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Passed in Their Sleep

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Lisa: Bart, do you realise what this means? The next time we fall asleep, we could die!
Grandpa: Ehhh, welcome to my world.
The Simpsons, during the segment of "Treehouse of Horror VI" where they spoof A Nightmare on Elm Street

Death is usually compared to sleep. We have a Deep Sleep, where a character sleeps like they're dead, but there's also those times when a character has Passed In Their Sleep. This, of course, occurs when a character dies of a natural cause such as a disease, old age, or an injury. And many people argue that this might be the best way to go.

Oftentimes this kind of death is portrayed as mystery (death in your sleep, while natural, has no directly visible causes) or exoticness/symbolism (a form of Peaceful in Death).

Compare Big Sleep, which is when a character's eyes close as they die, making it look as though they were sleeping, and Peaceful in Death, which is when a person is content with their death, whereas Passed In Their Sleep just refers to a character who passes while they sleep regardless of whether they thought they were ready. Also compare Slain in Their Sleep, where a character is murdered in their sleep and it's portrayed as tragic rather than peaceful. Can be the result of Dangerous Drowsiness.

As a death trope, all spoilers will be left unmarked!


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • In Thorgal, a girl escapes from a hidden valley inside a glacier, where "time was frozen". She goes to sleep and ages to death before she can wake up.
  • In the "Mobius: 25 Years Later" comic arc in Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics), Knuckles mentions that this trope is how his father Locke died, while he was admitted to hospital.
  • The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck: Scrooge's father Fergus dies in his sleep the same night Scrooge and his sisters move to America. In fact, they think he's just sleeping in when they leave the next morning.

    Fan Works 
  • In We All Need A Hero this is Sayu Yagami's calling card as Kira. She tries to minimize the pain her victims feel by always specifying that they fall asleep before dying of a heart attack. This show of sympathy even for her victims underscores how differently she approaches being Kira compared to Light, who seemed to enjoy causing suffering.
  • In the fanfic Mort Takes A Holiday, this is how Granny Smith's husband died.
  • In Gensokyo 20XXV, we have this with Satori, who dies during the night when after spending the entire day enjoying herself since her sister, Koishi's, death.
  • An Unsung Song: Gamemaker Misty dies of a heart attack in her sleep.
  • Sleepless: In contrast to other deaths in the fic, Vinyl passes away quietly: she dies off-screen, never waking up from the coma.
  • Little Fires: The sickly Duckkit is given poppy seeds so that he'll fall into a coma as he dies.
  • Destiny (Afterandalasia): Tiana was ill with the flu when one night she went to bed and never woke up.

    Films — Animated 
  • The Prince of Egypt shows the final plague this way; since it happens in the middle of the night, the firstborn of one Egyptian family is shown dying in his sleep, and presumably this is the case for most of the others too.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the film The Elephant Man, the title character has a large tumor on his face that greatly disfigured his face and causes him to be mistreated by the public. When he finally tries to go to sleep like a normal person (laying down instead of upright) he ends up dislocating his neck as he sleeps and dying. It's impossible to say for certain, but many people suspect his death was a suicide.
  • Defied in Return of the Jedi. Yoda heads to bed to try to avoid Luke's questions, then fights to stay awake to give him some last words of advice before (literally) fading off mid-sentence.
  • In the film Titanic (1997), Rose may have passed away peacefully in her sleep at the end (it's purposefully left ambiguous).
  • Parodied in Scary Movie 3 where C.J. and Mahalik discuss the trope and end up arguing if one can actually "wake up dead".
  • Interstellar: The novelization of the film shows that Edmunds settled into hypersleep to await NASA's response after confirming that the planet was inhabitable; while he was asleep a rockslide destroyed his shelter, giving him what's most likely the most painless death of all the scientists.
  • Captain America: Civil War: While the Avengers are discussing the Sokovia Accords, Steve gets a text which says, "She's gone. In her sleep." The next scene is him at the funeral of Peggy Carter.
  • Due to being so morbidly obese, Bonnie dies like this at the end of What's Eating Gilbert Grape, after climbing the stairs to sleep in her bedroom.
  • In Happy Death Day, Tree finds herself in a "Groundhog Day" Loop where she keeps getting murdered by someone. After a lot of trial and error, she kills Tombs the serial killer, then celebrates afterwards by eating a birthday cupcake given to her by her roommate Lori. She then wakes up and is bewildered by the fact that she's still stuck in her time loop, confused as to why until she realizes that she died in her sleep. From a poisoned cupcake that in no previous loop she had eaten. From her roommate Lori. With whom she is alone with in the same room when she realizes the true culprit.

  • "When I die, I want to die like my grandfather who died peacefully in his sleep. Not screaming like all the passengers in his car."

  • In the Harry Potter Verse, school legend has it that elderly Professor Binns died while napping in the teachers' lounge. He then got up to teach his next class as a ghost, and it's entirely possible he hasn't actually noticed he's died. Presumably the rest of the faculty were unable to think of a tactful way to broach the subject.
  • The Kane Chronicles: In The Red Pyramid, Sadie has a conversation with Iskander, the kindly, two-thousand-year-old head of the House of Life, in which he seems to be on her and Carter's side, but the next morning they discover Iskander died in his sleep, which means their lives are now in danger, as his replacement immediately orders their arrest and execution.
  • This is how Tunstall dies in the third Beka Cooper book. After a long and arduous battle in the cold and rain, Beka can't make herself kill him and ties him up for proper capture instead, even while thinking this is a Cruel Mercy. When she goes to give him some food the next day, she can't wake him and finds his body locked in rigor mortis—cold and shock did him in overnight.
  • The Books of Ember: In The City of Ember, this is how Lina and Poppy's grandmother dies. After she starts succumbing to an unknown illness, she tells Lina to go to sleep, and the next morning, Lina finds her body still in bed.
  • In Fool's Errand, Nighteyes gets this. After being tortured and run to exhaustion, Nighteyes and Fitzchivalry sleep in the cave. Nighteyes gets up to go hunting and when Fitzchivalry tries to follow. Fitzchivalry wakes up just in time to hear Nighteyes breathe his last in his sleep.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Ser Harlan Grandison died peacefully while sleeping in his cell in the White Tower.
    • For a non-human example, Balerion the Black Dread, the only known dragon to die of old age. According to historical accounts, he went to sleep one day and never opened his eyes again.
  • This how Granny Weatherwax dies in The Shepherd's Crown, despite the prologue and first chapter implying that she'd die in the coming battle with the elves.
  • Dragonriders of Pern: In the climax of All the Weyrs of Pern, retired Masterharper Robinton has a final talk with Aivas. After saying goodbye when the A.I. suicides, he falls asleep in a chair, along with his fire-lizard Zair, and neither of them ever wakes up.
  • Jane Eyre: Helen Burns dies as she and Jane sleep in each other's arms.
  • Temeraire: Played for Deliberate Values Dissonance when Laurence gets the news that his ailing father died in his bed. Laurence's dragon companion Temeraire, who's been in various combat roles for most of his life, is horrified that someone can die in a place of safety and becomes nervous whenever Laurence sleeps.
  • The Boxcar Children: Discussed in book #26 (The Mystery of the Mixed-Up Zoo), when Edward Marlowe tells the Alden siblings how long ago, he served in a World War II fighter squadron and eventually adopted their wildcat mascot Billy, who became the first animal in Edward's zoo. When asked what happened to him, Edward explains that Billy lived to a ripe old age before dying in his sleep.
  • Bruce Coville's Book of... Nightmares II: The plot of The Dollhouse starts when elderly couple Jake and Angela Fowler are found dead in bed together, having died in their sleep. Supposedly. It turns out they actually transferred themselves into another dimension, switching places with a couple of life-size dolls, to start a new life.
  • The Enchanted Files: Early in Diary of a Mad Brownie / Cursed, elderly Sarah McGonagall, whom Angus had served before Alex, simply falls asleep in front of the television one afternoon, starts snoring and dies without ever waking up.
  • Red Dwarf Log No. 1996: At one point, Rimmer recalls a former crewmate who was terrified that this would happen to him; having read that most people die in their sleep "about 3am", he set off alarm bells, klaxons and sirens in his room to wake him up at 2:59, just so he wouldn't be asleep at 3. A week later, he died at 3am... when his bunkmate shot him.
  • In the Humanx Commonwealth novel Phylogenesis, the thranx poet Desvendapur survives any number of unlikely adventures, yet succumbs to exposure and exertion while camped out overnight after a daring escape. His human companion is honestly stunned.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Archie Bunker's Place: "Archie Alone", which explained Edith's death due to a stroke suffered in her sleep. When Archie finally lets go of his emotions, he bemoans being unable to figure out why she was unresponsive as he shook her repeatedly, hoping to wake her up so she could fix breakfast.
  • Full House: Played straight in the Season 7 episode "The Last Dance." Jesse's grandfather, who also becomes very close to Michelle, dies in his sleep while staying at the Tanners.
  • Used in The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "Perchance to Dream". A man thinks that if he falls asleep, he'll die. At the start of the episode, he goes to a doctor's office, lies down and closes his eyes for a moment, then jumps up and explains his situation to the doctor. At the end it's revealed that it was all a Dying Dream; the doctor reports to his nurse that the man came into his office, lay down, and never woke up.
  • An episode of the Singaporean comedy Phua Chu Kang has Chu Kang offering a friend's mother to stay at his place (mistaking his friend to have thrown his mother out — in actuality, the old lady had a quarrel with her son and daughter-in-law before deciding to flee on her own), with Chu Kang's sister-in-law Margaret offering the old lady her room to sleep in after discovering their shared love of vegan food (much to her husband Anthony Phua's chagrin). Alas, by the time Chu Kang's friend arrives one morning to retrieve his mother several days later (after causing a ton of problems for the Phua household) she somehow died in her sleep in Anthony's and Margaret's bedroom. Being a comedy, it's all Played for Laughs, especially considering this is the only instance of a Character Death happening in the entire series.
  • In an episode of Red Dwarf, Rimmer finds a letter saying that his father (who of course died thousands of years ago) died peacefully in his jeep... er... sleep.
  • All in the Family: "The Saga Of Cousin Oscar". At least Cousin Oscar went peacefully, without barking orders at Archie, Mike, and the others.
  • Pompeii: The Last Day: The last we see of them, they have all fallen asleep from exhaustion and are spared the suffering that others went through during the remainder of the disaster.
  • Creepshow: In the season 2 premiere "Model Kid", Joe and his cancer-stricken single mother June watch Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein together, and June's cancer takes its final, fatal toll on her as she falls asleep.
  • The Big Bang Theory: Debbie Wolowitz dies at Howard's Aunt Gladys while she was sleeping.
  • In The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Captain Gregg died in his sleep, his foot having accidentally kicked the lever on his gas heater, turning the gas on while the window was shut.

  • Kenny Rogers: In "The Gambler," the titular character informs the narrator that the best a gambler can hope for is to die in his sleep before slipping away himself. Rogers himself died in his sleep in March 2020.
  • The Daniel Amos album Songs of the Heart ends with "My Hand to God", in which the elderly Bud Akendorf dies in his sleep. In this case, the song is from Bud's perspective as "The Mysterious Stranger" comes to ferry his soul away. The lyrics emphasize how peaceful the transition is:
    Never seen the moon so big and bright
    or had a dream this strangely soothing.
  • Split Enz has the classic "Charlie", where the man who has been banished to the couch for a monumental argument comes into his significant other's bedroom to wake her up and say sorry to her - only to find, slowly and disbelievingly, with a rising sense of horror, that she has died in the night. Word of God says this actually happened to a friend of theirs in Real Life.
    Darling Charlie, pale and deathly still
    For Heaven's sake, wake up Charlie.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Task Force Games' Central Casting: Dungeons generic RPG supplement. In the sample dungeon "The Gambling Pit'', the dungeon was originally abandoned because of poison gas that entered the air supply quickly and without warning. Most of the dungeon occupants who were awake at the time managed to escape, but almost all who were sleeping at the time died (apparently the occupants who were awake were too busy fleeing to wake up the sleeping people).

  • While most of the Digimon virtual pets age while they are sleeping, the original ones were also able to evolve or die during their slumber.

    Video Games 
  • SimCity: If one of your sims from My Sim mode lives to old age, they will often die of old age, being replaced with a Generation Xerox child.
  • Luigi's Mansion: According to her bio, Sue Pea died in her sleep from what was supposed to be a quick nap.
  • Mass Effect 3: Referenced by Padok Wiks if he's the one about to sacrifice himself at the Shroud to cure the Genophage,
    ''Some people die in battle, some die in their sleep, and some die for no reason at all...
  • World of Warcraft: A variation occurs in the cinematic for Dragonflight. As the Flights leave the Dragon Isles in the aftermath of the Sundering, they entrust the Watchers (essentially animate statues) to reactivate the beacon that will lead them back one day. In the meantime, the Watchers enter a kind of stasis to await the time they will be needed. 10,000 Years later, the time comes to reactivate the beacon, but the Watchers have crumbled during their long slumber, except for one, Koranos. As he goes to reactivate the beacon, he passed the inanimate remains of his brethren who never woke up. In the game itself, the lifeless watcher are seen standing silently in various locations.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Discussed in The Simpsons, which is where the page quote comes from.
  • Word of God is Ember from Danny Phantom died in her sleep however it was anything but peaceful; she died because her house burned down and she was too exhausted from being stood up from a date all night to notice.
  • Played with in Avatar: The Last Airbender: Zuko receives a message telling him to research his great-grandfather's death. Later he asks Azula about it, who tells him that Firelord Sozin, their father's grandfather, died peacefully in his sleep, an old man. But Iroh wanted him to know about his mother's grandfather, Avatar Roku, who was betrayed by Sozin and left to die at an erupting volcano. As for Sozin, while him dying in his sleep may have been true, the "peaceful" part is much less so.
  • Garfield: His 9 Lives: Happens to Garfield's sixth life, Diana, at the end of "Diana's Piano".
  • In Il √©tait une fois..... l'Homme, the Neanderthal incarnation of Maestro dies like this.


Video Example(s):


Death of Johnny Appleseed

Johnny Appleseed dies peacefully in his sleep, after a lifetime of planting apple trees and ascends into Heaven to continue his work there.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (17 votes)

Example of:

Main / PassedInTheirSleep

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