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Slap Yourself Awake

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Bob is a Cowboy Cop on a stakeout. He's been chasing the bad guy for three days straight with no sleep, and he's not limited by the police rule book. If he can catch him after this drug deal is complete, the bastard's going down. But he's so-o-o tired. Desperate to stay awake, he takes out a knife, lightly cuts his arm a bit, and then pours the whiskey from his flask on it. The pain keeps him awake and in the game for another round.

Or Alice is trying to escape from the lair of the psycho killer. She's been battered about the head several times and is seriously woozy. She thinks she's close to figuring out the maze of hallways to the exit. But she's so tired. To keep from passing out, she grinds her fingernails into the wound on her side. She has to clamp her other hand over her mouth to keep from crying out, but she's definitely awake now.

Nothing wakes you up like a nice hot cup of pain. Basically, a character in a dangerous situation is exhausted, ill, drugged, whatever. In order to stay awake, he deliberately causes himself pain. Bonus points if the character pinches or otherwise inflames a wound inflicted by whatever he's trying to escape.

Compare Dream Reality Check, except that, instead of trying to establish reality this character is trying to remain firmly grounded in it. Can also be related to Beat the Curse Out of Him, except the beating would be self-inflicted. Get A Hold Of Yourself Man is a variant of this, applied by another character.


    Anime and Manga 
  • In X1999, Karen drugs Aoki in order to take his place in an upcoming duel she believes he won't survive. Aoki stabs himself in the leg with a kitchen knife to keep himself awake long enough to stop her. He reaches for her, but it's already too late.
  • Case Closed: In "Reunion with the Black Organization", Conan hits Gin with a tranquilizer needle to let himself and Ai get away. Gin almost immediately shoots own shoulder with a gun to neutralize the Instant Sedation effect, leaving Conan clueless how the police haven't found anyone.
  • In Cross Ange, Jill, who is exposed to knockout gas from Tusk in order to free Ange from her literal grip, stabs herself in the leg in order to stay awake.
  • Naruto: A common way to snap out of illusions is to injure yourself.
  • A variant occurs in Trigun, where Vash concentrates on the pain from his previously injured finger to counteract a villain who uses hypnosis to paralyze people.
  • Pokémon: The Series:
    • Pokémon the Series: XY: When Team Rocket runs afoul of a Malamar, Meowth rakes himself with his own claws to prevent himself from being hypnotized. He later helps Ash resist in a similar manner.
    • In Pokémon: The Original Series, when Team Rocket is trapped in an igloo in a blizzard, they do this to each other to prevent from falling asleep in the freezing cold, first with Jessie slapping James and Meowth and ending with them pinching each other's cheeks by the time the blizzard dies down.
  • In After War Gundam X, kid Salsamille really needs to repair the titler mecha but is about to pass out of exhaustion. He stabs himself in the leg to force self to stay awake and manages to finish, passing out right after he's done.

    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 
  • Scar Tissue: Variant. In chapter 12 Shinji is going through a horrible nightmare, so that he started to smash a fist into his chest to try wake himself up.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Ipcress File, the hero gets captured and is tortured by being subjected to a machine that messes with his senses and will eventually brainwash him into a Loss of Identity. Eventually, he finds a sharp piece of wood and squeezes on that while being tortured, as the pain distracts him enough that the process doesn't work. A variant is used to overcome the residual brainwashing he did suffer - when the Trigger Phrase is used, he slams his injured hand against a wall; the pain overwhelms the programming enough for him to kill the person giving the order.
  • The Black Pirate has Mactavish the nice pirate propping a sword under his nose so the point jabs him awake if he nods off. He is standing guard, trying to stop an evil pirate from raping the pretty girl the pirates captured.

  • In one Japanese folktale about an evil bakeneko disguised as a woman who lulls her "husband" and his guards into sleep so that she can feast on him. A heroic samurai manages to stay awake by cutting himself with his own katana.

  • In Stephen King's short story The Gingerbread Girl, the heroine bites down on her injured lip to keep herself from passing out when she should be trying to untie herself.
    • Mike Hanlon uses the same technique in IT. Fainting from shock and blood loss after being stabbed, Mike bites down on his tongue to keep from passing out.
  • In Nowhither by John C. Wright, Foster Hidden bites his own hand hard enough to draw blood in order to shake himself free of the enchantment of a siren song.
  • Near the beginning of White Fang, a drowsing character attaches a burning stick to his hand to keep from falling asleep, since he's surrounded by wolves and if the fire goes out, he's Wolf Chow.
  • The Silver Chair: Puddleglum employed this technique when he stomped out the fire that the Lady of the Green Kirtle was using as part of her hypnotic magic. Not only did it quash the aroma that was lulling the heroes into a trance, but the pain (he was barefoot) is specifically said to give him a moment's perfect clarity, which he uses in a Shut Up, Hannibal! to the Lady.
  • The Horror Of The Many Faces: Dr. Watson pinches himself to avoid passing out from shock after witnessing Sherlock Holmes brutally murder and mutilate a man.
  • Dead Beat: Harry deliberately puts weight on a badly wounded leg, using the pain to drive Corpsetaker out of his mind and regain control.
  • Hell House: After Florence Tanner becomes possessed by an evil spirit, she begins viciously biting her own hand so that the pain will briefly allow her to regain control.

    Live-Action TV 
  • MythBusters: Slapping awake was proved true. Apparently it even sobers you up a bit.
  • Used in Legend of Sword and Fairy when the heroes are battling the effects of magic soporific smoke. The hero bites his companion to wake her up. She promptly returns the favor.
    "I'm awake. You can stop any time now."

    Video Games 
  • Floyd: When you are trapped in the re-education center, your actions are controlled through hypnosis and drugs, and your every move is monitored. In order to try to escape, you need to take a pin and leave it in your bed, causing you to wake up out of schedule.
  • Star Control II: The Urquan were mind-controlled slaves of the Dnyarri, until they discovered that extreme pain would force the Dnyarri to disconnect from their minds temporarily. They then invented a device to cause themselves constant agony, and rebelled and slaughtered their former masters.

  • A variation of this trope appears in Homestuck when Dave maneuvers Jade into slapping herself with her Dreambot to wake her up.
  • In El Goonish Shive, lucid dreamers can exit magic dreams by pinching themselves. The Rant on the next page notes that you can experience pain in dreams, but because this trope exists and magic is powered by intent, pinching yourself is the obvious way of signaling "I want to wake up now"

    Western Animation 
  • Played for Laughs by Little Dog of the 2 Stupid Dogs, who believes that he and his companion, Big Dog, are living in a dream state (they aren't). In order to wake themselves up, Little Dog advises experiencing a long fall, since that usually triggers a Catapult Nightmare wakeup. The two jump out of a commercial aircraft, and plummet to Earth. Big Dog thought to use a parachute (though he still bellows in fright), while Little Dog smacks into a sidewalk. Little Dog, believing his effort at waking was a failure, attempts the same thing three more times, landing on the exact same spot each time. He's both miraculously intact and totally mystified why he's still "dreaming."
  • Garfield and Friends: In "Fair Exchange", Garfield dreams about switching bodies with his owner Jon. In the end, Garfield pinches himself to wake up.
  • Generator Rex: In "Plague", Holiday uses a series of low-level electrical shocks directly to her brain to keep herself awake after the eponymous plague causes everyone else in the world to fall asleep.
  • The Harlem Globetrotters did this in one episode of The New Scooby-Doo Movies.
  • In the Justice League episode "Only a Dream", Batman, who is hunting a dream-stalking supervillain on no sleep, punches through the Batmobile's window to keep himself awake.
  • Kaeloo: In an episode where Kaeloo is trying to stay up all night, Mr. Cat suggests that she slaps herself in the face repeatedly so the pain can keep her awake. While Kaeloo dismisses this idea at first, she ends up using it anyway when nothing else works.
  • In a Pokémon skit from Robot Chicken, Ash's Pikachu does this in order to come out of his Bigger on the Inside nightclub Pokéball sober.
  • The Simpsons: Bart Simpson smacks himself to stay awake studying in the episode where he actually buckles down and tries to get a passing grade.
  • Total Drama:
    • In the confessional in "Phobia Factor", Courtney berates herself for not being able to overcome her fear of green jelly. She breaks down in tears over her ordeal and the possibility she'll be voted off tonight. Not one to take mercy on anyone, Courtney slaps herself out of it.
    • One of the dares Heather has to take on in "I Triple Dog Dare You!" is to slap herself several times.
    • During a rant about his adversary Heather in "Planes, Trains, and Hot Air Mobiles", Alejandro slips into talking about all the things about her that attract him. Realizing his error, he slaps himself twice to get his focus back on the game.
    • The contestants have to evade Sugar until sunrise in "Hurl and Go Seek" to earn immunity. Shawn has the best chances of all, but tiredness catches up with him in the final hour. He slaps himself twice to stay awake, but then spots Jasmine being chased by what he thinks are zombies. He slaps himself six times and with much more determination, not to stay awake, but to overcome his fear and get to saving Jasmine.
  • Total DramaRama:
    • Courtney has to protect her mint condition Extreme-a-Saurus toy from the others in "'Sharing Is Caring'". This means that she can't afford to fall asleep during nap time, no matter what. To keep herself awake, she slaps herself four times, but all the same succumbs to tiredness.
    • Courtney reaches her breaking point in "Know It All" when Beth refuses to wash her hands after going to the bathroom. Her own reflection begins berating her for being weak and Courtney realizes she has to clear her mind and toughen up. She does so by slapping herself three times, to the shock of her reflection.

    Real Life 
  • Truth in Television to some extent. Sharp, sudden changes in one's body, like an abrupt wound (which can be as mild as a slap to the face) can momentarily pause exhaustion by forcing you to pay attention to the sudden sensation so it can be handled. You could say it's a momentary invocation of the fight-or-flight reflex for Mundane Utility. That said, it's not perfect, as it's possible that the wound is ignored, especially for really deep sleepers. Being Slain in Their Sleep circumvents this trope entirely, of course.
    • This is also why tropes like Water Wake Up work. Even while asleep, the body is quick to react in case danger is imminent. Being splashed with water will make the brain think it's about to drown and so it snaps you awake to try and swim to safety.