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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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4 Answers 4

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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
    Commented May 4, 2018 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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Without the optional rules in Xanathar's, a person in a mundane sleep does not actually have the unconscious condition

RAW here are commonly misinterpreted; with just the PHB and DMG in play, sleep does not automatically impose the unconscious condition.

From the DMG "Using and Tracking Conditions" (p.248 - emphases mine)

Various rules and features in the game are clear about when they apply a condition to a creature. You can also apply conditions on the fly. They're meant to be intuitive for you to do so. For example, if a character is in a state such as sleep, that lacks consciousness, you can say the character is unconscious. Or did a character just stumble onto the ground? He or she is now prone.

Let us be clear about this passage. It does not say that sleeping characters have the unconscious condition. Rather, the point is that sometimes a DM can apply conditions 'on the fly', that is, when they feel the situation as such warrants it. In the case of sleep, it is not that a character is unconscious, but rather that they lack consciousness and thus can be treated for some situations as if they were unconscious.

This is important, because the unconscious condition imposes the following effect:

An unconscious creature is incapacitated (see the condition), can’t move or speak, and is unaware of its surroundings

It is clear that a truly unconscious character is both blinded and deafened. Even though these are not explicitly part of the unconscious condition, that condition does say that the character is "unaware of its surroundings".

However, it should be equally clear that the DMG is not advocating that normally sleeping characters are unable to be awoken by noise or bright flashing lights. They may be treated as blinded for their comrades walking across a dimly lit room, but perhaps not for the light from a bullseye lanthorn suddenly falling on their face. They should be treated as deafened for whispers across the room, but not for shouts. This is what the DMG means when it says that DM's need to apply the unconscious condition intuitively to a sleeping character.

If such a character is attacked without warning, the DM can "say" that the unconscious condition applies, and the attacker has advantage on their hit roll. But if a comrade shouts at the sleeping PC, the DM can then "say" that the unconscious condition does not apply and that the PC can hear the noise and awaken.

The DMG encourages DM's to adjudicate non-magical sleep intuitively and on the fly. In almost all such cases, mundane sleep will be easier to wake from than magically-induced sleep.

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