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The main character of the series (often after getting into arguments and/or just being an idiot) settles down for a nice midday nap. When he wakes up, it's several decades later. He sees the effects of his absence - anything he did wrong can now never be fixed; those who loved him are miserable after his long absence; and everything has changed. Sometimes, in the end, someone will shake him, calling his name out repeatedly, and it will turn out to have been All Just a Dream or an elaborate hoax. Other times, the character will be stuck in the "future."
This is Older Than Feudalism, with the story it's named after being an old American folktale (sans the All Just a Dream ending), which itself is derived from an earlier Dutch folktale, and variants stretching back to the third century CE.
Compare the King in the Mountain and Human Popsicle. Not to be confused with Rob van Winkle or a certain Nazi vampire. Compare Cold Sleep, Cold Future, where the duration is longer, and Asleep for Days, where it's shorter. See also Year Outside, Hour Inside, where the victim doesn't sleep away the years but spends them in an enchanted place.
- In Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, Princess Sakura wakes up for the first time after losing her feathers... about a day ago. She will spend the entire series between now and the Tokyo arc effectively sleepwalking.
- Tom Canboro (Gary Busey) in the Christian film Tribulation (from the Apocalypse series) wakes up a few years into the Tribulation period after being in an automobile accident.
- The original ending to Army of Darkness had Ash take too much of the potion that was to return him to his own time. He overshoots his own time by one hundred years and awakes to a post-apocalyptic world.
- Justified in Captain America The First Avenger, where Steve Rogers gets frozen in the arctic in the 1940s and is woken up again in modern times. Needless to say, he's a bit surprised when he puts it together (because Steve had been at the baseball game SHIELD put on the radio to put him at ease).
- There is an ancient Christian martyrological tale of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus -- seven Christians who flee to a cave to escape persecution by the Roman Emperor Decius (around 250 A.D.), fall asleep, and awake decades later (usually during the reign of Theodosius II, 408-450 A.D.) to find the Roman Empire has become Christian.
- The Three Sleepers at Aslan's Table in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader may have been inspired by this.
- To elaborate, seven lords were sent East (basically into the wide unknown ocean to the edge of the world) under the reign of a (Calormene, generically eastern, non- Christian) tyrant. The last three make it to Aslan's Table, get into a fight, and fall into a deep magical sleep. Years later, they are found by the new king, a follower of Aslan (Jesus, basically), so Christian.
- The Three Sleepers at Aslan's Table in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader may have been inspired by this.
- Epimenides the Cretan, according to Bolus, was sent to a farm to get a sheep but went to sleep for 57 years. When he woke up he thought only a few hours had gone by so he continued on his quest for the sheep. When he arrived at the farm he found it had been sold and the style of dress had changed. It is also said he died at the age of 157.
- The oldest examples of this trope are found in the Talmud in the story of the ancient Rabbi and scholar Honi ha-M'agel, and in Diogenes Laertius' biography of the Greek sage Epimenides. Both texts probably date from the early 3rd century CE.
- Played for Laughs in The Beano in an early comic strip called Rip Van Wink about a man who had been asleep for 700 years so was completely unused to the then modern world.
- The trope namer.
- The novel Son of Rosemary brings the heroine of Rosemary's Baby up-to-date by having her awaken from a twenty-plus year sleep, just as her demonic son's plotting to bring about The End of the World as We Know It.
- In Andre Norton's Android At Arms, the protagonist is one of several important political figures who were kidnapped, stored as Human Popsicles, and replaced with Ridiculously Human Robots. When they are initially decanted from cold storage by a power failure, they compare notes to learn that they were all kidnapped in different years, and that several of them have been prisoners for decades.
- H. G. Wells' The Sleeper Awakes, where a man previously in a coma for centuries happens to awaken to find himself now not only in a bleak, dystopian future, but also the richest man in the world due to the compound interest on his bank accounts which had been compiling for so long.
- Arthur C. Clarke's 3001: The Final Odyssey, the last and final volume in his Space Odyssey series, finds Frank Poole--previously killed by HAL in the first book--discovered by a space-tug after floating about the Kuyper Belt for a millennium; the absolute zero temperature of deep space having preserved his body, which the ultra-advanced society of 3001 is able to heal and bring back to life.
- In a supporting-character example, Wulf Saxon from the Hawk & Fisher novel The Bones Of Haven got trapped inside a booby-trapped magical portrait for 23 years while attempting to rob a sorcerer. No time passes for him, but by the time he's set free, his family are all dead or penniless, his friends have become callous and hostile, and the city he'd once hoped to reform has become a Wretched Hive far worse than he remembers.
- Star Trek: Enterprise, episode "Twilight." Captain Archer wakes up many years in the future, after the destruction of Earth, to learn that he contracted an alien disease causing a form of anterograde amnesia: every six months, he wakes up with no memories since he contracted the disease. It all ends with a Reset Button as they use Techno Babble to retroactively cure the disease, returning us to the plot arc. It's really just an excuse to run an Alternate Universe plot about the Enterprise's mission failing.
- TNG also previously did a somewhat similar story with the episode Future Imperfect. It had Riker falling unconscious after exploring a cave that was flooded with toxic gas and waking up to discover that at that moment he had contracted a strange alien disease that apparently wiped all his memories between the time he fell unconscious and the 16 years since. However at the end it turned out to be an elaborate holographic illusion created by a lonely alien (played by the kid from Dream On) who had captured Riker and was impersonating his fictional future son.
- Voyager did one as well: a backup copy of the Doctor stored in a piece of the ship that had ended up in an alien museum was reactivated and discovered that 700 years had passed since Voyager left the planet. From his point of view, he was on Voyager just yesterday. There's also "Timeless," in which the Doctor is reactivated 15 years in the series' future and discovers that he, Harry and Chakotay are the only three members of the crew still alive.
- The premise of The Munsters Today, as told in the opening theme song, was "We went to sleep some twenty years ago / And woke up with a brand new show!"
- Parodied in the sketch comedy The State: A man is in a coma for "one hundred and nineteen...almost two hours." However, the world at large seems to have changed as if he'd been in a coma for decades.
- Parodied on Kids in The Hall, where they had a sketch where a man fell asleep for 20 minutes and woke up to a world largely the same, except for everyone, including the man, acting as if years had gone by. And "the Elongulator," which is not described any further.
- Spider Robinson's The Time Traveler is a variant on this - the protagonist hasn't been sleeping, but he imprisoned by a dictatorship in the early Sixties and not allowed any contact with the outside world. When he's released in the early Seventies, the culture shock between the era of JFK and the era of Vietnam/ Watergate makes him contemplate suicide.
- The song "Four of Two" by They Might Be Giants does this to a man who falls asleep waiting for a date to arrive, not realizing that the clock he's looking at is broken & the girl has stood him up.
- "We Won't Get Fooled Again" by The Who is an interpretation of the original story, which used the twenty year nap to illustrate that the Revolutionary War (which happened while he slept) really didn't change anything at all, and he was basically living in the same world. It's a bit hidden in the song, but certain lyrics like "And the marching on the left/ Is now the marching on the right/ And the beards have all grown longer overnight" make it a definite reference.
- In Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, the main character Laharl planned to take a ten day nap... and slept for 2 years. He would have slept longer, but his 'loyal' vassal Etna woke him up.
- This happens to the main character, their sibling, and adopted parent in Bleach: The Third Phantom. Luckily, the protaganist takes it better than the others, or else things would've really gone to hell.
- In Portal 2, Chell gets caught in cryogenic stasis for an indefinite amount of time (the "hotel room" she was in started out intact, and afterwards was severely decayed) at the start of the game.
- In Ever 17, Takeshi spends 17 years in cryo-stasis, and upon waking up, discovers that he has 16-year-old children. The story of Rip van Winkle himself is discussed in some of the routes.
- The Flintstones, "Rip Van Flintstone."
- A Looney Tunes cartoon featuring Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd let Elmer sleep over sixty years to reach the unimaginably distant year 2000, where he and a geriatric Bugs still battled each other amidst pop culture references whose meanings have long vanished into history for the modern viewer.
- An episode of Garfield and Friends did this.
- So did one of the original comic strips.
- Super Mario Bros Super Show
- Pac-Man: The cartoon's ep #42, "Pac-Van-Winkle."
- Inverted in an episode of The Angry Beavers. The two beavers spend the entire episode trying to stay up all night, only to realize their clock is broken. When they go outside, decades have passed.
- In the G.I. Joe cartoon, Shipwreck awoke to find himself gray-haired and long retired from the military, and living in suburbia with a wife and children. He's told that he's suffering a relapse of amnesia, due to a head injury he'd suffered when the Joes took down COBRA once and for all. It's all a COBRA hoax using synthoids, designed to get him to reveal a formula which a scientist had locked inside his head via hypnosis.
- In an episode of The Smurfs, the other Smurfs fool Lazy into thinking he has slept his way into the future where all his fellow Smurfs are now elderly and Papa Smurf has long since passed away. However, Lazy discovers the truth when he uses magic to try bringing them back to their actual ages and they wind up being young Smurflings.
- This story was also done as a comic book, "The Strange Awakening Of Lazy Smurf".
- The Gargoyles episode "Future Tense" did this to Goliath. Fortunately, it was All Just a Dream.
- In the Pokey the Penguin strip Rip Van Pokey, Pokey gets a 20-minute power nap to find out he is no longer welcome in the Arctic Circle.
- In Brawl in the Family, Kirby wakes up after eating a Noddy. Another Noddy tells him that he's been asleep for years, and in that time King Dedede has conquered Dream Land without Kirby to oppose him. Kirby, guiltily, sets forth to fix the problem. Turns out he's only been asleep for a few minutes, the Noddy was teaching Kirby a lesson.