You have somehow figured that you are in a dream. But how is that a problem? Just tell yourself "This is just a dream, wake up!", that's all it takes. Alternatively, you can play along until your alarm clock goes off. Right?
If not, there's this trope.
Maybe the dream is a nightmare you want to wake from, or the event there can have real-life consequences. Or you shouldn't be wasting time dreaming, but just can't snap out of it. Either way or all of the above, the dream has you trapped and you have to actively do something in order to break free right now — in fact, it's not uncommon for such a dream to have only one way "out", failing to find which leaves you in Forced Sleep.
You may have to find and contact (often reads "destroy") the manifestation of whoever or whatever's causing it, and that's if you're lucky. Dreams can get clever enough to impose the condition you least want to carry out even in a dream; it may be something that costs your (although virtual) life. Oh, and when you give it a try, you have to be extra sure that you're not being Tricked to Death by Genre Savviness.
Supertrope of Win to Exit. May overlap with Dream Apocalypse if a Shared Dream is broken by waking up the main dreamer in-dream. Compare Adventures in Comaland when a long-unconscious character goes on a spiritual journey inside their own head. For instances where simple pain negates any illusion, see Slap Yourself Awake.
- Anpanman: Whenever Akubi-dori yawns, he sends the main character of the episode in a long sleep and into a dream. The only way to get out of the dream is to find Akubi-dori, go inside him, and pull any of the mood ropes to make him sneeze. After that, all of the characters wake up and none of them (except for the main character) remembers the events that happened in the episode.
- Bungo Stray Dogs: Ace is locked in a room with Fyodor with a radio that won't work, and loses against Fyodor in a game of cards. However, Ace realizes Fyodor is using his Ability to trap enemies within his own mind, and proceeds to hang himself, knowing that is the only way to escape to reality. Unfortunately for him, Fyodor never had that Ability, he actually set up the room and memorized the backs of the cards to give off the illusion that the scenario was fake, meaning Ace really killed himself.
- In the Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak High School OVA, Nagito is trapped within his own dreamworld in which he is ignorant of the real world, as a coping mechanism to deal with his traumatic death in the Neo World Program. An AI called World Destroyer is sent to wake Nagito up by destroying psychological defences which appear as his classmates, eventually causing the boy to confront it. Nagito launches a suicide attack on the AI in an effort to destroy it and shoots himself in the head, causing him to remember the real world and allowing him to wake up.
- Dark Green, a sci-fi shōjo manga by Junko Sasaki, revolves around the globally shared "R-dreams". While they are fairly safe fantasy worlds where dreamers can (usually) wake up at will, dying there means dying for real. The only known exceptions are the ones killed by Kurein, whose superpower kicks them out of the R-dream forever with no memory of it. She serves as a Mercy Killer to people getting killed by dream monsters and to herself when she ends up fatally injured.
- In Delicious in Dungeon, the elf Marcille gets trapped in a nightmare by a clam-like creature called a nightmare, hidden in her pillow and feeding on her distress. The safest way to wake someone attacked like this is for someone else to fall asleep on top of them, entering their dream and helping them fight it off, which Laios does. It turns out Marcille’s worst nightmare is seeing all her friends and family die before she does, and she’s only able to escape when Laios inspires her to manifest her greatest desire, the Lunatic Magician’s spellbook, which contains the secret of immortality. When Marcille wakes up, all she remembers about the nightmare is going on an adventure with a funny dog.
- Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba: Once figuring it out, Tanjiro is so quick to kill his dream self every time he falls back asleep, that the Dream Weaver initially wonders why his Blood Demon Art is no longer working. The demon's last attack takes advantage of this by not putting him to sleep after Tanjiro begins to have his sword ready to chop his neck off in the real world.
- Pokémon the Series: Black & White: In "Beheeyem, Duosion, and the Dream Thief!" a specialized officer Jenney reveals that all dreams have an emergency exit that can be used by blasting them with psychic power if everyone is the dream is 'awake'.
- In the Doc Samson miniseries, Tina Punnett is trapped in a VR game that's been modified to cause psychosomatic damage to the player. Tina decides the only way out is to fall on her own sword. Sure enough, her in-game "death", while painful, resets the game pod and allows her to escape.
- The Dream of a Lifetime: The Beagle Boys invade Scrooge McDuck's dream in order to steal the combination to his money bin. Donald Duck must enter his uncle Scrooge's dream and pry the Beagle Boys out of there by getting them to fall off the "edge" of the dream.
- In the One Piece fanfic Perchance to Dream, a boy who has consumed a devil fruit that allows him to trap people inside dreams ends up unwittingly proceeding in self defense to place Luffy inside a dream of a seemingly perfect life where all his innermost desires and wishes have come true including Ace being alive. And not too long after Luffy is finally forced to accept that he's only in a dream by the boy responsible and the rest of the Straw Hats, who have at this point come into the dream themselves to try to rescue him, it comes to light that the only way for him to end the dream and force himself to wake up is to kill Ace.
- Being killed in a dream leads to the subject waking up. However if it happens while they're sedated, it can lead to remaining in limbo for what feels like years, making it unlikely for the dreamer to perceive it as a dream.
- A kick is another way to forcibly wake yourself up from a dream, however kicks have to be prepared ahead of time as it involves jolting the dreamer's physical body enough to wake them up. Falling or being dunked into a body of water are the main ones shown in the film.
- In Open Your Eyes and its remake Vanilla Sky, the protagonist realizes at the end of the film that he's in a lucid dream, after giving his body to a program called "Life Extension". First, he calls out for "Tech Support" in which case most of the dream stops and a man enters his dream to explain the situation and his current options. The protagonist opts to return to real life, despite knowing that 150 years have passed since he entered the dream; he's then told to kill himself in the dream to wake up, so he throws him from the roof and is next shown opening his eyes in presumably the real world.
- In TRON, computer programmer Flynn gets kidnapped by the Master Control Program into the computer system and is forced to compete in video games "until he dies playing". He escapes by spotting a hole made when one of his opponents crashed into the wall and making a break for it. TRON: Legacy (and the TRON 2.0 Alternate Continuity) kicks this up a notch or two with a different villain and such, but the premise stays the same.
- In The Archonate, Guth Bandar and his fellow noönauts routinely enter trances to explore the Commons, humanity's collective unconscious. While there are smoother ways to leave the Commons, the quickest is to use an 'emergency exit' chant that causes them to wake instantly.
- Red Dwarf: Originally advertised as a video game that's "Better Than Life!", The Game is actually an addictive virtual reality system; once you're in, you can't get out, because The Game protects itself and makes it impossible for you to remember that you're in it. The only way to leave The Game is to want to leave, and to imagine an exit to go back to the real world.
- Re:Zero: Subaru is attacked by illusionary plants in the hypnotic scent of a flower, and is saved when Julius's fire spirit burns a flower nearby. It's not shown what others see, but every illusion is implied to have a flower in it which is the key to dispel the enchantment.
- Behind Her Eyes: Thanks to Adele's coaching, Louise learns to control her night terrors with emergency exit techniques.
- Caprica: People in V-World who are killed or seriously injured wake up, due to a failsafe built into the holobands that automatically activates if people reach a certain pain threshold. One of the games, New Cap City, does disallow "killed" players from returning to play, however.
- Doctor Who: In "Amy's Choice", the Dream Lord explains that if you die in the dream, you wake up perfectly healthy in real life. The only risk is trying to figure out which is the dream and which is reality, because if you die in reality... well, you just die. The Doctor eventually realizes that neither realm is reality as the Dream Lord doesn't have the power to affect the real world.
- The 4400: The fantasy world created by a member of the titular group is, as is always the case with his worlds, supposed to have a special "back door" that will wake everyone up if the ability user steps through. However he is killed attempting to exit, leaving the main characters in a shared dream where they have to escape from a building that is trying to kill them.
- In The Haunting of Hill House (2018), Nell suffers from sleep paralysis linked to apparitions of the Bent-Neck Lady. She and her husband Arthur figure out how to signal to wake herself up — by twitching her hand, she wakes him up, and he reassures her that they are together and turns on the light. It gets tragically interrupted when Arthur dies of a brain aneurysm while turning on the light, and Nell is stuck in sleep paralysis watching him.
- House: Justified in the second series finale "No Reason". House comes to realise he is hallucinating, but is unable to escape until he deliberately kills his "patient", breaking his subconscious suspension of disbelief.
- Kaitou Sentai Lupinranger VS Keisatsu Sentai Patranger: Anyone who approaches the legendary Lupin Magnum gun is trapped in an illusion where the only way out is to shoot your lost loved one, to ensure that only those who won't let themselves be fettered by Morality Chain Beyond the Grave can claim it.
- Legacies: In "There's A Place Where The Lost Things Go", dying in the simulation causes a person to wake up. Except Josie, since only a part of her was killed in the simulation with Dark Josie remaining in control.
- In the Lois & Clark episode "Virtually Destroyed", the heroes are trapped in virtual reality by Lex Luthor's illegitimate son. Once they realize the watch (with his father's initials) he is wearing must be the trope, they win by reducing him to a Villainous BSoD severe enough that he can't stop them from using it.
- Red Dwarf: In "Back in the Red: Part III", the crew find themselves in an artificial reality simulation. Kryten reasons that there must be an emergency escape switch, used to help users escape if the program freezes, and hidden behind a cryptic clue.
- Samurai Sentai Shinkenger/Power Rangers Samurai: Demebakuto/Trickster traps the Rangers in his movie dimension, but the Red Ranger recognizes a recurring element across the movies (spin-related items in Sentai/hypnotic whirring in Power Rangers) and they manage to destroy a nearby wind turbine as they return to normal.
- Stargate SG-1: SG-1 is trapped in an alien virtual reality in "The Gamekeeper", and accidentally discover the way out when they chase the game master through a door with his symbol on it.
- Star Trek:
- Star Trek: The Next Generation: In "Frame Of Mind", Riker realizes he's gotten gaslit into thinking he's in a Cuckoo Nest when he sees he's bleeding from the same spot, his right temple, where his captors have placed an IV, and the same alien captor is in both of the realities Riker's shifted through. So, he first shoots a barrier in one reality and then smashes the wall of the second, which wakes him up and he escapes. Later, Troi theorizes that his entire experience was his mind attempting to resist and wake itself up.
- Star Trek: Voyager: In "Waking Moments", the crew is put into a shared dream and Chakotay escapes it because he can lucid dream. He can force himself to wake up by tapping the back of his other hand.
- Supernatural: This is how to escape the Djinn, who keep their victims in a dreamlike state while in real life their bodies are drained. The only way to exit is to kill yourself in the dream.
- A Dinner Game: In The Second Game, getting killed off is the simplest way to get out of the Dinner Game simulation.
- Beast: The Primordial: Beasts have the ability to pull a dreaming mind into the Primordial Dream, where they will attempt to attack and kill the dreamer in order to feed off its fear and pain. If the Beast succeeds, their victim will awaken in their own bed, physically unharmed but suffering from psychic shock.
- Bloodborne: The "Yharnam Sunrise" ending has you die only to awake alive back in Yharnam as the sun rises, implying that the entire game is nothing more than a dream.
- In Dragon Age, souls of those who sleep enter a special realm called the Fade. Mages can also visit this realm consciously through rituals. A dreamer can get trapped in a section of the Fade controlled by a demon and is then able to leave it and wake up only after the demon is defeated. All games of the series and several related books have at least one "Fade sequence".
- I Was a Teenage Exocolonist: If you've already experienced the strange hopeye dream on your 19th birthday, you can skip it by instantly waking yourself up, although you'll still get insomnia, reducing your mental skill gains by 1 for 3 months.
- In The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, the Wind Fish is trapped in a dream, namely, the entire game world, and Link has to help end it.
- In OMORI, after a terrible revelation interrupts his adventures, Omori finds himself in White Space, unable to return to Headspace. The only way forward is for him to stab himself with his knife, which causes his real-world counterpart Sunny to wake up. It even works in deeper dreamscapes — stabbing himself in Black Space is what allows him to escape certain dead ends or even return to White Space.
- Riddle School: One game reveals the last three games to have been Lotus-Eater Machine-induced dreams. Phil's dream stopped when he was killed, so he enters the other prisoners' dreams to have them experience the same thing.
- In StarFight VI: Gatekeepers, the Player Character ends up being Mind Raped by an alien creature. However, what it looks like is the player waking up and doing the same thing as at the beginning of the game. If the player ends up doing the exact same thing (i.e. follow the memory), then the crew is revealed to be just projections of the creature who then consumes the player's mind. The only way to get out is to do the one thing you can't do at the beginning, enter Engineering. Since there is no memory of entering it, the illusion is broken.
- Superliminal revolves around SomnaSculpt, which uses dreams as therapy, and an automated process dictates how long the patient stays in the dream. Except, in the protagonist's case, it doesn't. After the protagonist finds themselves stuck in their SomnaSculpt session, SomnaSculpt's inventor, Dr. Glenn Pierce, spends a large stretch of the game trying to help the protagonist exit their dream by finding a specific elevator that should wake them up when they enter it.
- In Yume Nikki and many of its fangames, the protagonist leaves the dream world by pinching her cheek. It has to be pinching in the original game, as she cannot wake up while transformed into something armless.
- Batman: The Animated Series: In "Perchance to Dream", Bruce escapes from the Mad Hatter's dream world by deliberately leaping to his "death" from a tower, causing himself to wake up in the real world.
- Garfield and Friends: In "Fair Exchange", Garfield dreams about switching bodies with his owner Jon. Garfield pinches himself in order to stop dreaming.
- Kung Fu Panda: The Paws of Destiny: In "Curse of the Monkey King", a Dream Weaver tries to trap the panda kids by fooling them into thinking they're trapped. They realize that this Near-Villain Victory is also a dream, and knock themselves out to wake up just in time.
- Rick and Morty: In "Lawnmower Dog", Rick and Morty invade the dreams of Morty's math teacher just like Inception and encounter Scary Terry (a parody of Freddy Krueger, the villain in A Nightmare on Elm Street). The rules of dying in dreams are inverted compared to those of the two parodies: when you die in someone else's dream you die for real, and Scary Terry killing the dreamers merely wakes them up.
- Tangled: The Series: In "Rapunzeltopia", Rapunzel gets trapped in a Lotus-Eater Machine and finds herself back in her room in her kingdom, as if the incident with the black rocks never happened. In order to free herself, she must find the black rocks and touch them.
- People just starting to grasp lucid dreaming often report that the act of realizing one is in a dream is usually enough to cause them to wake up. Quite inconvenient, as the point of lucid dreaming is to keep dreaming once you realize you're in the dream.