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Never Wake Up a Sleepwalker

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Did you know that waking up a sleepwalker will cause severe shock and even death to the person?

Well... no, that's not actually true — it's an old wives' tale that still persists despite scientific evidence to the contrary. However, in TV Land, no one has heard this update (and some media predates this myth being busted), and so Hilarity Ensues as everyone else has to dance around whatever bizarre behaviours the sleepwalker exhibits, trying to avoid waking them up.

Nine times out of ten, this involves following them around and babysitting them all night long as they wander obliviously into mortal danger over and over again. One would think it would be much less dangerous to just wake them up rather than risk slipping up and letting that crocodile eat them.

But nope. It's too dangerous.

On the rare occasion where the characters are aware that this myth isn't true, the sleepwalker will usually be a Heavy Sleeper that can't be woken up, so they have to be babysat anyway.

Finally, to add insult to injury, the sleepwalker will almost always end their night of hilarious sleepwalking hijinks by walking right back into their own bed, and then immediately waking up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, remarking that they had a wonderful night's sleep, as their companion collapses from exhaustion.

As the Real Life section below details, while the above adage may be incorrect, it's still generally not a good idea to wake a sleepwalker abruptly, and in certain circumstances the better option is to simply shadow the sleepwalker and ensure they don't injure themselves. Sufferers of night terrors - a variant of sleepwalking categorised by the sufferer essentially experiencing a full-scale fight-or-flight reaction while asleep - have been known to lash out at people attempting to calm them down while screaming or crying hysterically, making this trope especially apropos; don't wake the sleepwalker, or rather, wake them in a way that doesn't increase their somnolent anguish.

Compare Don't Wake the Sleeper for more general keeping people asleep.


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    Comic Books 
  • In Power Pack, the children bring Franklin back to Avengers Mansion after witnessing the Morlock Massacre. When the adults find out about this, Franklin claims he was sleepwalking, and the other children say that they didn't wake him because it would be dangerous.
  • One Archie comic has Jughead, for some unexplained reason, sleepwalk through almost all of his entire school day. To avoid waking him up, the teachers give all of their students tests. During lunch, Jughead stays asleep but eats the food off of everyone's trays. He eventually wakes up when the school bell rings, suffering from no ill effects. The other students aren't very happy.
  • Once in a postwar comic, Donald Duck had a case of sleepwalking happen, in a revisit of his previous brush with it before the war. This time around, his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie tried to wake him up with firecrackers. Donald awakes to the loud noises, mistakes the firecrackers for a Japanese-laid minefield, and has a violent episode, forcing his nephews to flee to the garden.
  • The Simpsons: In an early issue, Springfield goes completely health-crazy, much to Homer's horror. At one point he's caught in the middle of the night trying to quietly eat a cupcake, by Rainier Wolfcastle and his G-Men. Acting quickly, Homer pretends to be sleepwalking (despite the fact he just screamed as they came in the window). It works, because Wolfcastle doesn't want to risk getting sued if Homer has a heart attack.

    Comic Strips 
  • Played with in Calvin and Hobbes, as Calvin knows better than to wake a sleepwalking Hobbes because startling a high-strung creature with deadly teeth and claws is dangerous to the one waking them.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Secondhand Lions, the warning is more for the safety of the person waking the sleepwalker, than that of the sleepwalker himself. When Walter tries to wake his sleepwalking great-uncle Hub, his other great-uncle Garth pulls Walter's hand back and says, "Don't. Last time I tried to wake him he nearly tore my head off."
  • The 1997 film The Sleepwalker Killing (starring Hilary Swank) tells the story of a man who killed his mother-in-law while he was sleepwalking and when she tried to wake him out of it. His wife (played by Swank) notices that his version of events keeps repeating the phrase "and when I woke up..." and his legal team argues that while his killing of his mother-in-law did happen, it wasn't premeditated and he wasn't even aware that it happened till well after the fact because he was sleepwalking.
  • In Step Brothers, both lead Manchild characters are mischievous, almost sentient, sleepwalkers. Nancy warns Robert to not wake them up, but after their sleepwalking gets out of hand on Christmas Eve (including bringing the tree into their parents' bedroom), Robert finally tries to shake them awake; they promptly beat him up, carry him, and toss him down the hallway stairs.

  • In Interesting Times, one of the wizards says that his grandmother always claimed that if you woke a sleepwalker their legs would fall off. A more skeptical wizard asks "How many times did she see it happen?"
    "The Bursar sleepwalks most nights, you know."
    "Does he? Tempting..."
  • Downplayed example in a book in The Babysitters Club that features a giant sleepover as a reward for a fundraiser; one of the kids starts sleepwalking and one of the supervisors follows him around until he goes back to sleep. All in all, it's one of the less annoying things that happens during the event.
  • Cujo: During the first night they spend at her sisters' house, Charity finds her son Brett sleepwalking. Although she has enough common sense to know that all those horror stories about the dangers of waking up a sleepwalker are just myths, she still can't bring herself to wake him up and instead watches him untill he goes back to bed. She also recalls how she took Brett to the doctor when he was six because of his frequent sleepwalking, and the doctor blamed poorly researched movies for the wrong ideas people still have about sleepwalking.
  • The Eyes of The Dragon: Discussed and averted near the end of the story. During the night Peter attempts his escape, Thomas sleepwalks again and ends up in the secret passage, where he wakes up due to a tower named The Church of the Gods collapsing because of a storm. The narrator points out that in Delain people still believe that waking a sleepwalker before they get back to their bed will cause them to go mad, but Thomas proves this is not the case since he only has a bad scare about waking up in the passage but quickly realizes where he is.
  • I Heard That Song Before features a downplayed, more realistic portrayal. It's mentioned that you shouldn't wake a sleepwalker suddenly. As a result, Kay doesn't wake Peter when he sleepwalks, just making certain he doesn't harm himself. Vincent Slater reveals that when he found Peter sleepwalking as a teenager, he was forced to wake him suddenly because he'd wandered to the ski lifts at the resort they were staying at, and Peter attacked him as an unconscious reflex. It's Played for Drama when Peter inadvertently breaks his bail conditions sleepwalking, and when a police officer grabs him he punches and seriously injures him, which is not a great look for his defense.

    Live-Action TV 
  • One All That sketch was built around this, with a teacher being repeatedly told not to wake up a sleepwalking student, in spite of him doing some incredibly bizarre things. By the end of the sketch, however, it's implied he was only faking it.
  • Averted in Desperate Housewives: Susan finds Orson standing on her front lawn naked and muttering to himself. Once she figures out he's sleepwalking, she slaps him awake.
  • In El Chavo del ocho, Doña Clotilde and Doña Florida are seen sleepwalking and Don Ramon refused to wake them up or even disturb them recalling that it'd be bad for them. El Chavo later abuses this by pretending to sleepwalk in Quico's house to take some bread.
  • Averted on an episode of Gilligan's Island. The Professor has no problem snapping his fingers to wake up a sleepwalking Gilligan despite Skipper's protests. Gilligan wakes up only slightly disoriented, which is practically normal for Gilligan.
  • Also averted in an episode of Hannah Montana. When Miley starts sleepwalking, her friends and brother repeatedly try to wake her up so that she stops, but for the most part she keeps doing it (and when they do succeed in waking her, she's perfectly fine — though she gets into a lot of trouble given that she just badmouthed her teacher in her sleep). At one point, her brother Jackson comments that you're "supposed to wake a sleepwalker gently".
  • Legends of Tomorrow: In "Zari," at the start of the episode, Stein warns Nate against waking up the sleepwalking Amaya, mainly because during her sleep she used her totem to summon the spirit of a spider, and is using its powers to climb the ceiling. Nate wakes her up anyway, which causes her to fall down.
  • Averted in the Russian series Wolf Messing Seeing Through Time. Wolf's mother is concerned that he walks in his sleep and doesn't respond to her voice. When she speaks of it to her rabbi, he explains that Wolf is a sleepwalker and tells her to fill a container with water and place it by the window, where Wolf sleepwalks to every night. This should snap him out of it. It works, although Wolf is confused why he's standing ankle-deep in water.
  • The Goodies. In "Snooze", Bill is afraid to go to sleep because he'll go sleepwalking, so Graham invents a sleeping potion that knocks him out like a light along with everyone else in the country. Hilarity Ensues as Tim rushes about trying to stop a sleepwalking Bill (and later Graham) from walking into disaster, including one scene that ends up in the Title Sequence where Bill walks across an exploding minefield.
  • In an episode of Lab Rats Leo is sleep walking in one episode and his bionic arm is randomly discharging, causing injuries and building damage. Douglas says not to wake him up because the shock of a sudden awakening could cause the bionics to backfire and possibly kill him. He is eventually workn up by Perry's niece, who simply hits him until he wakes up with no ill effect.

    Video Games 
  • In Day of the Tentacle, Bernard will refuse to awake Dr. Fred because he has heard it is very bad to wake up a sleepwalker.
  • One of the play modes in Gyromite involves moving pistons up and down to protect a sleepwalking Prof. Vector.
  • The 90's platformer Sleepwalker would be far, far shorter if this trope wasn't in effect. Ralph the dog has to lead around his sleepwalking master Lee without the latter getting fatally hurt or waking up. If Lee wakes up, he dies.
  • Good Night, Mr. Snoozleberg, an old flash game made by Sarbakan, tasks players with protecting the title character, a sleep-deprived diplomat with a bad habit of sleepwalking.

    Web Animation 
  • In the Club Penguin short, "Never Wake a Sleeping Sensei", four penguins, being warned that waking up Sensei while he is sleepwalking will make him explode, try to put him out of danger while sleepwalking for a great distance, such as forming a bridge across two cliffs and making a barrier out of pizza dough to turn him away from a fireplace.

    Web Comics 
  • In Girls Next Door, Erik advises Sarah not to wake Christine when she finds her sleepwalking toward his room for some late-night music lessons. Sarah dryly informs him that modern science has disproved that notion, then makes him promise to forget the potential trauma and just dump a bucket of cold water on her if he ever finds her sleepwalking toward Jareth's room.

    Web Video 
  • commodoreHUSTLE: In "Alex's Stream", Alex becomes mentally stuck in livestreaming mode. While discussing how to snap him out of it (and, more importantly, free up the streaming office), his streaming fugue state is likened to sleepwalking:
    Graham: Okay, so if he... can't stop streaming... do we just... unplug the internet, cut the power... force him to stop?
    Paul: Oh, oh no, that would be a massive shock to his system. It would be like waking a sleepwalker.
    Graham: I used to sleepwalk when I lived with Matt. He woke me up all the time!
    Paul: ...and what happened?
    Graham: (matter-of-factly) I shit myself.
    Paul: Exactly! Alex's mind would, metaphorically, shit itself.
    James: That's a risk I'm willing to take.
    Paul: He would also probably... literally shit himself.
    James: Ewwww, no, I have to use that chair next!

    Western Animation 
  • The Big City Greens episode "Dream Weaver" has Cricket discover he can manipulate his family's dreams and plays around with them, but ends up turning them into nightmares. He tries waking them, but his attempts only worsen the dreams even more.
  • Bob the Builder: An episode of the original series has Roley going around town while asleep, and considering that he's a roller, he causes quite a bit of trouble. Wendy is the one who says they shouldn't wake him up, since it could be a shock for him to wake up miles away from where he was sleeping, so they just try to take him back home.
  • Daisy Duck once had to race ahead of her somnambulist boyfriend Donald to remove obstacles out of his way, which considering he was doing gravity-defying tricks such as climbing up walls, was quite a feat.
  • Bluto and Popeye had to join forces to save Olive Oyl from herself in "A Dream Walking", especially once she wandered into a construction site.
  • Merrie Melodies
    • One short involves a Fox disguising itself as a Guard Dog using this trope to smuggle chickens out, using the real Guard Dog's fear of waking him to his advantage.
    • "The Unbearable Bear", featuring Sniffles the Mouse, involves a policeman chasing a burglar in his own home, but both parties trying to stay quiet because the policeman's wife is sleepwalking. Though it's more because they're both afraid of what she'll do to them if she wakes up.
  • This was the main plot point of the The Angry Beavers episode "Food of the Clods". Although somewhat subverted in that the instant things get really dangerous Dag decides it's not worth the risk and tries to wake Norb anyway, but he's too deep to be woken.
  • One episode of Dexter's Laboratory has Dexter's dad wandering into his secret lab which is filled with dangerous machines and experiments. The most amusing part is that his dad claims he is a light sleeper yet all the machinery and lasers don't wake him up — a simple thing like Dexter shutting a door does. Interestingly, this episode has a legitimate justification for Dexter not waking up his dad: He doesn't want him to see his secret laboratory.
  • Discussed in Milo Murphy's Law, though they ultimately wind up chasing Milo around the woods anyway.
    Melissa: I heard that was an old wives' tale.
    Zack: No, I read it somewhere.
    Melissa: Where?
    Zack: Sleep...Malady Digest?
    Melissa: Let's just get him back to the tent. We can talk about your fake sleep magazines later.
  • The Spongebob Squarepants episode "Don't Wake Patrick" has SpongeBob following a sleepwalking Patrick around Bikini Bottom to try and bring him home. In this case, SpongeBob actually does try to wake him up, but Patrick is a Heavy Sleeper.
  • PJ Masks: In the episode Gekko and the Snore A Saurus, the heroes have to defend a sleepwalking Cameron against Luna Girl. Naturally, they are convinced that they shouldn't wake him up.
  • In the Bob's Burgers episode "Turkey in a Can", Bob's allergy medication has a sleepwalking side effect. When Linda suggests waking him up, Teddy advises against it saying he could get violent.
  • In "Eeyore Sleeps on It" from My Friends Tigger & Pooh, when it's discovered that Eeyore is sleepwalking, Tigger warns Pooh and Darby not to wake him up, saying that it's in the book of things you're not supposed to do. He gives this warning to a couple others who suggest it. Finally, when Porcupine asks why they didn't just wake him up, Tigger asks if nobody other than him has read the book.

    Real Life 
  • In Real Life, the myth originally began from the belief that the soul separates from the body during sleep, and waking up a sleepwalker would separate them from their soul, potentially with all kinds of horrible results. While the myth has been debunked in practice several times over, it does still apply in situations where a sleepwalker ends up in dangerous locations, like an edge of the roof, in which case the shock may well end up killing them, albeit indirectly, as they stumble in panic. Which only goes to underscore the importance of waking the sleepwalker before they get into such a dangerous situation in the first place.
  • Conversely, there have been cases of sleepwalkers reacting violently when loved ones have tried to wake them up, even going so far as to kill people without even coming close to waking up. For this reason, it is recommended that those encountering a sleepwalker should gently guide them back to bed rather than try to rouse them.
  • In the case of night terrors - which are typically accompanied by sleepwalking - while it may seem wise to make an effort to wake up the victim of such an incident, as the condition is often accompanied by shambling, walking or even running around aimlessly, bystanders should know that doing so carries the risk of significant trauma, both physical and psychological. The victim, experiencing a full activation of their fight-or-flight response while still in a deep sleep, will likely attempt to respond to the bystander's effort by violently attacking them or thrashing about in an attempt to escape. As the victim is also typically growling, crying uncontrollably, murmuring incomprehensibly or screaming in half-terror, half-rage, experiencing such an event as a bystander is likely among the most terrifying things one can witness during the depths of the night. Ultimately, the best thing anyone in the same house as the sufferer can do is try to keep calm, and passively move them back towards their bedroom while verbally reassuring them, as should the sleepwalker finally wake up on their own volition, they too will undoubtedly be in quite a state.



Alice is stirring in her sleep (so to speak).

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