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Instant Waking Skills

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"Most people, on waking up, accelerate through a quick panicky pre-consciousness check-up: who am I, where am I, who is he/she, good god, why am I cuddling a policeman's helmet, what happened last night? — This never happened to Granny Weatherwax. She went straight from fast asleep to instant operation on all six cylinders. She never needed to find herself because she always knew who was doing the looking."

Anyone who knows how the human body handles sleep knows that being woken up suddenly isn't pleasant, and it takes a while to adjust. Not so in Hollywood. In a lot of movies and other works of fiction, characters who are suddenly woken from bed seem to be on full alertness as soon as they get out of bed. Guess they must have Instant Waking Skills.

There is some Truth in Television to this. In general, awakening with a shot of adrenaline, such as may be caused by a very loud sound or pain, sometimes can cause a person to reach full alertness instantly. Sudden shocking information can do it too, but it usually relies on the person already being awake enough to understand what they're being told. Also, someone conditioned by several months in combat or even a peacetime armed force will often acquire the ability to lapse in and out of sleep almost instantly (tackling the waker and putting a knife to their throat is optional).

A similar scenario to this trope is the tendency for patients who have just been brought out of cardiac arrest to instantly pop back into wakefulness thanks to the CPR and defibrillator being used on them. Unlike the examples given above for normal sleepers, many people who go into cardiac arrest tend to fall unconscious shortly after their heart stops, and they tend to be very groggy and confused for quite some time after resuscitation, if not still unconscious.

Additionally, there are several distinct stages of sleep that a human goes through over the course of a night, some of which are deeper than others. If one is not in a deep stage of sleep when awoken, one can achieve full alertness fairly quickly - though not as quickly as some of the examples here. (Deep Sleep usually negates such skills even for those who usually have them.)

Contrast Heavy Sleeper and Not a Morning Person. Compare Wake Up Fighting and Catapult Nightmare. A Sleepyhead has the corresponding ability to fall asleep instantly.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Inverted by Osaka in Azumanga Daioh, insofar as she was partially asleep at one point even when fully mobile.
  • Fate/stay night:
    • Despite getting 4-5 hours of sleep a night tops, Shirou never seems particularly impaired and even wakes up automatically at 5 am every morning. However, he's basically unique among the cast in this, with the rest basically being normal and Tohsaka on the other side of the spectrum. In fact his exhaustion upon waking up after sleeping with Sakura in Heavens Feel actually serves as a big warning flag that something is wrong with her. Apart from what we already know.
  • On Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, when Heero wakes up captured by OZ, he manages to somehow do so without triggering the slightest increase in his pulse or brainwaves, which keeps his captors from noticing he's woken up at all.
  • Rurouni Kenshin:
    • It's unclear if Kenshin's this trope or just a very light sleeper, but when he's on watch he rests sitting up, with his sword in his lap and his forehead resting on the hilt. Once, he heard someone sneaking up on him, started a draw with his thumb... when it turns out to be Kaoru, he drops the sword back down in relief and cuts said thumb.
    • In the flashback arc, Kenshin almost decapitates a major character (his future first wife) when she approaches him while asleep to put a blanket on him. This actually subverts Instant Waking Skills by having Kenshin being so out of it that he almost could not identify his "attacker" in time to push her away—a moment more and he would've killed her. This causes him to truly realize the psychological toll of being an assassin.
  • One Piece:
    • Zoro has been able to go from sleeping to full-on fight mode, as seen when the Franky Family attempts to attack him while he is sleeping and he blocks the swinging sword with his own half-sheathed sword. Fans have hypothesized it's either this trope or Zoro being a light sleeper or he pretends to be sleeping to mislead people.
    • During the battle at Enies Lobby, Usopp finds the CP9 agent Jyabura sleeping and tries to steal his handcuff key. Unfortunately, Jyabura wakes up and immediately gives Usopp a punch that sends the poor pirate flying across the room. Usopp is shocked at how powerful someone who's just woken up can be.
  • In an Hetalia: Axis Powers drama CD, America goes from half-asleep to fully awake the second he realises he's going to be late for work.
  • Sōsuke from Full Metal Panic! actually trained himself to do this; while it's Properly Paranoid for someone who grew up on battlefields around the world when he's posing as an Ordinary High-School Student it just tends to cause trouble.

    Comic Books 
  • Nick Fury is apparently a light sleeper, being able to take out two HYDRA goons after he wakes up hearing their footsteps.
  • Wonder Woman:
    • Wonder Woman (1942): The ability to be fully alert upon waking is a part of Amazonian training and Diana bemoans that the time she's spent in "Mans World" is making this more difficult for her as she has become prone to sleeping in by Amazon standards.
    • Wonder Woman (2006): In the graphic novel The Circle, four Amazons sneak into Queen Hippolyta's bedroom to murder the baby, Diana. The queen is awakened by a bird's cry and sees the assassins: "And exhausted the queen might be, but a warrior she remained, and guards or not, army or not...she slept beside her sword!" She defeats all four.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the film Explorers, not only does the main character wake instantly from strange dreams, he has the presence of mind and coherence to write and draw what he saw in those strange dreams. This one might be slightly justified because the dreams are Phlebotinum-induced. He does have trouble remembering what he saw, and it's only by the second or third dream, which all the boys share, that they get all of the details. Somewhat Truth in Television as keeping a dream journal increases your ability to remember your dreams.

  • Chrysalis (RinoZ): Unlike Earth ants, which take multiple power-naps, Pangeran monster ants benefit from a full eight hours of torpor. However, once that eight hours is up, they're immediately ready for action.
    HIYAH! I'm up! I'm ready! It's time to take on a new day.
  • In Starship Troopers Rico claims to have learned how to wake up instantly, and conversely drop off to sleep just as quickly, in boot camp. On one long mission, his commanding officer has them all hypnotically conditioned to fall asleep and wake up on command.
  • Also seen in another Heinlein novel, Between Planets:
    The company headquarters runner sought him out and awakened him — by standing well clear and giving the hammock rope a sharp tap. Don came instantly awake, a knife in his hand. "Easy!" cautioned the runner. "The Old Man wants to see you."
  • In the Rick Brant series, Rick's best friend Scotty was capable of sleeping just about anywhere, and waking instantly and ready for action. His Backstory as a marine justifies this ability.
  • Conan the Barbarian exhibits these on several occasions in the original stories by Robert E. Howard — or, to be more precise, every single time he wakes up on-page.
    Conan woke from a sound sleep as quickly and instantly as a cat. And like a cat, he was on his feet with his sword out before the man who had touched him could so much as draw back.
  • In the Doc Savage novels, Doc could do this. Justified, in that he had been specifically trained in the ability by an aged Ubangi tribesman.
  • Discworld:
    • In Witches Abroad, Granny Weatherwax is described as having Instant Waking Skills due to her ironclad sense of self: when other people wake up, they have to ask themselves questions like "Who am I, where am I, am I in bed with someone I don't recognize," and so on. Granny skips all that.
    • In Interesting Times, the Bursar is so acclimated to being roused at the crack of dawn by the Archchancellor's bellows that he even skips the waking up part, getting dressed and exiting his room while he's technically still asleep.
    • Moist von Lipwig shows this in Going Postal. When a golem punches its way through the door of his room, he's out the window and accelerating before the splinters have landed.
  • In Orson Scott Card's Speaker for the Dead, Ender takes a few seconds to become fully alert when someone wakes him up. And remembers how, back in Battle School, he would be fully alert upon being awoken. This may be justified, or at least mitigated, by the fact that Battle School was military training, and Ender was raised there for a significant portion of his childhood.
  • Bud, Not Buddy. The book's title character brags about them.
  • Tarzan can do this. Justified and frequently lampshaded in the books as being a result of his growing up in a treacherous jungle full of predators.
  • Roland of Gilead in The Dark Tower books has this, thanks to his brutal training as a Gunslinger. Weirdly, he can also invert this: in order to prevent Detta from noticing he's keeping an eye on her, he actually forces himself to fall asleep for the few seconds she's looking at him.
  • In one of the Star Wars novels, Han Solo is described as having developed Instant Waking Skills by necessity, given the kind of illegal lifestyle he used to have.
  • Melles, a character in Storm Breaking, has Instant Waking Skills. Most people who know this assume it's because he has a guilty conscience. The truth is that he trained himself to wake instantly because as a trained assassin he knows exactly how vulnerable a sleeping person is. (He has no feelings of guilt over any of his kills.)
  • In Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot, one of the side-characters experiences this trope when a vampire invades his house. It's played a little better than most by explaining that he developed the skill when he served as a soldier in Vietnam and lost it when he came back to the States. In such a high state of panic, it comes back to him and wakes him up almost immediately. Not that it helps much against the hungry vamp...
  • Flinx, of the Humanx Commonwealth series, possesses this trait. He doesn't know if it comes from his abnormal genetic heritage or his early life as a petty thief on the streets of the planet Moth, but it comes in handy a few times. He also needs only a few hours of sleep each day and can adjust his circadian rhythm more or less at will.
  • Jeeves from Jeeves and Wooster, as opposed to Bertie, who's Not a Morning Person: "It's a mystery to me how he does it."
  • From the Wheel of Time series, the Aiel Wise Ones, and after receiving training, Egwene. This thoroughly annoys Suian, who cannot figure out how Egwene can don and doff sleep like a robe.
  • Several characters in The Elenium display this trait, such as Kurik, Mirtai, and Flute/Aphrael. Strangely, few of the knights have this ability. Sparhawk even acknowledges that he takes a few minutes to get functional when woken up.
  • King Tirian, in The Last Battle can wake up at the time he wants, refreshed, without any "stages", due to his many field campaigns.
  • Lampshaded in Warlock of Gramarye:
    Rod was instantly awake, as is the wont of secret agents.
  • The pulp novel characters by Jerry Ahern often have this ability. In The Takers action-adventure writer Josh Culhane learnt the skill through necessity while stalked for six days by bandits on the Lateriquique River in Paraquay. Likewise, ex-CIA officer turned survival expert John Rourke — it may be hereditary, as his wife mentions the same about her son, who can wake up instantly in the middle of the night but is Not a Morning Person.
  • The Kingdom and the Crown: Simeon, who is a Zealot, has developed these unless he's somewhere that he feels exceptionally safe.
  • The Da Vinci Code has a Swiss banker who references the Masai warriors famous ability (see Real Life below,) and has also developed this skill as a necessity of dealing with a large number of clients who are extremely rich and/or powerful and may have come straight to the bank from a different timezone and want to get into their vault immediately.
  • Honor Harrington is shown throughout her series to possess this skill, conditioned by years spent on warships in combat zones. It is occasionally contrasted with other characters who despite similar backgrounds are are not morning people.
  • In Moominvalley In November, Snufkin is stated to wake up instantly alert, like animals do - probably because he's so in-tune with nature.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Our Miss Brooks: Miss Brooks when woken by her alarm clock. Also happens when she's woken by a reporter in "Model Teacher". Sometimes, however, Miss Brooks is simply Not a Morning Person.
  • Spoofed in Gilmore Girls; after Rory joins the Powderpuffs, Lorelai wakes her up early and tells her to wear cute pajamas, put on makeup, and fix her hair before the other girls arrive to "kidnap" her for initiation.
    • Further spoofed in a later episode, where Lorelai supposedly tried, unsuccessfully, to wake Rory before finally leaving a sticky note on her head to tell her to meet her for lunch later.
  • In one episode of MythBusters, we learn that Jamie is a very light sleeper. We don't learn if it goes all the way to Instant Waking Skills because Adam is too impatient to let Jamie get fully asleep.
  • Sayid from Lost demonstrates Instant Waking Skills when in a doctor's office — upon waking up from drug-induced unconsciousness, he immediately reaches out and begins to strangle the doctor, Jack. It takes him a few seconds to realize where he is and what he's doing. Justified, being a military man who had originally been knocked out in the middle of a fight.
  • Pierce is shown to have this in Community episode "English as a Second Language". It just takes the right phrase to trigger.
    Jeff: Discrimination lawsuit!
    Pierce: Preposterous!.
  • In the Supernatural episode "What Is and What Should Never Be", when Sam hears a noise downstairs, his eyes pop open and he is ready to face the intruder.

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    Tabletop Games 
  • Despite the name, Combat Reflexes gives you this ability in GURPS.
  • The Lightsleep Talent in Hero System.
  • In Dungeons & Dragons 3.5e; the spell Vigilant Slumber does this, but you have to set conditions for it and are limited by what you could observe while awake.
  • In Pathfinder (and possibly other settings), night combat is extra dangerous because sleeping players need to make skill checks to see if they can hear the person on watch raising the alarm, of if an alarm hasn't been raised, whether they can sense being attacked; however, once awake, they can immediately take action.
  • Vampire: The Requiem: Overlaps with Heavy Sleeper for vampires during daysleep. They need to pass a Humanity check to be able to wake up, even if they overhear an imminent threat, but wake instantaneously with full functionality. One Sourcebook has a vampire wax nostalgic over the uniquely mortal experience of waking up slowly.

    Video Games 
  • The "wake" command in Achaea takes a randomised but annoyingly long amount of time to go through, unless the player levels up in "Survival" enough to get "Metawake", which gives Instant Waking Skills. Characters will also wake instantly if attacked while asleep. ("The pain jerks you awake!")
  • Super Mario Bros.:
  • In some Sonic the Hedgehog games, certain characters (usually Sonic, Tails, or both) will fall asleep if left idle for too long; they wake instantly if you press a button.
  • Wander from Shadow of the Colossus; just press a button upon resuming your game and he'll be on his feet and back to business as usual.
  • ICO, on the other hand, has to take a few seconds stretching and yawning when you reload a saved game, and Yorda takes a few seconds to rouse herself as well. And it's adorable.
  • Snake from Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty will wake up instantly and point his gun at Raiden if the player points a gun at him.
  • In The Sims, Sims with a low Active stat will take roughly A WHOLE (in-game) HOUR to get out of bed, while those with a high Active stat will jump straight out.
  • In Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas, and Fallout 4, you can wake up any sleeping character at anytime to speak to them. After exiting the conversation, they will usually go right back to sleep.
  • Taken to an extreme in Wolfenstein: The New Order, where B.J. Blazkowicz manages this emerging from a 14-year long coma.
  • Subverted in the first generation of Pokémon games. Waking up from Sleep status effects would still cost you your entire turn. This was changed from generation 2 onward, allowing Pokémon to attack the same turn they awoke.
  • Fate/EXTRA: In contrast to her main timeline counterpart, this version of Rin Tohsaka apparently wakes up very quickly.
    Player Character: Tohsaka goes from comatose to bitch in three seconds flat.

    Visual Novels 
  • In the Tsukihime sequel Kagetsu Tohya, Shiki instantly wakes up a slumbering Hisui by shouting "Kohaku's about to clean the expensive vase!" Hisui instantly snaps awake with a cry of "Onee-chan, NOOOOOOOO!" This works because Kohaku is very clumsy, and therefore all the indoor cleaning is handled by Hisui since there are some rather expensive things in the mansion.

    Web Comics 
  • The Adventures of Dr. McNinja: Dr. McNinja has these (and such intense combat reflexes that his sidekick is terrified of actually waking him up), it is explained that when your mother tries to stab you in your sleep all the time, certain instincts are developed. In Monster Mart, he describes an attack on him and some other vigilantes in college. He woke up halfway through fighting the assassins.
  • Looking for Group: Cale gets woken up to alarms caused by a surprise night attack on the gnome city he's in, and is instantly in the middle of the fight, killing everyone in fast he doesn't even have time to put his clothes on.
  • Homestuck seems to have this at play, too; the Kids (and the Trolls) have both physical bodies (which lived on their home planet, prior to entering the Medium) and 'dream selves' (which lived on Prospit or Derse). Switching from physical to dream (or vice versa) requires that you fall asleep in order to wake up in the other mode. The waking part seems to happen quite quickly, so long as your dream self has awakened to begin with.
  • In El Goonish Shive the improbability of this trope is one of the first clues that Grace is not actually awake at the beginning of this strip as pointed out in this follow up strip.

    Web Original 
  • In the Whateley Universe, it seems like Chaka and Bladedancer both have this, due to their Ki abilities. Both of them have roommates who do not, and who gripe about it.
    • She-Beast mentions that she wakes up instantly aware as well, possibly due to the cybernetic implant her Mad Scientist father put in her (which she doesn't know much about).

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Played straight with Zuko at other times in the series. For instance, when falling asleep waiting for Iroh to finish a meeting, when the door opens, Zuko goes from asleep to battle-ready in half a second. (Of course, at that point he'd had a certain amount of need to develop the skill.)
  • In the Tex Avery short "Rock-a-Bye Bear", a dog is house-sitting for a bear that's going into hibernation; but this bear will instantly wake up at the sound of a pin drop and pummel the dog yelling "QUIET!! SHADDUP! QUIET!!" Hilarity Ensues as a rival dog attempts to wake the bear up and steal the watchdog's job.
  • Kaeloo: In one episode, Kaeloo has to wake up at 5:30. She proceeds to jump out of bed the moment the alarm clock rings, and somehow even does exercise.

    Real Life 
  • Elijah Wood, according to his castmates on The Lord of the Rings, has this ability, as well as Instant Napping Skills. The moment a take is over, if they have to reset, he'll go sit on something and be asleep instantly, and when someone says, "Elijah!" he'll instantly wake up: "Right. Scene. Here's my mark? Let's do it." Quite a handy skill for an actor.
  • Apparently Winston Churchill had the same knack as Elijah Wood, too.
  • During the peak of Kelsey Grammer's substance abuse problems, his costars in Cheers claimed he would be near catatonic between takes only to instantly spring to life and perform whenever someone called "Action".
  • Ditto for Danny Glover, according to his co-stars on the Lethal Weapon series.
  • Some anecdotes attribute this skill to Bill Clinton, saying that he could wake up, and five minutes later be fully dressed, coiffed, and on his way to a meeting.
  • According to Greg Sestero in The Disaster Artist, Tommy Wiseau has the uncanny ability to put himself to sleep at the beginning of a car trip and wake up moments before they arrive, regardless of the length of the journey. When questioned about it, Wiseau simply calls it a "vampire trick".