Usually when someone's lying in a prone position with both eyes open, unblinking, they're dead. Well, it's either that or they're sleeping and their eyes are still open for some supernatural reason or because whatever species they are part of sleeps with their eyes open. Creepy, no? A lot of people who discover a character with this ability to sleep think so too.
While there are some people in Real Life who have trained themselves to sleep with their eyes open, it is bad for your eyes because the lack of blinking causes your eyes to dry up. In some cases, this can be involuntary, as some people simply find themselves partially or even completely unable to close their eyes doing sleep. This is an actual medical condition called nocturnal lagophthalmos, and it is estimated that about 20% of the world population has it to one degree or another, though in the vast majority of cases, those affected aren't aware that they are doing it.
- The beginning of this commercial featuring an Asian woman going for a world record in keeping her eyes open.
- Misty's Psyduck in Pokémon: The Series did this once, making Misty think he was immune to Jigglypuff's singing.
Jigglypuff: [gasps] Puff.
Misty: What are you angry about now, Jigglypuff? Psyduck listened to the whole thing.
[Jigglypuff turns away, unconvinced]
Misty: What's wrong? Hmm?
[she touches Psyduck lightly, causing it to topple over like a statue, pose and all]
Misty: YOU STUPID POKÉMON! YOU'RE JUST SLEEPING WITH YOUR EYES OPEN!
- In the anime version of Dragon Ball, the Great Demon King Piccolo sleeps with open eyes, adding another bizarre and creepy trait to his character, after showcasing that he can drink through using telekinesis and laying eggs with his mouth in the same scene.
- Though not always, Sousuke of Full Metal Panic! will occasionally sleep with his eyes open, particularly if he had been attacked shortly before. This caused a lot of trouble when he does it while Asleep in Class and his teacher discovers that he Wakes Up Fighting as she scolds him for his apparent refusal to participate in class.
- Happens to Fuutarou a couple times in The Quintessential Quintuplets. Once, he fell asleep sitting on a bench at a park after the fireworks festival. Another time, he'd collapsed on the building's hallway right when Itsuki came out of her apartment and saw him, and for a moment she thought he was dead until a Snot Bubble revealed he'd just fell asleep.
- One Garfield story had a week-long series of "nap attacks" with Garfield randomly falling asleep at various points of activity, the last had him struggling to stay awake because he doesn't want to miss his favorite tv show, he falls asleep with his eyes wide open.
- In U.S. Acres, Booker and Sheldon watch in astonishment as Wade sleeps with his eyes open. Booker asks how he's able to do it, and Sheldon explains that it's easy for Wade because he's afraid of the dark.
- A bad guy in The Adventures of Tintin (2011) sleeps with his eyes open, not out of training, but because he lost his eyelids. In a card game.
Captain Haddock: You had to be there!
- Gran sleeps like this In The Croods: A New Age, which Guy finds very creepy, at one point he closes them, they pop back open.
- Subverted in City Slickers where the main character thinks this is happening. Turns out, Curly's really dead.
- Professor Lilloman in High Anxiety sleeps in this manner, as shown in a scene where Thorndyke (Mel Brooks) returns to the institute just before the climax and assumed that he's died with his eyes open. But Professor Lilloman wakes up and explains to Thorndyke that his sleep pattern freaks people out.
- Invoked in Matilda. As Matilda is sneaking into her parent's room, her mother sits up and stares right at Matilda with huge eyes - then after a second, you realize it's an opaque sleep mask with eye designs. By the time she takes it off, Matilda is out of the room.
- In The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Gandalf is shown sleeping with his eyes completely open.
- Major Payne does this. The JROTC kids learn the hard way that he may in fact not be so asleep.
- In The Hitch-Hiker, the protagonists, Collins and Bowen, discovers much to their horror that their captor, Meyer, is capable of this. It further complicates their planned escape attempt, as they find themselves unsure of whether he is actually sleeping or not.
- Secrets In The Hot Spring: Lu Qun is revealed to do this. When he and Hsu are in bed with Qie one night, he keeps his head facing Qie while he sleeps. What also creeps him out about it is that Lu's pupils are rolled into his head while he sleeps. Qie tries closing Lu's eyes, but they snap open every time he does.
- Slipstream (1989). Matt Owens has captured the fugitive Byron (on whom there's a large bounty) and is rather disturbed when this trope seems to apply, assuming that he's staying awake deliberately so he can escape or attack him. He doesn't know that Byron is actually an android who doesn't need to sleep. Later Byron does fall asleep after making love to a woman for the first time. He even has a dream.
- Throw Momma Fromthe Train: Mrs. Lift is able to sleep with her eyes open as Larry sees when he tries to convince her that her son Owen is trying to murder her.
- The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl: the villain Linus/Minus can dream with his eyes open.
- In The Lord of the Rings Elves sleep with their eyes open, and Gandalf can sleep with his eyes half-open.
- Zhang Fei, the youngest brother of the three Blood Brothers from Romance of the Three Kingdoms is said to sleep with his eyes open. On the night of his assassination, two killers barged into his tent with knives drawn, sees Zhang Fei staring at them while lying on his bed, and quickly stammers an apology before realizing Zhang Fei is snoring. They then kill him on the spot before he wakes up.
- Wizards in Sword of Truth sleep with their eyes open.
- Being artificially made creatures who only possess features their creator deemed necessary, the "Little People" in The Saga of Darren Shan have no eyelids. Their eyes do become dimmer while sleeping, though.
- In Belgarath the Sorceror, Belgarath recounts how his daughter Polgara once cast a spell on some pompous border guards that caused them all to fall asleep with their eyes still open and without falling to the ground, just so that she could get away from them without them following her.
- Armageddon The Musical by Robert Rankin is set in a dystopian future where people are paid according to how much television they watch. The protagonist has trained himself to sleep with his eyes open so that the tracking gadget will think he's still watching.
- Susan from Like a Fish Understands a Tree keeps falling asleep with her eyes open in class. She's usually awakened by the bell, too late to understand what the homework assignment is. When she first arrived at her new school she would ask the other kids, but now they don't want to talk to her.
- Xena: Warrior Princess. In one episode, there was a group of mercenaries who slept not only with their eyes open but also in battle ready stances.
- In an episode of Psych Shawn walked into the chief's office and started talking to her before realizing she was sleeping with her eyes open (her kid had kept her up all night).
- From Supernatural season 1, episode 18:
Old Woman In Hospital Room: Ahhh, nonsense. I was sleeping with my peepers open. And fix that crucifix would ya? I've asked four damn times already!
Sam: (laughs) I was sleeping with my peepers open?
Dean: I almost smoked that old girl, I swear. It's not funny!
Sam: Oh man, you should have seen your face!
- Exaggerated in Angel. Illyria appears fully awake, alert and aware even when sleeping.
- Scrubs: Sean sleeps with open eyes as Elliot speaks to him on the phone.
- In the Broad City episode "Working Girls," Ilana falls asleep at work with her eyes open, without even turning on the computer.
- My Special Book: Since the mailbox doesn't have eyelid mechanisms on him, in the episode "Mailbox Dreams", his eyes remain completely open when he finally does fall asleep.
- In Greek Mythology, Endymion was granted the ability to sleep with his eyes open so he could keep watch over his lover, Selene.
- Manly Guys Doing Manly Things. Canadian Guy doesn't sleep, he sits in a rowboat in the middle of a pond with a buttonbox concertina and a blank, empty stare. Somehow, this causes a stack of beaver pelts to appear in Commander Badass's office every morning.
- In Slightly Damned Buwaro manages to fall asleep during a staring contest with Kieri, without her noticing.
- In one arc of S.S.D.D. it looked like Norman might have OD'ed on something when he was just sitting there on the couch with his eyes wide open after bugging Kingston for sleeping pills. Turned out he was just asleep.
- In Faux Pas Cindy slept like that when Myrtle gave her too much cough syrup.
- In the Adventure Time episode "Still", while Ice King attempts to have gossip over girls with Jake, he falls asleep with his eyes open. Considering he immobilized Finn and Jake earlier in the episode, Jake is understandably upset, as he can't move away from Ice King and is stuck looking at him sleeping with eyes wide open.
- Hop Pop in Amphibia. Sprig claims that he makes a great scarecrow.
- Arlo the Alligator Boy: Marcellus has a habit of sleeping this way, like real fishes do. Arlo is promptly perplexed by this.
- The Hair Bear Bunch: In "The Bear Who Came To Dinner," Peevly is consigned to nursing Square Bear back to health in his own bed following an incident with a banana peel. Sensing Square is faking his injury, Peevly orders Botch to watch Square 24/7 for so much as a twitch. Botch is sleeping with his eyes open, given away when Hair whispers to him "Your shoes are on fire!"
- In the House of Mouse short "How to Haunt a House", Donald Duck achieves this by reading a book on sleeping with your eyes open.
- SpongeBob SquarePants: Ever alert, Mermaid Man has trained himself to sleep with his eyes open.
Barnacle Boy: Confound it, get away from him!Mermaid Man: Stop shoutin'! I'm nappin'!Barnacle Boy: IT'S NOT ME, YA OLD COOT!Old Coot #1: Yes...Old Coot #2: That's me...Old Coot #3: I'm over here...
- Total Drama: A few campers have taught themselves never to drop their guard.
- In "You Regatta Be Kidding Me", Cameron confesses that out of fear for the other Villainous Vultures he's been sleeping with his left eye open. He's been safe so far, but he can no longer blink it.
- Shawn demonstrates his ability to sleep with both eyes open and shares his desire to do this permanently one day in "Lies, Cries and One Big Prize". His reasoning is that even asleep, his brain still receives information, such as whether or not zombies are approaching.
- Fish and snakes sleep with their eyes open due to not having eyelids. Fish don't need to worry about dehydration and snakes technically have a transparent membrane and no opaque eyelids.
- Josef Stalin trained himself to sleep with his eyes open, to make potential assassins think he was awake so they couldn't sneak up on him. This was shown in the Made-for-TV Movie World War II: When Lions Roared.
- Guinea pigs and rabbits, as prey animals, often sleep with their eyes open. Such a pet sleeping with its eyes closed generally really trusts its owner.
- During phases of intense day dreaming, a person is technically asleep, but their eyes remain open.
- It's possible to invoke this trope on another person. If a person is a heavy enough sleeper, another person can potentially pull their eyelids open without waking them.
- Sleepwalkers always have their eyes open. When a person sleepwalks, their subconsciousness makes them move around and do things while the conscious part of the brain continues to rest. The part of the brain that is taking control at that point keeps the eyes open so it can see where it is going.
- It's common for some young babies to sleep with their eyes open. This happens during the significantly longer phases of REM sleep that babies have compared to adults.
- School students may try to do this when they're not interested in the lecture to try to avoid being caught sleeping.