Somnambulism, commonly known as sleepwalking, is the phenomenon where a person, while sleeping, performs physical activities, often with their eyes open but unresponsive to the world. Within the real world, the sleepwalker will typically have their eyes open and will move as normal, if sometimes a bit slower as if tired. Any complex action that is performed while awake may be replicated while sleepwalking, including unlocking of doors, catching trains, driving cars, even sex and murder. The sleepwalker typically avoids obstacles, but still may be injured by non-routine events such as tripping hazards or closed doors. The disorder is common in children, but is typically grown out of. It is rarer in adults and consistent bouts of sleepwalking may indicate various psychological or brain disorders. Because sleepwalking typically occurs outside of REM sleep, dreams very seldom correlate with the actions while sleepwalking —contrast Dream Action Leak
Likely symptoms include:
- Eyes open during sleep
- May have blank look on face
- May sit up and appear awake during sleep
- Walking during sleep
- Performing other detailed activity of any type during sleep
- Not remembering the sleepwalking episode when they wake up
- Acting confused or disoriented when they wake up
- Rarely, aggressive behavior when they are awakened by someone else
- Sleep talking that does not make sense
In fiction, sleepwalking is generally portrayed with the sleepwalker having both arms extended in front of them
and eyes closed (and in some extreme cases, blindfolded). The sleepwalker will again perform complex actions, but will almost always have an uncanny ability to avoid dangers in their world that they really shouldn't be aware of.
Folklore regarding sleepwalking states that waking a sleepwalker is dangerous
, but in reality, the worst that may happen is confusion as they awake in a strange place.
See also Talking in Your Sleep
, a related phenomenon, and Escort Mission
or Badly Battered Babysitter
for the frequent trope involving other characters trying to shepherd the sleepwalking character past danger without waking them due to the old wives' tale.
Anime and Manga
- In one old commercial for Post Fruity Pebbles, Barney pretends he's sleepwalking to get Fred's Pebbles; Fred doesn't wake him up, afraid that it's dangerous, but when he's upset that Barney's eating his Pebbles, Barney tells him there's more in the cupboard... And blows his cover as a result.
- Asuka attempting to kiss Shinji in his sleep in Neon Genesis Evangelion
- Fam from Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing has a pretty bad case, especially since she's a Sky Pirate. The first scene of the entire show is her stripping off, opening the hanger door of their airship and walking out, saved only by a rope with a bell on it tied to her leg. Episode 4 also shows that there's a mat placed below the entrance to her loft bedroom to cushion her inevitable falls.
- Ranma ˝: Akane takes this a step further. She fights in her sleep.
- Comedian Mike Birbiglia has this problem, which he details in his book Sleepwalk With Me. One incident had him jump from a window while asleep, which almost took his life. As a result, he only allows himself to sleep on the first floor of a building.
- The Marvel Comics character Sleepwalker, whose body is taken over by an alien being at night when he's asleep.
- One of Venom's early appearances — as the symbiote rather than as just clothes, and before he was separated from Spider-Man — had him take Peter Parker out for a swing while Parker was completely asleep. Parker later wonders why he's so tired.
- In Marvel Star Wars, Luke once goes into a Force-induced coma where he has to fight a Vader-shaped manifestation of his own fear. Meanwhile, he gets captured, stripped, and Strapped to an Operating Table. As he starts to win, his eyes open, he breaks free of the table, and he fights off a horde of guards while still fighting in the dream. He's rather surprised when he wakes up.
- Trope Maker for the "arms extended in front" pose is The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
- Frankenstein's Monster and zombies are usually portrayed as walking like this, with hands outstretched. While they're not technically asleep, they are resurrected dead — death often being compared metaphorically to a permanent sleep. In the original Universal film series Frankenstein's Monster only did this after an incompatible brain transplant, making him blind. And arguably, making him no longer the same character. It was then Ygor's brain in the monster's body. Most parodies of the Universal Frankenstein use this pose though, without bothering with the reason why.
- In Phenomena, main character Jennifer is a sleepwalker, and the plot of the movie kicks off when she witnesses a murder while sleepwalking. Notably, during her second sleepwalking episode, she actually realises that she's sleepwalking and tries to snap herself out of it. She fails, but then she hears a gunshot and wakes up.
- One of the side effects of an experimental antidepressant called Ablixa in Side Effects is sleepwalking. Emily, who has tried many other antidepressants to no avail, is determined to keep taking it despite sleepwalking, during which she prepares food for three people... even though it's just her and her husband at the apartment. Then, one night, she stabs her husband during one such episode. In the end, her psychiatrist finds out that this was all a scheme by Emily and her former psychiatrist to cause the stocks of the manufacturer of the drug to plummet and cash in on the knowledge; killing her husband, whom she secretly hated, was a bonus; her new psychiatrist's ruined career was just collateral damage. Fortunately, the psychiatrist ends up proving himself a Magnificent Bastard, and the women end up paying for their crimes.
- In Secondhand Lions, Hub is a sleepwalker who does weapons drills by the lake at night.
- In The Bobbsey Twins, Freddie suffers a bout of Sleep Walking where he gets up and stands in front of Flossie's bed, making her think there's a ghost.
- In Heidi, Heidi starts sleepwalking in Frankfurt as her health fails due to homesickness.
- A plot point in The Moonstone.
- In Dracula, Lucy is a chronic sleepwalker who sleepwalks all the way across Whitby to the cemetery overlook the night she's first bitten by the eponymous vampire.
- On A.N.T. Farm, Olive does this during a slumber party. While sleepwalking she makes rooster noises, plays golf and sleep-knits, and isn't aware that she sleepwalks.
- The Drew Carey Show had the title character sleep-eating.
- In House, one of House's clinic patients was a women who got pregnant because she had sex with her ex-boyfriend while sleepwalking.
- Another patient was a sleepwalker who went as far as to buy cocaine in his sleep.
- An episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent had a sleepwalking cop as a suspect. His neighbour had deliberately hidden his condition from him so she could use him as a fall guy.
- In Desperate Housewives, Orson's guilt over having run over Mike which indirectly led to his painkiller addiction eventually causes him to sleepwalk while muttering apologies. For added embarrassment, he sleeps in the nude...
- On Happy Endings, Max accuses Dave of eating his food while asleep, so he sets up a video camera to catch him in the act. Turns out Dave does sleepwalk, but he's not the culprit; the real food thief is the guy secretly living in their attic.
- Angel has an episode called "Somnambulist," in which there is a string of murders that seem to be commited by a vampire, in Angelus' Signature Style no less. Angel starts having (and enjoying) dreams about killing at the same time the murders are occuring, so naturally he suspects he has been sleepwalking and doing the killing. It turns out to be Angelus' former protege, who is then killed.
- In Cougar Town, Jules has trouble sleeping, so she takes a sleeping pill. The next morning she wakes up fine, but everyone else is tired. Turns out the pill caused Jules to sleepwalk, keeping everyone awake with her antics.
- An episode of Diagnosis: Murder had Mark's sleepwalking brother suspected of accidentally smothering another patient. It turned out he was framed and the real killer planted the pillow in his hands.
- In one multi-part episode of Power Rangers Zeo, Bulk and Skull (who were, at the time, police cadets) were trying to figure out who the graffiti artist was who kept targeting the juice bar. As it turned out, the culprit was Skull himself, who was doing it while sleepwalking. (He actually claimed he did this before, having painted his parent's whole kitchen once. Sure, it's kind of hard to believe, but still...)
- Hogan's Heroes: Hogan has Newkirk fake sleepwalking in order to distract the guards. As Newkirk's wandering around outside, Schultz comes up to him and tries to wake him up. Newkirk "mistakes" him for a beautiful lady and begins to stroke Schultz's face... until he comes to his mustache.
- The Dick Van Dyke Showhad a two part episode with Rob's brother, who was shy and nervous awake but outgoing and funny while asleep. Rob and the others try to help him see that he can be the same way awake as asleep and do a comedy show.
- CSI NY had "Night,Mother", where a sleepwalking woman was suspected of stabbing a man with a wooden stake. It was found that the real killer stabbed the victim, then the sleepwalker went through the actions she'd seen used to try and save her young son, who died in a car crash years earlier. She did CPR,then tried to reach in and massage the dead woman's heart.
- They Might Be Giants has the song "Sleepwalkers", which is about, well, what you'd expect, and references the "arms held out, eyes closed" thing.
- The main character of Megadeth's "Sleepwalker" kills people in his sleep.
- Averting this trope is hailed as one of the few positive results of insomnia in The Go-Gos' "You Can't Walk In Your Sleep (If You Can't Sleep)".
- Two moves in Pokémon, Snore and Sleep Talk, both of which allow the Pokémon attack while under the "Asleep" effect. (Often done in combination with the Rest move, where the Pokémon goes to sleep on purpose to heal itself.)
- Amos from Dragon Quest VI turns into an enormous monster while sleeping, and doesn't know about it.
- Ed, Edd n Eddy: one episode had Ed sleepwalking and sleepeating.
- There was an episode of Rugrats where Stu sleepwalks and the babies believe he is a robot.
- An episode of Hey Arnold! dealt with Phoebe trying to stop Helga from sleepwalking to Arnold's house.
- In one episode of The Powerpuff Girls, Professor Utonium, after being overworked in the lab, starts sleep-shoplifting.
- Wilhemina Packard from Disney's Atlantis: The Lost Empire is said to sleepwalk, though we don't see her do it. The fact that she sleeps in the nude probably has something to do with it. The other characters wear sleep masks because of this.
- In Rocko's Modern Life, Ed Bighead experienced his childhood trauma of pirates when watching a play. He begins sleepwalking on his roof as a pirate in search of a treasure map.
- In The Flintstones, Wilma states that every time Fred goes on a diet, he sleepwalks to the fridge.
- On Family Guy, Stewie observes Joe sleep-dragging.
- Olive Oyl sleepwalks in the Popeye cartoon "A Dream Walking", while Popeye and Bluto frantically try to keep her safe.
- Homer Simpson starts sleepwalking under the effects of sleeping medication Nappien. Bart takes advantage of the situation and uses Homer as his personal "zombie".
- In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Sleepless In Ponyville", while scouting ahead, Scootaloo dozes off on her scooter, harkening near danger several times but only to end up landing safely in a bush a bit down the path.
- An episode of All Grown Up! had Tommy sleepwalking and stealing all the items on the neighbors' front lawn as a result of pressure from the 4th grade test. He is unaware he is sleepwalking and everyone thinks there is a theif in the neighborhood. Dil ends up getting blamed for it when he is caught trying to return all the stuff Tommy had stolen.
- Mr. Bogus does this in the claymation short shown after the third act of the episode "Bogus To The Rescue". His sleepwalking results in knocking a glass off the bathroom counter before it shatters into pieces. The crash sound is what wakes up Bogus, before he notices the broken glass, inquiring if he really did do that but not remembering anything about it.
- Homicidal somnambulism — an extreme form where a sleepwalker commits murder while asleep.