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While staying human (so no altering the character into undead or constructs, or polymorphing into an elf) and keeping the ability to take Rests, is there any way to completely negate a human's need for sleep?

The purpose is for

  • druid characters needing to remain awake to prevent the ending of wild shape, while restoring extended use through long rests
  • characters with curses that kill when they fall asleep if not dispelled/broken first
  • being in worlds where if you fall asleep your soul will be ripped into eternal torment
  • etc.
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Yes

Pact of the Tome warlocks can take the Aspect of the Moon invocation, which explicitly negates the need for sleep.

You no longer need sleep and can't be forced to sleep by any means[...]

For a druid, this obviously would require multiclassing.

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A previous revision of this answer suggested that long rests did not require sleep and there were no rules for sleep deprivation. These assertions were respectively rendered incorrect by the publishing of 2017's PHB errata and then Xanathar's Guide to Everything.

The core books (PHB, DMG, and MM) have no rules regarding penalties for sleep deprivation; the closest I can find is that the PHB entry for Constitution states:

The DM might call for a Constitution check when you try to accomplish tasks like the following:

...

  • Go without sleep

However, Xanathar's Guide to Everything contains a wealth of optional rules for DMs who want to cover more unusual situations, and on page 78 it offers the following rule regarding characters who are forgoing long rests/sleep:

Whenever you end a 24-hour period without finishing a long rest, you must succeed on a DC 10 Constitution saving throw or suffer one level of exhaustion.

In any event; the application of levels of exhaustion to characters who are going without sleep is the obvious way to represent such a situation in the rules of the game. Your GM might rule that exhaustion incurred this way cannot be removed without sleeping; for starvation and dehydration, for instance, the game states that exhaustion caused by a lack of food or water cannot be removed until the character has eaten and drunk the appropriate amount.

In 3e, a popular method of overcoming fatigue was the use of the Restoration spells in their capacity to remove the conditions of exhaustion or fatigue. In 5e, the Greater Restoration spell can be used to remove one level of exhaustion (the Lesser Restoration spell only affects a much more limited set of conditions and cannot be used to combat exhaustion). Were I your GM and I was giving you levels of exhaustion for not sleeping, I would rule that Greater Restoration could be used to overcome sleep-related fatigue.

You might also have luck with the possibility of a custom magic item. 5e includes an Ioun Stone of Sustenance (and previous versions of the game included Rings of Sustenance) which enable the character to go without needing to eat or drink at all. A similarly priced item of Sleeplessness/Wakefulness which likewise negates the need for characters to actually sleep would seem like a perfectly reasonable magical item to me.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Carcer, is there any need to have the previous parts of your answer lined-through? Unless it actually provides context for the updated parts of the answer then it should probably be deleted. If people need to see the changes you've made then that's what the edit history is there for. \$\endgroup\$ May 31 '18 at 10:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PurpleMonkey true enough. I blame an understandable reluctance to delete my own work. \$\endgroup\$
    – Carcer
    May 31 '18 at 12:13
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Yes

The penalty for never sleeping is you start gaining a level of exhaustion each day after a bit.

Greater Restoration can remove a level of exhaustion (and is on the Druid list).

  • A Druid can afford to make use of this spell by using up 100gp of diamond dust daily each time they incur a level of exhaustion.
  • A Cleric can do this indefinitely via casting Conjure Celestial to summon Couatls, which can cast Greater Restoration for free (once per day per Couatl), in addition to snorting diamond dust at lower levels.
  • Anyone who's got the assistance of an Androsphinx can go without sleep easily-- such creatures can cast Greater Restoration thrice daily without material components.
  • Anyone who's friends with an Empyrean certainly needs no sleep; said creatures can cast the spell without material components at-will.
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There are no ways to stay active and eliminate sleep, but creatures can be preserved without sleeping.

I found no way for a human to go about their ordinary adventuring life without any sleep. This is unsurprising, given the importance of long rests in 5e's mechanics. Therefore, I don't think you'll be able to attain your first example.

However, there are ways to preserve a human so that they do not need to sleep, in order to satisfy your second and third examples.

First, the Sequester spell puts creatures into a state of suspended animation:

If the target is a creature, it falls into a state of suspended animation. Time ceases to flow for it, and it doesn't grow older.

This would allow a human to be preserved in a sleepless state until the curse can be broken.

Likewise, a Mirror of Life Trapping puts a creature into an extradimensional cell where they can stay awake forever:

Creatures trapped in the mirror's cells don't age, and they don't need to eat, drink, or sleep.

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There is no requirement to sleep in order to gain the benefit of a long rest. From the Roll20 Compendium page on Resting (which is drawn from the SRD):

A long rest is a period of extended downtime, at least 8 hours long, during which a character sleeps or performs light activity: reading, talking, eating, or standing watch for no more than 2 hours.

You can sleep or you can do those other things. This Sage Advice reinforces that interpretation:

In short, a long rest and sleep aren’t the same thing; you can sleep when you’re not taking a long rest, and you can take a long rest and not sleep.

There are no rules for the effects of not sleeping but a DM would surely make a ruling, probably involving the Exhaustion condition.

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    \$\begingroup\$ There's an argument to be had about how exactly that line from the rules should be parsed; I agree that an intuitive reading is that you can only stand watch for two hours, but someone could parse it to mean you can only perform any kind of light activity for two hours, and therefore you must spend the rest of the time sleeping, to get the benefits of a long rest. It's still true that there's no explicit consequence specified for not sleeping or avoiding long rests, though. \$\endgroup\$
    – Carcer
    Aug 26 '17 at 9:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @carcer I believe the Sage Advice article discussing Trance for elves actually covers that, clarifying that you can do up to 2 hours of standing guard and otherwise do other light activity the rest of the time. \$\endgroup\$
    – CTWind
    Aug 26 '17 at 16:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ "In short, a long rest and sleep aren’t the same thing; you can sleep when you’re not taking a long rest, and you can take a long rest and not sleep." That's a pretty unambiguous statement. \$\endgroup\$
    – Carcer
    Aug 26 '17 at 17:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ This answer is now totally out of date/inaccurate. The PHB errata clarifies the definition of a long rest: "Long Rest (p. 186). The first sentence of the rule now reads, “A long rest is a period of extended downtime, at least 8 hours long, during which a character sleeps for at least 6 hours and performs no more than 2 hours of light activity, such as reading, talking, eating, or standing watch.”" And Xanathar's added an optional rule for the effect of not sleeping. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    May 31 '18 at 16:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Correspondingly, a 4-hour elf trance now meets the new definition of a long rest, and the Sage Advice Compendium has been updated accordingly. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    May 31 '18 at 16:03

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