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"Can't sleep, clown will eat me. Can't sleep, clown will eat me".—Bart Simpson, The Simpsons, "Lisa's First Word"
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 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
Disclaimer of sorts:
Let's get this out of the way first: regardless of what you might think, here at TV Tropes ending up on Nightmare Fuel pages right before bedtime might not seem that easy, but it is. Cases of people going to bed with their most recent memories of the site being mind-scarring images of angels (both kinds) are far more frequent than you might ever imagine. You're free to think this is a Shmuck Bait, but if this page is the last you've browsed without having seen the aforementioned articles first, then please don't click on those links unless you know you won't have to sleep for two more hours at the very least. Whatever else may be the case, you're still in time to do a favor to your brain by having this other article as the very last you browse.
- 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.
- Hack Slash villain Ashley Guthrie initially had the ability to kill people in their dreams.
- Dr Destiny, who invented a machine that let him enter dreams (later retconned as based on Morpheus's powerstone) in Justice League of America.
- 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.
- Freddy Krueger from the Nightmare On Elm Street series kills people in their dreams, with damage from the dream world crossing over into the real world.
- The pods in Invasion of the Body Snatchers could only replace people while they were asleep. 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.
- Dreamscape. Tommy Ray Glatman assassinates people by using his psychic abilities to enter their dreams and kill their dream selves.
- The Lethifold from Harry Potter targets sleeping people.
- The Body Snatchers, the book Invasion of the Body Snatchers is based on.
- Grave Peril, third book of The Dresden Files, has the Nightmare (aka Leonid Kravos), who kills by entering his victims' dreams.
- The Goosebumps book Don't Go To Sleep! had the main character be shunted to a different alternate universe whenever he fell asleep.
- 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.
- Perchance to Dream (Asleep in Armageddon), a short story by Ray Bradbury
- A Sliders episode depicts a world ruled by a sinister cabal that can kill people in their dreams.
- Mystery Science Theater 3000: In 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.
- The Twilight Zone TOS.
- "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.
- The Stargate SG-1 episode "Morpheus".
- 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.
- A villain of the week on Supernatural killed people in their dreams out of envy.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Inspired by The Simpsons, the Alice Cooper song "Can't Sleep, Clowns Will Eat Me".
- "Enter Sandman" by Metallica.
- Dungeons and 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 bastellus, a creature native to Ravenloft, 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.
- 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.
- The fifth episode of Sam and Max Freelance Police: Season 3: 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.
- 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.
- Karkat of Homestuck warns all the other trolls to stay awake, or else they will have to face the Horrorterrors.
- "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.
- The Simpsons in a Halloween episode spoofing Nightmare On Elm Street.
- In a Justice League episode, 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.
- In an episode of The Flintstones, Wilma, Betty and Barney are led to falsely believe Fred has an ailment that will kill him if he falls asleep. Also, he must not be informed of this or he'll die too. The gang uses increasingly creative methods to keep Fred awake.
- 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.
- 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 Sandman, a Monster of the Week in Martin Mystery, could trap sleeping people in their dreams.
- 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.
- In 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 ATTACKING THE CITY THAT WON'T GO AWAY UNTIL I TELL EVERYONE THE TRUTH ABOUT CHOMPY!
[Cosmo and Wanda Face Palm and grants his wish]
- 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.
- 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."
- 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!
- 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.
- Not so much an old wives' tale as a popular oversimplification. 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.
- 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, 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 Ted Bundy attacked several of his victims while they were sleeping.
- As did Gerald Parker, who earned the nickname "the Bedroom Basher" due to this habit.
- In a more literal sense, fatal familial insomnia kicks in somewhere between the ages of 35 and 60 and just turns off your ability to sleep. And you die of it an average of a year and a half later, never having slept in that time.
- Not sleeping at all kills your immune system in the matter of weeks, not months, and death follows quickly afterwards. In practice even the worst insomniacs do actually sleep every now and then, a few minutes at the time, but don't consciously register it.