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I recently asked this question about how to scan someone's memories while sleeping. The consensus of the answers was that the best way to do this was to not have them be asleep but instead wake them up, interrogate them, and wipe their memory.

This leads me to the question of what happens if someone casts detect thoughts on a sleeping creature. The spell description states (emphasis mine):

[...] You initially learn the surface thoughts of the creature - what is most on its mind in that moment. As an action, you can either shift your attention to another creature's thoughts or attempt to probe deeper into the same creature's mind. If you probe deeper, the target must make a Wisdom saving throw. If it fails, you gain Insight into its reasoning (if any), its emotional state, and something that looms large in its mind (such as something it worries over, loves, or hates). [...] [T]he target knows that you are probing into its mind[...]

For the "surface thoughts", I would imagine that this is related to whatever dream the target is having, or no surface thoughts if in deep sleep. If probing deeper, does the sleeping target still get to make the Wisdom saving throw, and do they wake up on either success or failure?

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It's up to the DM

Even when casting detect thoughts on a conscious creature, the thoughts that are detected at both the initial level and at the deeper level are entirely up to the DM. The spell gives guidance on the types of thoughts, but the DM will determine what specific thoughts are

...on its mind...

for the initial cast. Whether or not that's the actual dream or the thoughts creating the dream is entirely up to the DM.

The level of detail for the deeper probe which reveals:

...insight into its reasoning (if any), its emotional state, and something that looms large in its mind (such as something it worries over, loves, or hates)

Deeper probing

There is nothing in the spell description about waking a sleeping target. Keeping it purely in the RAW, the spell works exactly the same on a sleeping target as a conscious one. You can probe deeper, force a WIS save and keep on keeping on. Results of that save will be the same. It is up to the DM if the creature awakens upon the probe or if they continue sleeping only to arise and know as the spell does not specifically say what happens.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You've addressed the regular behavior of the spell, but could you also please address whether the target gets to make the Wisdom saving throw and whether it wakes up upon realizing someone is trying to read its thoughts? \$\endgroup\$ – Aliden Jun 21 at 17:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks. I figured that would be the case, but good to have everything in the answer. +1 \$\endgroup\$ – Aliden Jun 21 at 17:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ One minor bonus is that an unconscious creature cannot use their action to attempt to end the spell, which means that once you succeed at probing deeper, you're in for the full duration with no further resistance (assuming the DM rules that the spell doesn't wake the target). \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Jun 21 at 21:13

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