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In DnD 5e, when a character is affected by the spell Sleep, they are:

'unconscious until [either] the spell ends, the sleeper takes damage, or someone uses an action to shake or slap the sleeper awake.' (SRD p.180)

For parallel stipulations, see also the spells Eyebite and Symbol, and the draconic Sleep Breath ability.

And, an unconscious person:

'can’t move or speak, and is unaware of its surroundings'(SRD p.359)

So in summary, the only ways to wake up a creature afflicted by magical sleep (with the exception of the high level spell 'Prison') are:

  1. to end the spell affecting them;
  2. to do damage to them; or
  3. for another character to use their action to physically wake them.

Things like loud noises, or flashing lights, which might normally be considered to wake a person, in real life, are (RAW) ineffective because they are considered to be 'unaware of their surroundings'.

RAW, does it require the same level of intervention to wake someone from a mundane sleep, as from a magical one?

Obviously, mundane sleepers are not under the affect of a spell, so can't be woken by the spell ending. But, is anything else different?

  1. Are characters that are mundanely asleep considered to be Unconscious in the same way as characters that are magically asleep (i.e. immune to the impact of light and noise)?

  2. Are there any ways to wake someone from a mundane sleep other than doing damage to them or using an action?

In my own research, I have found that the Wizard and Ranger spell Alarm is able to wake its sleeping caster (SRD p.114). However, this an example of the sleeper waking themselves, rather than being woken by something external. It also has a very niche application to the broader question of 'how can I wake mundanely sleeping people?'.

In this question I am interested only in waking people prematurely from their sleep (ie. being disturbed during their sleep).

An in-game reason for waking characters would be the sentry trying to alert the PCs to a night-time ambush upon their camp. In the past I have treated sleeping PCs as 'surprised' in the first round of combat but woken by the sentry's shouting, and able to act in the second round. I now wonder if this was not the correct way to manage the situation.

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All this is laid out in Xanathar's Guide to Everything on page 77 in the section describing the optional rules for sleeping creatures.

Yes, sleeping creatures are unconscious regardless of the nature of their sleep:

While a creature sleeps, it is subjected to the unconscious condition.

However, if that creature is sleeping naturally it is not immune to sounds at least:

A creature that is naturally sleeping, as opposed to being in a magically or chemically induced sleep, wakes up if it takes any damage or if someone else uses an action to shake or slap the creature awake. A sudden loud noise — such as yelling, thunder, or a ringing bell — also awakens someone that is sleeping naturally.

XGtE also lays out the specific rules for waking a naturally sleeping person with sounds:

Whispers don’t disturb sleep, unless a sleeper’s passive Wisdom (Perception) score is 20 or higher and the whispers are within 10 feet of the sleeper. Speech at a normal volume awakens a sleeper if the environment is otherwise silent (no wind, birdsong, crickets, street sounds, or the like) and the sleeper has a passive Wisdom (Perception) score of 15 or higher.

Nothing is said about waking up a sleeping person with light so this would have to be a DM call.

See this question for more discussion on the effects of sleeping on perception: Perception While Sleeping.

So,

  1. Yes a naturally sleeping creature is unconscious, but not in the same way as magical creatures since they can be woken be sound.
  2. Yes, you can wake them by making noise.
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It is easier. If you go into the Xanathar's Guide to Everything, on page 77 it gives rules on mundane sleeping. It says that if someone is naturally sleeping then it can wake up by taking damage or if someone else uses an action to shake or slap them awake. It goes on to say that a sudden loud noise, like yelling, or a bell ringing would also wake someone up if they are naturally sleeping and it is not magically induced. Another way that someone can wake up is if your passive perception score is high. It says that whispers don't disturb sleep unless the sleepers passive perception score is 20 or higher and the whispers are within 10 feet of the sleeper. Speech at a normal level will wake up the sleeper if that is the only noise around at the time but the sleeper needs a passive perception score of 15 or higher for this. For magical sleep you can only wake up if it says there is a way in the spell or you have an item that would wake them up from magical sleep. This is all on page 77 in Xanathar's Guide to Everything.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't have any rules backing this up but I've always given players (and NPC's) their passive perception at disadvantage (-5) when people are intentionally sneaking about. Mechanically this works out to a skilled sneaker always succeeding unless the sleeper is highly specialized in perception, and even then a decent role is typically enough. \$\endgroup\$ – JackChance May 4 '18 at 18:54
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Yes

A normal sleeping person is, as you say:

can’t move or speak, and is unaware of its surroundings'(SRD p.359)

But there are no stipulations as to what may awaken that person. I would interpret 'unaware' as consciously unaware, and there is no reason to think that the person could not be awoken by anything that would awaken someone in real life.

On the other hand, magical effects follow their own rules and the Sleep spell as you also pointed out, lists the specific conditions required to awaken an affected creature.

In D&D 5th edition the specific rule always supersedes the general rule, so only those conditions mentioned would awaken the creature.

Similarly, if a spell like Alarm specifically states that it would awaken a creature then it does so.

The only possible conflict is if a magically sleeping creature is affected by alarm! (RAW: I think Sleep would override Alarm but this is open to interpretation)

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