There's been a string of weird killings lately. The victims come from all walks of life, with only one thing in common. They were asleep at the time. It's time to break out the Coffee and Red Bull to fight Sleep Deprivation because no one can get a good night's rest until whoever or whatever did this is caught. Depending on whether or not the killer works internally (kills you in your dreams) or externally (just plain kills you) a main character who does succumb to sleep, and doesn't get killed off, might have to fight a Battle in the Center of the Mind in order to defeat the monster once and for all. This isn't necessary for the trope, but it still happens a lot.
This is a Horror Trope where the monster or killer targets people who are asleep or otherwise unconscious, and the main characters have to stay awake to stay alive. The "Killer" is loosely defined here, it can be a disease or inanimate object, what's important to the trope is that the victim is at risk, or at least at a substantially greater risk of death if they fall asleep. Can make pretty potent Paranoia Fuel as it ties in with basic primal fears of the scary monster in the closet or under the bed who's only waiting for the lights to go out and you to fall asleep to come out and get you. As we all know Dark Is Evil, and since we sleep in the dark, it's only a short step to "sleep itself is dangerous." After all, a person is most vulnerable while sleeping, as there is no way to see, and fight their attacker.
See also Things That Go "Bump" in the Night, Your Worst Nightmare, Sleep Paralysis Creature and Your Mind Makes It Real. Not to be confused with Fatal Familial Insomnia, a Real Life prion disease that progressively erodes a patient's ability to sleep until they die from not sleeping.
Not to be confused with The Sleepless, which is where someone never needs to go to sleep.
- Gaara in Naruto is possessed by a powerful demon that gains more power over him as he sleeps. If he should sleep for too long, the demon would take over his body completely and he would no longer exist.
- After he was branded during the Eclipse, Guts from Berserk cannot go to sleep at night because of all of the demons and ghosts that are attracted to his brand, and must spend the night fighting them off. Only daybreak can eliminate them for good.
- JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders: Death 13, Mannish Boy's Stand. It controls a Dream Land and attacks sleepers— and Users who are sucked in can't access their Stands. Those who die in Death 13's dream world die for real.
- Sword Art Online:
- Some player killers in the death game have figured out how to challenge sleeping players to a Duel to the Death so they can murder players in safe zones.
- In the Phantom Bullet Arc, a serial killer breaks into players' homes and poisons them while they are logged in to Gun Gale Online (and thus functionally asleep).
- In Oh God Not Again! after returning to Hogwarts to teach Sirius plans to continue the Marauders' reign of terror over Snape, but with more subtlety than before.
Sirius: It's going to take every ounce of my considerable self-control, but I want to wait until [Snape's] so paranoid he can't sleep before I start in on him.
- The SI in Sleeping with the Girls, is shunted to a different fictional universe, always in a girl's bed, whenever he falls asleep. He can barely get a few minutes of sleep before the girl inevitably notices him and angrily attacks. At one point he fears if he falls asleep, he will end up in Alma Wade's bed and be slaughtered before he has a chance to react. After a few dimension hops, he's a wreck from lack of sleep. Fortunately, the dimension hops go in a cycle. After befriending the people whose beds he arrives in, they let him sleep when he arrives.
- Paul Berry's 1992 short animated film The Sandman, in which the titular ghoul sneaks up to a small boy's room while he sleeps, and...let's just say he doesn't give the boy sweet dreams.
- The Alpha Incident is about an alien microorganism that causes the brains of those it infects to quickly expand, to the point of making their heads crack open, if they fall asleep.
- Dreamscape. Tommy Ray Glatman assassinates people by using his psychic abilities to enter their dreams and kill their dream selves.
- The pods in Invasion of the Body Snatchers could only replace people while they were asleep. In the 1978 version, there was a scene where Leonard Nimoy's character tells someone to "get some sleep" and only later do you find out he was a pod person at that point.
- In The Last Witch Hunter, the Dream Walkers can enter people's dreams, manipulate their memories and even wound or kill them. The last two translate to reality. Kaulder mentions that during the war against the Witch Queen, dreamwalkers were her deadliest assassins.
- The villain of the Nightmare on Elm Street series, Freddy Krueger, possesses the ability to kill people in their dreams, with damage from the dream world crossing over into the real world. The Ironic Nursery Rhyme sung by the little girls in the dream world is the Trope Namer, ending with "...nine, ten, never sleep again."
- Although it's the dreams that are dangerous, and not the sleep itself. A drug that completely blocks out dreams is a desperately sought McGuffin at one point.
- In Before I Wake, a young boy named Cody has his dreams manifest in the real world... which would be fine, except he's eight years old, and his night terrors manifest as well in the form of the Canker Man, who attacks and absorbs people around it.
- Vampires in folklore were quite fond of feeding from sleeping people, the most famous example being Dracula.
- Bains, a character from William Hope Hodgson's The Hog, is nearly drawn into a hellish otherworld - source of his chronic nightmares - because he falls asleep while undergoing one of Carnacki the Ghost-Finder's occult experiments.
- Dreamsnatchers from the Dora Wilk Series can attack you in your dreams, hurting you in real life. And Albin's charms turn on when an infected vampire is asleep, making him/her go out in the deadly daylight.
- The Dresden Files: Grave Peril has the Nightmare (aka Leonid Kravos), who kills by entering his victims' dreams.
- Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea: In The Other Wind, the wizard Alder is plagued by dreams of his wife in the land of the dead.
- The Goosebumps book Don't Go To Sleep! had the main character be shunted to a different alternate universe whenever he fell asleep.
- The H.P. Lovecraft story Hypnos involves a sculptor and his mysterious new friend using astral projection to explore the universe and other dimensions, though eventually the latter does something that makes it so that he and the sculptor can't sleep, lest they start prematurely aging and be plagued by unspeakable nightmares. The friend eventually falls into a permanent sleep, which causes the narrator to faint. When he wakes up, his neighbors and the police inform him that there is no friend, but there is a sculpture of him in the room engraved with the word "ΥΠΝΟΣ" (Hypnos, the Greek God of Sleep).
- A Lullaby Sinister has the Surrogate School that students get pulled into when they hit REM cycle. Dying there means dying inexplicably in your bed in real life. To make things worse, the Surrogate School induces amnesia during waking hours, making people forget about its existence until they find themselves back in the location. The only safe way to avoid the Surrogate School is to simply never hit REM. But of course a lack of REM sleep forces your body to induce REM more often.
- Star Wars Legends: Galaxy of Fear: City of the Dead has Zak Arranda repeatedly plagued by guilty Past Experience Nightmares about his dead parents, sometimes seeing them as zombies, and not wanting to sleep... aaaand then while he's asleep an actual zombie starts trying to pry open his window.
- In The Wheel of Time epic series, there is Tel'aran'rhiod, the World of Dreams. Careful Dreamers can navigate this world while they sleep to gather information or meet with each other. It's never a safe place though, because any wound or physical damage carries over to the real world, and any object can be created just by imagining it, including weapons. Occasionally ordinary people accidentally pop in while dreaming normally, usually to disappear after just a few minutes or seconds, unaware that they'd been there at all. On the other hand, sometimes hitting the ground in your dreams can end up being fatal after all...
- The 1000 Ways to Die segment "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" had a man die of a stroke after staying up for days on end because he was being haunted by nightmares involving someone he accidentally ran over.
- Are You Afraid of the Dark?: In "the tale of the water demons", the watery grave robber can't allow himself to sleep for more than a few minutes at a time, or the dead he robbed will come to drag him under.
- Inverted in an arc of Dark Shadows where a character turns into a werewolf and kills people in his sleep. He is able to trap his curse in a portrait, but needs to stay awake until it is finished.
- Doctor Who:
- In "Amy's Choice", the characters are presented with two worlds, one real, one a dream, but they don't know which is which. Both worlds have a deadly peril, but the real-world one (whichever it is) can kill them while they're dreaming of the other world. It turns out that both worlds are dreams.
- The very premise of "Sleep No More": The Doctor is stranded on a space station with monsters that attack whenever someone sleeps and the only way to keep them away is to sing the Mister Sandman tune loudly! The twist is that the monsters are actually made of eye-sand, which generally occurs when someone awakens from sleep.
- Inverted on Kolchak: The Night Stalker, when a walking-weed swamp monster turned out to be a psychic projection from a young man undergoing an experimental sleep-drug therapy. He had grown up hearing ghost stories about such a creature, and the drug gave him the ability to manifest his childhood fear.
- Mystery Science Theater 3000: In the The Giant Spider Invasion episode, the host segments featured an extended parody of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, with Mike, Crow, and Tom Servo trying to stay awake to avoid being replaced by pod people. Crow has no trouble staying awake, but he nearly overdoses on caffeine and sugar.
- A Sliders episode depicts a world ruled by a sinister cabal that can kill people in their dreams.
- The Stargate SG-1 episode "Morpheus" has the curse of Morgan Le Fay (which is really a parasite that creates and feeds on melatonin and serotonin, which makes one very sleepy and then kills you).
- An episode of Star Trek: Voyager had a species which attacks ships by putting its crew to sleep and killing them in their sleep. It turns out the aliens themselves are perpetually asleep and finding and threatening their vulnerable bodies is how the Voyager escapes them. At the end of the episode it's implied many of the crew have trouble sleeping because they're worried the victory was just another fake dream given by the aliens.
- A villain of the week on Supernatural killed people in their dreams out of envy.
- The Twilight Zone (1959).
- "Ninety Years Without Slumbering". A man is afraid that if his grandfather clock runs down he will die, so he has to stay awake to keep it wound up.
- "Perchance to Dream". A man is afraid to go to sleep because he has a weak heart and his nightmares could give him a heart attack.
- In The X-Files episode Via Negativa there is a cult leader who projects himself into the dreams of people he meets and kills them through their dreams, which start once the victim falls asleep.
- A rare humorous example: Prior to the start of The Young Ones, Neil decided never to sleep again when he found out that sleep causes cancer.
- Inspired by The Simpsons, the Alice Cooper song "Can't Sleep, Clowns Will Eat Me".
- Also, off the album "Welcome 2 My Nightmare", the song "Caffeine", which describes the protagonist drinking coffee, taking drugs and sitting in a cold shower so he won't have to face the nightmare world.
- "Enter Sandman" by Metallica.
- Vladislav Delay's "Anima" quotes this trope in its ending dialogue: "I might never go to sleep again, I might stay awake forever".
- From the Nas song "N.Y. State of Mind," : "I never sleep, 'cause sleep is the cousin of death."
- The ending theme to Hanna as well as its recurring musical motif, "Anti-Lullaby" by Karen O, is a calming, pseudo-soothing song warning the singer's beloved starling not to sleep or else a monster will kill them once they do. The song is a metaphor for Hanna and the other Utrax girls having to live constantly looking over their shoulders due to being highly secret government experimental super Child Soldiers, deprived of living a normal childhood.
- Dungeons & Dragons
- The night hag monster would visit Neutral Evil characters while they slept. The hag would force the victim into the Ethereal plane and ride them until dawn, permanently reducing their Constitution by one point each time.
- Ravenloft setting supplement The Nightmare Lands. The Nightmare Court and their agents target people who have nightmares or who try to thwart them by sending them into madness-inducing dreamscapes. (The Abber Nomads, the primitive human natives of the place, don't have to worry about this; they don't dream.)
- The bastellus, a creature native to the Land of Mists, preys on sleepers' life energy.
- Also in D&D, we have a dream larva, a monster born of a god's nightmare that has gained sentience — which makes it a cross between the Balrog and Freddy Krueger. When one of these breaks free from whatever dimension was meant to hold it, this trope can hit an entire planet.
- This trope is the central premise of the aptly-named Don't Rest Your Head.
- Shattered Dreams, a small-press RPG from the late 90s, was all about this trope.
- Warhammer 40,000: One Chapter of Loyalist Marines started hearing their victims screams in their sleep. This being less than helpful for restful slumber, they quickly fell to Chaos.
- Catherine revolves around Vincent, the protagonist, along with many other men, being pulled into a dream world where everything is trying to kill him because he cheated on his girlfriend.
- In Fatal Frame III, Miku researches the Tattoo Curse and notes that the advanced stage includes the target not waking up anymore, until they vanish into an ashen outline.
- Grandia II features a sidequest with the demon hunters shacking up in Mirumu, a town where people are becoming trapped in their sleep. This is a long sidequest and will take some figuring out: Apparently, a flock of Eyeball Bats are attaching themselves to peoples' faces at night, making them dream of a garden paradise which they never want to leave. The heroes seemingly take out the nest of monsters in the catacombs beneath town — but the real culprit is the Monster Progenitor, which is hiding inside a little girl.
- The final episode of Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse is named "The City that Dares not Sleep", which is about a monster, Max as an Eldritch Abomination, releasing spores that resemble Max's head in flames that feed on the citizen's dreams and make the monster stronger. Which is why the whole city has spent a whole week without sleeping.
- Sunless Sea has the Tireless Mechanic, one possible chief engineer, who stole a secret from the Fingerkings: the "serpents who rule dream". They'll do something horrible to him if he ever falls asleep, so he has to take a drug to keep himself awake 24/7. (He notes that this would kill him on the Surface, and it's only possible because he's a Neather.)
- Invoked in Xenoblade Chronicles X in the lyrics of the battle theme "Black Tar".
"Stealing their body and breath
'Til only a shell is left!
Witness to Hell in the flesh!
A fight to the death!
Screaming "Where's the relief?!"
Maybe no more sleep!"
- Zeno of Charby the Vampirate decides that not sleeping is the best way to avoid the nightmares caused by The Wraith's attempts to take over his mind.
- Karkat of Homestuck warns all the other trolls to stay awake, or else they will have to face the Horrorterrors (who actually aren't malevolent, Karkat's just really scared of them). He himself has refused to sleep for nearly a month, the only rest he's gotten being a couple of occasions where he was knocked out.
- Subverted in Sluggy Freelance's "KITTEN II" storyline. Riff rescues a girl from homicidal kittens, and then says, "Don't go to sleep, or the kittens will eat you." He then explains that he made that up, but he needed a good dramatic opening line.
- Gunnerkrigg Court: Gamma acts as a kind of stabilizer for Zimmy, suppressing Zimmy's uncontrolled Reality Warper powers and hallucinations. Unfortunately, the stabilizing effect doesn't function when Gamma's asleep. She tries to stay awake for as long as possible for Zimmy's sake, but she can't go without sleep indefinitely.
- "DON'T READ THIS YOU WILL GET KISSED ON THE NEAREST POSSIBLE FRIDAY BY THE LOVE OF YOUR LIFE." You know you've read an obnoxious, reposted comment that tends to begin that way. These comments often tell a story about someone who died and now returns every night only to take revenge on those "too foolish" to spread their story across the internet. Usually there will also be a reward promised for those who do repost, such as a chance to learn who is your true love (which is often just a trick to get you to close your browser). Sometimes, though, instead of telling a story about a vengeful undead, these comments just say that you will randomly die at midnight, with no specified method.
- In The Fear Mythos blog The Mind of the Nightmare, Devin Shaw has been unable to sleep since The Rake visited him one night, causing him to flee for his life. Only half a bottle of Nyquil together with extreme sleep deprivation finally gave him a few hours of rest.
- Eyeless Jack of Creepypasta fame kills people in their sleep and eats their kidneys, for some reason or another.
- The Russian Sleep Experiment details a Soviet attempt to invoke this by way of sealing five political prisoners in a gas chamber and artificially keeping them awake with a gas based stimulant. The first few days were alright, until on the sixth day one of the prisoners screams for so long and so loudly that his vocal chords tear and render him mute. It goes downhill from the there By the end of the experiment several researchers and soldiers have been killed while all of the prisoners devolved into vicious, self-cannibalizing ghouls that will do anything to avoid falling asleep. When a researcher asks the sole surviving test subject what he is, the ghoul states that he is that hidden madness that lurks within all of mankind that we (unknowingly) keep pacified by sleep. The researcher shoots the prisoner through the heart after receiving their answer.
- Stan from American Dad! eventually kills one-hundred people, which causes his repressed conscious to manifest as an altruistic split personality that takes over whenever Stan falls asleep, so Stan feebly tries to stay awake until he can figure out a way to beat "Sleepwalking Stan".
- The Daria episode, "Legends of the Mall" has Stacey tell the story of the "Rattling Girl of Lawndale", where a popular girl from The '60s, who decides that her eyelids are too fat so she goes on a diet and loses so much weight, her bones end up rattling when she moves. She takes revenge on other popular girls at the school for laughing at her by haunting them in their dreams and trying to bite off their eyelids, scaring them so bad, they stop sleeping.
- In The Fairly OddParents, Timmy's guilt over framing Vicky as the kidnapper of Dimsdale's town mascot, a goat he freed, gets to him so much that he makes outlandish wishes (Like raining ducks) when asleep. His solution? This trope.
Timmy: I WISH FOR A GIGANTIC MONSTER THAT WON'T GO AWAY UNTIL I TELL THE TRUTH ABOUT CHOMPY!
[Cosmo and Wanda Face Palm and grant his wish]
- An episode of Family Guy had Stewie reminisce about the time he had Willem Dafoe living under his bed:
Dafoe: Hey (sliding out from under the bed) you asleep yet?
Stewie: Uh, n-no!
Dafoe: (slowly sliding back under the bed) Just checking.
- A variation occurred in one episode of The Flintstones. A doctor saw what he thought was a report of Fred's examination, which showed he had a germ that usually only dinosaurs get. It's harmless to dinosaurs, but lethal to a human who catches it, unless he manages to stay awake for 72-hours. Not wanting to tell Fred to avoid panicking him, Wilma, Barney and Betty try their hardest to keep him awake by taking him out on the town, but after a whole night of this, he can barely stay awake, so Wilma finally tells him. He does panic briefly, but then he finds out that it was actually Dino's examination, gotten when he took Dino to the vet. (Moral of story: It's best not keep the bad news from someone when you want to help him.)
- The Crackler, a Kaiju featured in Godzilla: The Series episode What Dreams May Come, was created when a repressed man underwent an experimental procedure for his insomnia. An embodiment of his rage, it usually showed up when he was about to nod off.
- According to the increasingly paranoid writings in Journal 3, the Author who studied Gravity Falls underwent a period of this; That's because he's up against a near-omnipotent Dream Weaver who can enter and possess his body anytime he falls asleep. When he appears in the present storyline, he reveals that at one point he had a metal plate installed on his skull to avoid possession without this trope.
can't sleep can't sleep can't sleep can't sleep
- In the Justice League episode "Only a Dream", Batman and the Martian Manhunter fought the aforementioned Doctor Destiny, forcing both of them to stay awake (particularly trying as Batman had previously spent three whole days awake), catch Destiny, and break the others out of his deadly nightmares.
- The Sandman, a Monster of the Week in Martin Mystery, could trap sleeping people in their dreams.
- In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "It's About Time", Twilight Sparkle gets a cryptic warning from her future self, and grows increasingly neurotic trying to identify and stop the vaguely-defined disaster about which she was trying to warn herself. She eventually resorts to staying up for a week straight trying to "monitor everything" in Equestria.
Twilight Sparkle: There are only three days left until next Tuesday! I can sleep all I want after that!
- An episode of Sidekick ripping-off A Nightmare on Elm Street had a dream-dwelling ghoul who fed on the fear of his victims; attempts to avoid him via the title of this trope failed rather quickly.
- In The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror story "Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace" (a Whole Plot Reference to A Nightmare on Elm Street), Bart and Lisa try to not sleep because the vengeful spirit of Groundskeeper Willy will kill them in their dreams. They realize quickly that they simply can't do it and resolve to fight Willy off themselves.
- The Smurfs dealt with a recurring villain named Morphio the Dream Demon (related to the Greek god of dreams In Name Only) who could attack victims in their sleep and inflict them with eternal nightmares, simply For the Evulz.
- Superjail!: In "Dream Machine" a paranoid Warden uses said gadget to become a Dream Walker and spy on the subconscious of the staff and inmates. This evidently horrifying, as they sleep poorly before refusing altogether.
Inmate 1: I no go to sleep no more. That way, he cant get in my dreams.
Inmate: If I ever fall asleep, youll punch me in the face! Lets go take a coffee shower together.
- During one of the episodes of Xiaolin Showdown every time Raimundo fell asleep, a giant jellyfish monster would attack the temple and nearly destroy everything, then disappear instantly when he woke up. After several sad attempts to keep him awake, he falls asleep again, the monster comes back and a sort of Battle in the Center of the Mind ensues.
- Fatal familial insomnia is an illness that leaves the victim physically incapable of sleeping. The lack of sleep results in increasingly severe psychological symptoms, rapid weight loss, dementia, and eventually, death. There is no cure.
- Undine's Curse, a disease that makes the victim forget to breathe when they sleep. This can be fatal.
- Similarly, Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome.
- SIDS: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, can occur while a baby is sleeping.
- An old wives' tale says that a person who has had a concussion shouldn't be allowed to fall asleep or they could fall into a coma or die. This an oversimplification of the truth. People who've had a concussion shouldn't be left alone, sleeping or awake, because if their brain starts to swell from the injury, they'll pass out and will need someone to rush them into emergency care before their respiration shuts down. Waking them up if they doze off is necessary to determine if they can be aroused from their unconscious state; it's not because sleep is dangerous in itself. In fact, keeping them from sleeping at all can make matters worse as it slows down healing and can even do further damage; the accepted rule of thumb is that you only want to keep a concussion victim awake until they get medical attention, at which point you should listen to the experts as to how often you should try to rouse them.
- Typically domestic gas poisoning causes drowsiness. When dealing with it, try as hard as you can to not fall asleep, as you will inevitably die. Same thing with freezing, carbon monoxide poisoning, high-altitude hypoxia, and really a lot of life-or-death situations dealing with hazardous environment. Though it's not the sleep that kills you, it's the environment finishes you off once you stop resisting it and searching for a way to safety.
- Serial Killer Gerald Parker, who earned the nickname "the Bedroom Basher" due to this habit.
- Falling asleep while suffering from hypothermia can accelerate heat loss due to lack of physical activity, and drowsiness is one of the side effects of a drop in body temperature.
- Goddamn bedbugs! Not fatal, but creepy and uncomfortable.
- Occasionally a story will circulate about someone who supposedly doesn't sleep living somewhere in the world. The veracity of these is always suspect, though. It's far more likely that these people have a condition that prevents them from recognizing their sleeping state as such.