derails. Then he has a false awakening in where he has turned into an automaton. And then he wakes up for real.
Sucker Punch has women in an insane asylum imagining that they are in a mob brothel. From there, they then imagine they are ass-whomping ninjas or commandos in fantasyscapes.
Leprechaun In The Hood: Postmaster P. awakes from a dream about the Leprechaun maiming his grandmother. He then gets up to answer the door and finds his dead friend covered in blood, waking him up the second time.
The story of La belle captive is a dream within a dream. Or is it?
Silent Hill: Revelation 3D starts out with one of these. After a gruesome dream that ends with Heather being burned alive, she wakes screaming to be comforted by her father. Just when she's starting to relax, he's stabbed through the chest and she wakes again rattled.
In Korean horror film Killer Toon, Ji-yun is relaxing in her indoor pool when she's assaulted by the ghost of her recently murdered publisher. The ghost is about to kill her when Ji-yun wakes up in her pool—whereupon the pool starts to fill with blood. Ji-yun then wakes up for real in her bed.
Arthur used this on one occasion, with the eponymous character remarking "Man, I hate double-dreams."
Astral Dawn. The dream realms attached to the spirits of the astral plane could be considered dreams within dreams. This is especially true when considering the astral plane is thought of as one gigantic super dream.
In The Tragedy Of Man Adam in his dream impersonates Kepler. Then falls asleep, dreams about being Danton in the French Revolution and when he was executed, he woke up and found himself back in Prague as Kepler.
In John Crowley's Little, Big, Sophie makes a deliberate practice of spinning baroquely nested dreams, until at times she (and on at least one occasion Daily Alice) is not certain whether she is asleep or awake.
Plays a large part in GeorgeMacDonald's Lilith where the main character falls into a magical sleep, and seems to wake up alone. He meets Mr. Raven who tells him that he is still sleeping. This is followed by him waking up again in his own home, staying there a few days, and then waking up back in the fantasy world. The book ends with him waking up at home once more, though it is implied that this too, and by extension our entire world, is just another dream within a dream that he will someday wake up from.
Happens in Animorphs #41: The Familiar as part of the setup and backstory early in the novel.
Live Action TV
An episode of Mad About You was based entirely around this phenomenon.
Done several times on the opening for the 2007 Emmys78th Academy Awards (aka The Oscars), with Jon Stewart waking up next to several beautiful women in succession. Finally he wakes up, sees no one next to him, and rolls over to see George Clooney, who tells him that it's not a dream. Stewart doesn't seem too displeased with this. Hey it's George Clooney!
An episode of Married... with Children had Marcy repeatedly dreaming that her husband Steve had been replaced with Al Bundy. After waking up and thinking everything was fine, Steve would turn into Al and the cycle would repeat.
House's season 2 finale used this device when House gets shot; the episode is both predictable and compelling.
Full House did this with Michelle being self-conscious about the size of her feet.
In "The Gift", Teyla has a nightmare of a wraith standing over her bed as she sleeps. She wakes with a start and rushes over to John's rooms, only to find that he's been life-sucked in his sleep. She wakes again, for real this time and lies stunned for a while.
In Season Four episode "Doppelganger" Sheppard willingly shares MсKay's nightmare induced by an alien entity that's trying to kill him. The nightmare ends badly and Sheppard wakes up to learn MсKay's dead. It turns out later on in the scene that the alien entity went into Sheppard's brain and the sequence about MсKay's death was his nightmare.
MacGyver: One of the more unintentionally funny moments was in the brainwashing episode. Jack Dalton was having nightmares surrounding his brainwashing on a nightly basis, usually waking up in a cold sweat. One of those times he woke up, he was just having a normal morning with MacGyver. He was waving his hand around to make a point when he then noticed he was holding a gun. "Hey, where did that come from?" He then notices the symbol on MacGyver's pitcher is the same as his trigger, shoots it (with the show suggesting that MacGyver also got shot even though he was holding it away from his body), and then wakes up.
Happens repeatedly in a Kids in the Hall sketch. "I had the pear dream again..."
An episode of Dallas saw Sue Ellen awake from a surreal nightmare in which she was chased by a shadowy JR in his car. Several episodes later Pam wakes up, revealing the entire season to have been a dream - including Sue Ellen's nightmare. A whole skit was made around it in this Saturday Night Live Digital Short.
The Twilight Zone: An episode of the '85-'97 Twilight Zone revival featured a prison where the inmates were stuck in a never-ending dream-within-a-dream sequence.
The tag on an episode was finding out that they were still trapped in the Lotus-Eater Machine. Because Good stuff never happens to Rimmer in real life.
A variation on this trope occurs in "Back To Reality" in which the Boys from the Dwarf believe that, in reality, they have all been playing a total immersion virtual reality game for the previous four years. It turns out that they have only been under the influence of the Despair Squid's Ink; and they are nearly successful in killing themselves (the ultimate effect of the ink) when none wants to return to his "real" world existence.
In one episode of The Big Bang Theory, the roommates get a replica time machine from an online auction. Sheldon dreams that it actually worked, taking him to the year 802701, where he is promptly attacked by Morlocks. Waking up, he finds himself back in the present...where he is again attacked by Morlocks, who have been hired to move the time machine out of the apartment. Then he wakes up again...
An episode of Scrubs opens with JD going through a short chain of daydreams, each one being an almost-kiss that "ends right before the really sexy part." First it's Molly and Carla, then Molly and JD, then Turk and JD, and at that point he breaks the daydream chain, insisting he "doesn't have gay jungle fever."
Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad: An episode puts Sam Collins through a series of nightmares, each beginning with him having just woken up from the previous nightmare. Eventually he wakes up for real and beats up the monster that was causing it.
The Wings episode "The Big Sleep" features a dream within a dream within another dream.
BBC sketch show, Armstrong And Miller had one of these in which a man wakes up from a nightmare where his wife's face was melting and goes to get water, only to see her appear behind him with a hideous melted face. Each time the dream lasts longer before the vision of his wife appears. On the fifth or sixth repetition, he quits his job and insults his boss, only this time to be told it isn't a dream. Cue his relief when his wife's face starts to melt again.
The Christmas Episode of Danis House had Max wake up from a Christmas Carol-esque dream and tells Danni to buy the largest turkey with his pocket money and he's going to hold dinner for everyone, and then wakes up for real, freaked that he became completely sentimental. He does become less of a jerk though.
In the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Waking Moments", Chakotay wakes up, but later sees the full moon reflected in a control panel, a signal to him that he is still dreaming. He is able to wake himself, and the rest of the crew in the collective dream sees him disappear.
In the Monty Python's Flying Circus episode "The Cycling Tour", Mister Pither is tossed into a Soviet prison cell to await execution. He ponders his fate as he drifts off to sleep, and wakes up at home in the backyard. He cheerfully cries "Mother! So it was all a dream!" She replies "No, dear, this is the dream; you're still in prison!" and he wakes up.
A Dick Van Dyke Show episode had Rob obsessing over some hair loss to the point that he went to bed with a towel wrapped around his head. He dreams that his hair is all gone the next morning and wakes up freaking out. Laura comforts him, and then faints in horror when she sees he has lost all his hair - then she wakes up from her nightmare.
In the 1998 Merlin series, the eponymous character describes his journey to Joyous Gard as, "A dream, of a dream."
In the Doctor Who episode "Amy's Choice", the Doctor, Amy and Rory were trapped in two separate and equally dangerous scenarios (one on board a powerless and freezing TARDIS and one in a small English village overrun by alien-possessed people) by the Dream Lord, who declared that one was real and the other was a dream, and if they died in the dream they would awaken in reality, but if they died in reality...well, as he said, "That's why it's called reality!" After they 'died' in the village scenario and awakened in the TARDIS, the Doctor set the TARDIS to self-destruct, realizing that the Dream Lord was his Enemy Within and could only affect dreams, so both scenarios were dreams. He was right, of course.
A Halloween episode of Family Matters had Carl suffer a dream-within-a-dream about the evil ventriloquist dummy. He spends most of the episode fighting it, only to discover it was all a dream...only to discover the dummy right next to him. Then he wakes up for real.'
In "The Sixth Extinction: Amor Fati", Mulder dreams of a little boy on a deserted beach building a UFO out of sand while dreaming/hallucinating a world in which he is married to Diana Fowley, his sister is alive with children, the Smoking Man is good, and there is no Truth, no X-Files, and no Scully. It has been speculated that the little boy in the dream is either Mulder's inner child or that it was a prophetic dream foretelling the bith of Baby William, his and Scully's son. William is not yet conceived in this episode, but is by the end of the season.
An even earlier episode, "Field Trip" had Mulder and Scully trapped and devoured alive by a man-eating fungal colony whose digestive fluids induced realistic hallucinations. And every time they realized that and woke up, they just ended up in a dream even more realistic than the previous one.
An episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air has Will being hexed by a psychic. The end of the episode has him waking up from the events as if they were a dream to the morning before in which the dialogue from the beginning of the episode is heard.
At the conclusion of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Restless" — which is almost entirely dream sequences — Buffy defeats the spirit of the First Slayer in her dream of the desert, and wakes up in her living room, only to be immediately attacked by the First Slayer again. Surviving, and thus proving that the First Slayer has no power over her, she abruptly awakens again (in mid-quip), in the same chair, this time for real.
In one episode of Veronica Mars, Veronica keeps having dreams in which her unconsciousness is processing clues about students killed in a bus crash, by talking to those students - often, in the middle of class. During one class, she drifts off, processes a clue about the meaning of the phrase "I AM GOD", wakes up and discovers that she's written "I AM GOD" all over a blackboard she was supposed to be solving a math problem on, and everyone is laughing at her. (Then she wakes up for real.)
In one comic, Calvin puts on his clothes, walks out the front door, falls from an inexplicably great height, and wakes up in Catapult Nightmare fashion - then does it all over again. Naturally, he's afraid to get up afterwards.
Watterson liked this one. It was also used at least once as simply Calvin waking up on a schoolday, putting on his clothes, walking out the front door, then being woken up again - every little school-hating kid's nightmare.
Calvin: My dreams are getting way too literal.
Italian comedic band Elio e le Storie Tese are masters of this trope in their videos: just see the ending of the clip for "Ignudi tra i nudisti" (multiple dreams within other people's dreams, ending with two airline pilots having fallen asleep!).
Also, one of their song, "Abate cruento esaminatore" (litterally, "Bloody abbot examiner" - the guys declared they picked up three random words out from a dictionary and wrote a song about them) is a perfect example of this trope. The protagonist dreams of being examinated by an abbot (for some unknown reasons), just to wake up and crash into another dream, and so on. Eventually, he even dreams of being a woman and sodomize his husband.
In the music video for "DARE" by Gorillaz, Noodle is shown to be keeping the giant disembodied head of musician Shaun Ryder in her closet. The video ends with Shaun waking up from the nightmare to discover Murdoc in his bed ("Go back to sleep, honey," says Murdoc). Murdoc then wakes up in his winnebago, gasping in fear.
The Dream Song by Joan Baez is about one of these, though the imagery in the song makes clear that the song's narrator is still asleep.
Dream Within A Dream by Propaganda starts with the Edgar Allan Poe quotation.
Taken to nightmarish extremes in Cage's "Among the Sleep".
Roger Waters' album The Pros And Cons Of Hitch-Hiking consists of interlocking dream sequences.
I awoke in a fever
The bedclothes were all soaked with sweat
She said "You've been having a nightmare
...And it's not over yet!"
Tool references this in "Sweat", the opener to their 1992 debut EP Opitate.
Seems like I've been here before / Seems so familiar / Feels like I'm slipping / Into a dream within a dream
Britney Spears fourth tour is based around this. The title quote is littered through the work. The tour starts with a world within a world and a half awake girl setting up the monsters from the dreamworld showing up on the stage, and it gets madder from there.
In the pre-setting Ravenloft adventure "I10: House On Gryphon Hill", it's suggested that game masters run its story concurrently with "I6: Ravenloft", by having the player characters alternate between waking up in I6's Barovia and I10's Mordentshire.
Super Mario Bros. 2: First Mario dreams that he goes to Subcon, the land of dreams, then wakes up and, during a picnic on a mountain, finds a cave and the stairway to Subcon, but in the ending of the game, it is revealed that that was All Just a Dream too.
After falling asleep in Yume Nikki, Madotsuki can fall asleep again in the dream world. Fan speculation states that even her normal dreams are this.
Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance: Sora is forced into this situation when put into slumber in The World That Never Was, being forced to confront all of the existences linked to his own. It also turns out that Riku, instead of merely entering the dream worlds, entered Sora's dreams of the dream worlds as a Spirit Dream Eater.
If the player fails to meet a loan deadline in Recettear and loses Recette's shop/home, Recette, after a brief badending, wakes up on the day that the shop opens to find that it was all just a bad dream. Losing more than once would turn into this trope.
Happens in Mario & Luigi: Dream Team if you get hit by one of Antasma's attacks when fighting him in the Dream World. Mario ends up falling into a nightmare with Antasma chasing him through a death course. He has to find the right portal to escape and resume the battle. This Trope is also mentioned by a certain NPC as something that's very dangerous in general.
This is the conceit of the indie horror game Neverending Nightmares, as the title would suggest. You play Thomas, a young man trapped in an abandoned house full of monsters and ghosts; if Thomas get caught by one, he wakes up back in the nearest bedroom and you have to start again from there.
In The Nostalgia Critic's review of Full House, he reaches the end and awakes from a dream about the Olsen twins attacking him like the horrible spectres they are. He realizes he must have dozed off and tries to deliver his catchphrase ("I'm the Nostalgia Critic, I remember it so you don't have to") when he is suddenly attacked! By the Olsen twins! He wakes up with a start, and tries again...only to be attacked! After several more attempts he looks around nervously, says, "You know what I do and you know why I do it," and rushes off before he can wake up again.
Used to an absolutely ludicrous degree in Death Hat.
Used in Lucky Day Forever to reveal that the scene where 514 escaped from the Lotus-Eater Machine and jumped into a screen to make love with a White with Sasiadka's face is all in Sasiadka and 514's minds.
Is the primary trope used in the "Dream" episode of the Broad City web series on Youtube, functioning as an extra-long loop of dreams within dreams to comedic effect.
This gets turned Up to Eleven in the Dick Figures episode, "OMG". Blue keeps going through layers upon layers of dreams. Then it turns out that the whole episode was just a dream of the Racoon. He really needs to quit drinking.
The "dream within someone else's dream" version happened in the Ed, Edd n Eddy episode "Rock-A-Bye Ed", where Ed has a nightmare about his mom punishing (who looked like Jonny), causing Ed to get an extreme phobia for the said boy... then it turns out it was Jonny's nightmare.
Try Phineas and Ferb. Candace finally busts her brothers, that ends in disastrous results. In said dream, she sees Perry as an agent, causing her to wonder that whats Perry's been doing at breakfast. Suddenly, agents carried off the family, saying Perry has to relocate, then it turns it out it was just the platypus's dream.
After the bizarre events of South Park's Season 2 episode "City on the Edge of Forever", Cartman wakes up from the dream only to have his mother feed him insects for breakfast. This is instantaneously followed by Stan waking up and telling Kyle about both this and everything that happened prior.
The first episode after the "Who Shot Mr. Burns?" Cliff Hanger made it look like the shooting incident was a dream (an obvious spoof of the infamous All Just a Dream moment that retconned away an entire season on Dallas, the same show whose "Who Shot J.R.?" storyline was what the Simpsons storyline was spoofing). Turns out that waking up was a dream (Smithers's dream, to be precise), and the shooting did happen.
An earlier episode of The Simpsonsplayed with the trope: The second "Treehouse of Horror" episode had a Framing Device in which each mini-story is a nightmare being had by one of the Simpsons. At the end, Homer wakes from a nightmare in which Mr Burns's head was grafted onto his shoulder — to find that Burns's head is still grafted onto his shoulder. He reassures himself that he must have only dreamed that he woke up... and the episode ends, with an On the Next suggesting that he's stuck with the head for real.
Another "Treehouse of Horror" episode shows Lisa and Bart parodying Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson to be part of a Dream within a Dream of Ralphie Wiggum.
One of the Christmas episodes shows Groundskeeper Willie enjoying a Christmas dinner surrounded by loved ones, which turns out to be a dream he is having while passed out drunk in his shack, which turns out to be a dream he is having while passed out drunk outside in the snow.
Not strictly a dream within a dream, this trope is parodied when Lisa loses a tryout for the school band's first chair saxophone to the new kid Alison. She loses consciousness twice in succession, the second time out of exasperation at losing, and experiences a deja-vu moment after the second time regaining consciousness.
Lisa: (wakes up after having passed out from over exerting herself)
Mr. Largo: That was a close one Lisa, but you made it!
Lisa: I got first chair?
Mr. Largo: No, you regained consciousness. Alison got first chair.
Lisa: (screams, screen fades to black, then wakes up). Oh, it was all just a dream!
Mr. Largo: That was a close one Lisa, but you made it!
Lisa: I got first chair?
Mr. Largo: No, you regained consciousness. Alison got first chair. And believe me, THIS IS NOT A DREAM!
Lisa: (screams, fade to commercial break)
In the episode "How I Wet Your Mother", the Simpsons, with the help of Professor Fink's device, invoke a dream to enter Homer's subconscious in order to find out why he keeps wetting the bed. When the family are falling to their doom, they think they will just wake up and be perfectly fine. Fink informs them if they die in the dream, they die for real. This causes them to pull out the device within the dream and fall asleep to have a dream within a dream. This repeats 4 more times, making it a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream.
Also played with in "Homie the Clown", where Homer daydreams about sleeping, where he subsequently dreams; first about eating a sandwich, then about the advertisement for Krusty's clown college, moments after claiming it had no effect on him.
Homer:(to his family) That's it! You people stood in my way long enough! I'm going to clown college! Bart: I don't think any of us expects him to say that.
In the Futurama episode "The Sting", Leela goes into a coma after being stung by a space bee, although at this point both she and the audience are unaware of this. She keeps having many Dreams Within A Dream, which convince her she's going insane, before awakening at the end of the episode.
Bender has a similar experience in "Obsoletely Fabulous".
Family Guy once did an intro in the episode "Brian in Love", which involves a parody of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Mr. Rogers greets the audience and hears Trolley coming by, but it turns out that Stewie is riding Trolley holding his ray gun and he reveals to Mr. Rogers that he wreaked havoc on the Neighborhood of Make Believe. After that, Stewie makes Mr. Rogers kneel and threatens to kill him, but Mr. Rogers is pleading for Stewie not to shoot him. Stewie eventually shoots him — but then he wakes up from this looking up to Lois, who tells him that he's just talking asleep. But it turns out that Lois is actually Mr. Rogers in disguise, as he pulls his Lois mask off in a menacing manner. Stewie wakes up again, this time with a catapult scream.
Happened to Mayor West in "Grumpy Old Man". Upon regaining consciousness from a multi-car accident, his egg shattered on his windshield which was his high school project before realizing he's not in high school and he's dreaming. Cuts to West waking up in a desert until that's a dream and wakes up from a car accident with his egg intact and buckled.
Happened to Mrs. Puff in Sponge Bob Square Pants. Most of the episode had her in prison after SpongeBob drove a car off an "unfinished bridge" and down into a juice truck. Near the end of the episode she woke up and was back in the car, falling and crashing again. This time Spongebob was arrested. She looked down to see she was in a prison outfit and woke up again, with one of the prisoners in the car instead. She woke up again, giving up, "Oh, forget it."
In the Justice Friends segment of Dexter's Laboratory, an episode had Krunk watching a Puppet Pal marathon, and entering the land of the Puppet Pals after being guided by a zebra. After a mess occurs, he wakes up discovering it was All Just a Dream... and the zebra appears. It cuts to one of the Puppet Pals waking up from the Dream Within a Dream, complaining "Remind me to never watch the Justice Friends marathon again!".
At the end of one Taz-Mania episode, Francis wakes up from a nightmare and a ton weight (from a trap he set for Taz) lands on his head. Then he wakes up and the weight lands on his head again...and again...and again...
Lampshaded in the Disney's run of Doug, when Doug thought Skeeter was vampire, dreaming of himself visiting his friend and finding the proof of Skeeter's vampire nature along with a notepad of people to bite with Patty being next. Doug rushes to her house only to find out Skeeter beat him to it what more it was Doug's turn to be bitten as vampire Patty points out. Soon his other now undead friends appear and advance on him. Doug then wakes up and relived it was a dream till Sketter and Patty bats suddenly appear. This makes Doug wake up for real moaning "I hate double dreams!"
In Rocko's Modern Life, the episode "To Heck and Back" begins with Karen (a chicken) interviewing for a job. She gets the job, but it turns out that the job is being processed and packed to be sold at a grocery. The episode continues with Heffer and Rocko at the Chokey Chicken, where Heffer dies after choking on a chicken bone. When he arrives in hell, he is "oriented" by Peaches, a devil, and shows him clips of his sins. Eventually, Rocko manages to save Heffer, and he comes back to life. After a few minutes, Rocko reveals himself to be Peaches, and Heffer wakes up in his room. After calming down, Heffer's house turns into the giant head of Peaches, and Heffer finally wakes up at Rocko's front lawn. He goes to Rocko and meets Karen, the chicken at the beginning of the episode, who is headed to the Chokey Chicken corporation for an interview.
"Tickled Pinky" did this too, where Rocko dreams that he's in a room full of organs in jars begging not to be cut out, then wakes into another dream where he and Pinky (his appendix) go to a carnival and other things, before waking up from the surgery for real.
The Venture Bros. Christmas special begins with Dr. Venture as Scrooge being shown his own grave. Like Scrooge, he wakes from the dream a changed man, his heart grown three sizes, nose glowing red and flying - he wakes up again, his face on the tv remote as the set clicks from one Christmas special to another. At the end of the show, his Christmas party ends abruptly as the compound erupts in an explosion set up by the Monarch. He wakes up yet again in the family jet, which has crash-landed in Bethlehem.
In the British cartoon series Captain Zed And The Zee Zone, one episode has the eponymous character assigned to help a particular kid who was getting nightmares. The thing is, he has to leave a kid's dream before the kid he's helping wakes up, or he will be teleported to the real world with said kid and no way to get back to the dream dimension (the eponymous Zee Zone, where the minds of humans get teleported to magically every night when they sleep). Said kid does apparently wake up and it appears that Captain Zed and his partner were also sent to the real world with no way of getting back, but it turns out to be a dream within a dream. It took a while before Captain Zed realizes it and uses it to his advantage and save both the kid's dream and himself.
Played with in the Beavis and Butt-Head episode "Cow Tipping" when the duo are watching Violent Femmes' video for "Nightmares". Beavis mentions that he had a "real scary" nightmare the night before where "everything sucked". Butt-Head replies "But Beavis, everything does suck!", causing Beavis, after a brief pause cueing a Scare Chord, to scream in terror under the "revelation" that he is still in such a dream. The rest of the scene involves Beavis doing this every time Butt-Head or Beavis himself mentions that something "sucks".
Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated: Scooby experiences one at the start of "Stand and Deliver". He dreams he is sharing a romantic dinner with Nova when it is attacked by killer robots. He then wakes up in Nova's hospital room, which is then attacked by the same killer robots. He then wakes up for real and blames the dream on eating too many doughnuts before going to sleep.
In The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy's movie Big Boogie Adventure, Mandy gets trapped in the Boogey Man's dream world where she keeps "waking up" from progressively stranger dreams as a way of breaking her will. Irwin saves her with a kiss, which she dismisses as the next dream and asks to move along. When she finds out this is reality, she runs to vomit.
Western Animation/Chaotic: In "Chaotic Crisis", Kaz has a dream that all the creatures of Perim have invaded Chaotic and are ready to invade the real world, and wakes up when he averts the crisis, only to see his teacher about to start the invasion all over again, waking up once more. Thinking he's awake for real this time, he gets a call on his scanner from a girl he was crushing on, and begins to realize he's still dreaming.