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The Long Rest rules read as:

Long Rest

A long rest is a period of extended downtime, at least 8 hours long, during which you sleep or perform light activity: reading, talking, eating, or standing watch for no more than 2 hours of the rest period. If the rest is interrupted by a strenuous activity—such as attacking, taking damage, or casting a spell—you must start the rest over to gain any benefit from it, unless the interruption takes less than an hour. You must have at least 1 hit point to take a long rest. At the end of the rest, you regain all your hit points and half of your maximum number of Hit Dice (round up). You cannot benefit from more than one long rest in a 24-hour period.

The elven Trance trait reads as:

Trance: Elves do not need to sleep. Instead, they meditate deeply for 4 hours a day. (The Common word for such meditation is “trance.”) While meditating, you can dream after a fashion; such dreams are actually mental exercises that have become reflexive through years of practice. After resting in this way, you gain the same benefit that a human does from 8 hours of sleep.

The Warforged Living Construct trait reads as:

Living Construct: Even though you were constructed, you are a humanoid. You are immune to disease. You do not need to eat or breathe, but you can ingest food and drink if you wish. Instead of sleeping, you enter a sleep-like state. You need to remain in it for only 4 hours each day. You do not dream; instead, you are fully aware of your surroundings and notice approaching enemies and other events as normal.

I have heard two views regarding these rules:

  • An Elf or Warforged can get the benefit of a Long Rest in only 4 hours.
  • The 4 hours only applies to not being exhausted, 8 hours is still required get the benefits of a Long Rest.

Which is it? Please provide supporting information, possibly from previous versions.

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I expect the rules to change to read "half a long rest" rather than 4 hours. Since long rest and short rest will become "dials" which can change from game to game. – GMNoob Jun 9 '14 at 14:31
Good point. It's unfortunate that there is ambiguity in the way it is worded currently. – Aaron Jun 9 '14 at 15:37
up vote 35 down vote accepted

According to Mearls & Crawford, the elf still needs 8 hours of rest to get the full benefits of sleep.

Q: does Trance allow elves to get the benefit of long rest in 4 hours instead of 8?

A: nope, they still need 8 hours of rest, but spend only 4 of it zonked out. -M


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This is... really wierd. At least to me. But thank you for bringing this to our attention. – doppelgreener Sep 25 '14 at 1:12
Thanks for the edit. I thought it weird too, but since I saw this post first I thought adding the other information I saw would be useful. Wouldn't be the first time Mearls was wrong either. ;) – Guy Sep 25 '14 at 1:21
Can they spend the other 4 hours on watch? Or can they still only spend 2 hours on watch? – PurpleVermont May 7 '15 at 16:20
In my games personally, I've ruled that they can be on watch for 4 hours. I'm sure others might view that as strenuous activity though, so DM discretion. – Guy May 8 '15 at 17:22
Thought I'd add this, as a bit more "concrete" of a source. – Guy Sep 25 '15 at 14:46

Resting is not the same as sleeping. The rules make no effort to encourage that distinction, but they're unambiguous on it.

A rest is a period of downtime. When you reach 8 hours, you get the many benefits of a long rest. You're limited to a single one every 24 hours, though.

For humans and most player races, the benefits of 8 hours of sleep are as follow:

  • resetting the countdown to exhaustion from lack of sleep

That's all. Elves get that "same benefit" in 4 hours of trance (and Warforged in their 4-hour "sleep-like state"). If they're gonna trance as part of a long rest, they can stay fully alert the other 4 hours.

The source of the (widespread) confusion is clear: for most races, both sleeping and resting take 8 hours of downtime and are once-a-day things. Since 8 hours of sleep also fulfil long rest requirements, you might as well always combine the two.

There's almost no official information about sleep in the books. As stated by the question asker, you can sleep during a long rest and a handful of races can fake a night of sleep in half the normal time. There's also the sleep status effect, irrelevant here. And funnily, a tent has stats even though sleep itself doesn't. So we have to induce the designers' intentions from almost nothing.

Lack of sleep "might" call for a constitution check:

Constitution checks: [...] The DM might call for a Constitution check when you try to accomplish tasks like the following: hold your breath; march or labor for hours without rest; go without sleep; survive without food or water; [...].

Most of the other problems on that list cause exhaustion:

Forced March: The Travel Pace table assumes that characters travel for 8 hours in day. They can push on beyond that limit, at the risk of exhaustion. For each additional hour of travel beyond 8 hours, [...] each character must make a Constitution saving throw at the end of the hour. [...] On a failed saving throw, a character suffers one level of exhaustion.

Food and Water: Characters who don’t eat or drink suffer the effects of exhaustion. Exhaustion caused by lack of food or water can’t be removed until the character eats and drinks the full required amount.

The designers' intention is probably that the DM call for constitution checks when he feels players have gone without sleep "long enough". Like exhaustion from lack of food or water, exhaustion from sleep could only be removed by actually sleeping.

The fourth edition of D&D had similar sleep and rest rules, but they were slightly more specific, so let's check them out:

Rest and Recovery: [...] At least 6 hours long, an extended rest includes relaxation, sometimes a meal, and usually sleep.

Sleeping and Waking Up: You need at least 6 hours of sleep every day to keep functioning at your best. If, at the end of an extended rest, you haven’t slept at least 6 hours in the last 24, you gain no benefit from that extended rest.

Interruptions: If anything interrupts your extended rest, such as an attack, add the time spent dealing with the interruption to the total time you need to spend in the extended rest.

Keeping Watch: Adventurers typically take turns keeping watch while their companions sleep. If five characters are in your group, each of you can take a turn on watch duty for 1½ hours and sleep for 6 hours, so that you spend a total of 7½ hours resting.

Clearly, even though they were easy to combine, sleep and extended rests were distinct! Sleep could even be split up, unlike rest, and its lack had no penalty other than preventing extended rests. Still, eladrin (high elves) seem to contradict those rules:

Trance: Rather than sleep, eladrin enter a meditative state known as trance. You need to spend 4 hours in this state to gain the same benefits other races gain from taking a 6-hour extended rest.

It appears the (widespread) confusion is much older than we thought!

As for earlier editions, I think they had sleep itself as the standard long-term recovery mechanic.

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There is also another slightly different cause of confusion: a human who goes to sleep for 8 hours has achieved a long rest, and so that can be interpreted as one of the benefits of 8 hours of sleep. – doppelgreener Apr 30 '15 at 3:03
@doppelgreener True that. Funny the things you can accomplish accidentally, while unconscious. – Nicolas Daoust May 1 '15 at 4:00
In general, to accomplish a long rest a non-elf only sleeps for 6 hours, and stands watch for two. This satisfies the requirements of a long rest and we have always presumed also satisfies the requirements of getting enough sleep not to be exhausted the next day. If we actually each need 8 hours of sleep, we're doing it wrong. Can the elf trance for 4 hours and take guard duty for 4, or are they also limited to 2 hours of guard duty? – PurpleVermont May 7 '15 at 16:25
@NicolasDaoust No, the rules for sleep are right above: "ou need at least 6 hours of sleep every day to keep functioning at your best.". There appears to be no benefit humans gain from 8 hours of sleep over 6, other than qualifying for a long rest. – Yakk Apr 20 at 3:52
In 4E, yes, but 5E asks for 8 hours. I might have introduced confusion by citing another edition as comparison. – Nicolas Daoust May 12 at 4:34

Both races receive the benefits of a Long Rest in only 4 hours

In the rules quote about the Elf Feature Trance it explicitly states that you gain the same benefits as a human does from 8 hours of sleep. Since Long Rest specifies a minimum of 8 hours the description of Trance in the rules would then mean that by meditating for 4 hours an Elf receives the exact benefits of sleeping for 8 hours: fulfilling a long rest.

While the Warforged Living Construct feature is less explicit, its wording is very close to that of the Elf Trance feature and just on the D&D Next rules alone should work the same way.

In 4e Warforged have an identical feature

In 4e what D&D Next calls a Long Rest is called an Extended Rest.

Warforged have the Unsleeping Watcher feature.

Unsleeping Watcher: You do not sleep and instead enter a state of inactivity for 4 hours to gain the benefits of an extended rest. While in this state, you are fully aware of your surroundings and notice approaching enemies and other events as normal.

In 4e only Drow have the Trance Feature

Trance (Drow): Rather than sleep, drow enter a meditative state known as trance. You need to spend 4 hours in this state to gain the same benefits other races gain from taking a 6-hour extended rest. While in a trance, you are fully aware of your surroundings and notice approaching enemies and other events as normal.

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"In 4e only Drow have the Trance Feature": Eladrin also trance. – Ellesedil Dec 29 '14 at 15:25
This answer is wrong. For a human, the benefits of 8 hours of sleep are as follows: not getting exhausted from lack of sleep. Elves get those benefits in 4 hours of trance. Incidentally, 8 hours of sleep also fulfill Long Rest requirements; 4 hours of trance do not. – Nicolas Daoust Jan 24 '15 at 8:32
@NicolasDaoust Perhaps you should make that an answer? – GMJoe Apr 8 '15 at 7:17
Maybe I should! It DOES clarify that sleep and rest are not the same thing. – Nicolas Daoust Apr 30 '15 at 1:14

It can be interpreted either way. Choose whichever way you think works best for your game. One of the great things, and worst things, about 5e is its ambiguous approach to most rules.

Personally, I stick with the RAW interpretation of a long rest meaning that a long rest is 8 hours and that sleep, while a part of a long rest, isn't a long rest in and of itself. For me, the 'Trance' simply allows the elf more downtime during a long rest. Whereas another party member can sleep for 6 hours (I use 6 as a minimum to avoid exhaustion) and have 2 hours for low-key activity such as watch, an elf can 'sleep' for 4 hours (during which they're still partially conscious for BTW… in my opinion, a very important and beneficial aspect of Trance) and have 4 hours for low-key activity such as watch. This means that an elf can help fill out watch rotations in a smaller party or can pick up any slack should another party member be unable to take their watch or whatever.

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