The Ultimate D&D Sleep 5e Guide: How Does it Work?

Imagine this: you and your party are chasing a mysterious figure stalking you through the woods. Suddenly, your party is interrupted by several yet weak goblins. They quickly block your path in front of you, and you need to get past them fast enough so that you can catch your target. You are a level one bard who is now engaged in combat and looking for spells to use. What would you use?

A great spell to use in this situation would be the Sleep spell. It is regarded by many as one of the best spells in existence. Available early on in the DnD game, it is a useful spell especially when you have to deal with many enemies at once. It can also be used when the opponent you are fighting is on the verge of death.

Simply put, it is a great spell to immobilize your enemies. It specializes in crowd control that can turn the tides of a battle in your favor. If you are having second thoughts on picking this spell, read through our Sleep 5e Guide to find out if this is the right spell for you.

What is the Sleep spell?

The following text is the official description and details of the Sleep spell taken from the Player’s Handbook on page 276:

    • Sleep
    • 1st-level enchantment
    • Casting Time: 1 action
    • Range: 90 feet
    • Components: V, S, M (a pinch of fine sand, rose petals, or a cricket)
    • Duration: 1 minute

This spell sends creatures into a magical slumber. Roll 5d8; the total is how many hit points of creatures this spell can affect. Creatures within 20 feet of a point you choose within range are affected in ascending order of their current hit points (ignoring unconscious creatures).

Starting with the creature that has the lowest current hit points, each creature affected by this spell falls unconscious until the spell ends, the sleeper takes damage, or someone uses an action to shake or slap the sleeper awake. Subtract each creature’s hit points from the total before moving on to the creature with the next lowest hit points. A creature’s hit points must be equal to or less than the remaining total for that creature to be affected.

Undead and creatures immune to being charmed aren’t affected by this spell.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, roll an additional 2d8 for each slot level above 1st.

How does Sleep work?

Spell

Sleep is a 1st-level enchantment spell. Enchantment spells are spells that can affect others’ minds, capable of influencing or controlling their behavior. During combat, you can cast this spell as an action. When cast, it can force others to fall asleep for up to a minute, making them unconscious and prone. This is how it works:

  1. Verify that you have an available spell slot left. You need one so that you can cast Sleep. At a minimum, you only need a first-level spell slot, but you can use higher-level spell slots which can make Sleep even more powerful.
  2. Choose the starting point of your Sleep spell. You can choose anywhere within 90 ft. of you. If the DnD map uses square tiles as the measurement for distance, the usual scaling would mean that each square measures 5 ft. By this logic, you can reach a point of up to 18 tiles away from you. That is a lot of range!

It can affect all creatures within 20 ft. (or 4 square tiles) of the starting point. However, be careful in picking the location, as you cannot control who gets to be affected by your spell. Again, all creatures, with a few exceptions, within 20 ft. become the spell’s target. So, if you have allies within 20 ft. of the spell’s starting location, they can fall asleep too.

  1. Roll 5d8 and add the total. After picking a location, you must roll 5d8, meaning five 8-sided dice. You then add the results. Let’s call the total the spell’s “HP Pool”, and the DM should know this number. The HP Pool is essential as it is the indicator of how many creatures get affected by the spell.
  2. For the DM: search for a viable creature with the lowest HP within range. This is, most of the time, the duty of your DM unless you can see every creature’s HP as well. In this context, viable creatures are creatures that can be affected by the Sleep spell. Unconscious creatures, the Undead, and creatures immune to being charmed are not viable creatures.
  3. Subtract the creature’s HP from the HP Pool. If the remaining difference is negative, the Sleep spell ends without affecting the creature. If it is positive, then the creature will fall asleep and the difference will become the new HP Pool. When a creature falls asleep, they are unconscious and thus is no longer a viable creature.
  4. If the spell has not failed yet, repeat steps 4 to 5. Again, the spell will instantly fail if the process of subtracting the creature’s HP from the HP Pool results in a negative number. Otherwise, the DM must find the next creature with the lowest HP within range using the new HP Pool.

Keep in mind that a creature who falls asleep wakes up when either: the duration of the spell ends (which is a minute); the creature takes damage; the creature is awoken by someone else as an action by slapping or shaking them.

Sample scenario

For example, your character is a bard just waking up from a long rest and ready to fight. On your first encounter, you cast the Sleep spell. You roll 5d8 and get 30 as the total. You have four creatures within range of the Sleep spell, which we will refer to as creatures A, B, C, and D. Creature A has 11 HP, B has 9 HP, C has 12 HP, and D has 8 HP. Let us trace the steps mentioned before.

  1. Since your bard just woke up from a long rest and this is their first encounter, it is safe to assume that they have a first-level spell slot in their arsenal. So, he uses the said spell slot.
  2. Creatures A, B, and C have huddled together 45 ft. away from you. In this case, the distance in which they are huddling together would be about 5 ft. from each other. Creature D is not near, being away by 30 ft. from them. Since they are within the range of 90 ft. and near each other except for Creature D, you can choose the location in which Creature A, B, and C can be affected. Creature D will not be affected by this spell.
  3. As mentioned, you roll 5d8 and get 30 as the total. The HP Pool will now be 30.
  4. Next, we find the creature with the lowest HP within range. Among the three creatures, Creature B has the lowest with 9 HP.
  5. We then subtract Creature B’s HP from the HP Pool (30 – 9 = 21). Since the difference (21) is a positive number, Creature B will now fall asleep and become unconscious. The new HP Pool would then be 21.
  6. The next creature with the lowest HP would be Creature A, with 11 HP. Doing the same process in step 5, we get a difference of 10 (21 – 11 = 10). Again, it is a positive number so Creature A will fall asleep and the new HP Pool would be 10.

The next creature would be Creature C, with 12 HP. However, doing the same process in step 5 results in a negative number (10 – 12 = -2). Thus, Creature C will not fall asleep and the spell now ends.

At Higher Levels

Since Sleep is a level one enchantment spell, you can use a level one spell slot to cast it. However, you can also use a much higher-level spell slot to cast it for greater effect. When using a spell slot higher than level one, you add 2d8 to the 5d8 roll for every level past the 1st level.

So for example, if you use a 2nd level spell slot for Sleep, you roll 7d8 instead since 5d8 + 2d8 = 7d8. When using a 3rd level spell slot, it becomes 9d8, and so on. The addition is very useful when trying to appease many creatures at once, or when you are trying to pacify a single monster with high HP.

Who can use Sleep?

Wizard

Three main classes can have the Sleep spell in their arsenal:

  • Bard
  • Sorcerer
  • Wizard

The Bard and Sorcerer have a set number of known spells depending on what level they are in. However, they can pick up the Sleep spell starting at level one since it is a first-level enchantment spell. Additionally, every time they level up, they can change an existing spell they have with a new one.

So, if you do not have the Sleep spell, don’t fret because you can change an existing one for it once you gain a level in the class. For the Wizard, they can prepare spells equal to the character’s intelligence modifier + the wizard level. If this equation results in a 0 or less, it automatically means the character can prepare only one spell.

Subclasses

Aberrant Mind Sorcerer

Other classes can also use the Sleep spell through their subclass. These subclasses are:

  • Aberrant Mind Sorcerer (from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything)
  • Arcane Trickster Rogue (from Player’s Handbook)
  • Archfey Warlock (from Player’s Handbook)
  • Eldritch Knight Fighter (from Player’s Handbook)
  • Redemption Paladin (from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything)
  • Twilight Cleric (from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything)

How good is Sleep?

Many players, veterans and newcomers alike, consider the Sleep spell as one of the best spells in the book. First off, it is very accessible early on in the game due to it being a level one spell. It is a very effective crowd control spell. Even though it might hit your friends, it is still non-lethal since you can simply wake them up.

A 5d8’s average roll is between 22 and 23, which is a pretty big number and is effective for weaker creatures with low HP. When a creature falls asleep, they have the “unconscious” condition.

Unconscious

Here are the details of the condition taken from the Player’s Handbook, page 292:

  • An unconscious creature is incapacitated, can’t move or speak, and is unaware of its surroundings.
  • The creature drops whatever it is holding and falls prone.
  • The creature automatically fails Strength and Dexterity saving throws.
  • Attack rolls against the creature have an advantage.
  • Any attack that hits the creature is a critical hit if the attacker is within 5 feet of the creature.

Being incapacitated means that the creature cannot take any actions or reactions at all. By the definition of being unconscious, attacking a creature who has fallen asleep means that there is an advantage for the attacker, and it is an automatic critical hit, as long as the attacker is within 5 ft. The standard way of doing a critical hit would be to double the number of dice an attack would normally do.

So for example, if you attack a creature who has fallen asleep with a dagger, it deals 2d4 damage instead of 1d4. However, many DMs just let the player roll a 1d4 and double the damage of the roll. It is up to how the DM does it.

If there are spells that require a strength or dexterity saving throw, they automatically fail. When there is a situation that requires throws, they automatically fail. It is a fun spell and can be very situational, yet most of the time extremely helpful.

FAQ

Question: How long does Sleep last?

Answer: The Sleep spell lasts for one minute. During combat, each round lasts six seconds, so Sleep would last for ten rounds.

Question: Is Sleep good?

Answer: For many, yes. It is quite a subjective question, but many people consider the spell as a useful crowd control spell. Plus, it is accessible early on in the game since it is a first-level spell.

Question: How do you cast Sleep?

Answer: You cast sleep by using at least a level one spell slot. You roll 5d8 and that determines how many creatures get affected by the spell. You can also use higher-level spell slots for Sleep; just add an extra 2d8 for every level past level one.

Question: Are elves immune to Sleep?

Answer: Yes, since elves are creatures immune to being charmed.

Question: Are the undead immune to Sleep?

Answer: Yes.

Question: How do you wake up from Sleep?

Answer: A creature can wake up from Sleep either: after a minute from being cast; by taking damage; by having someone wake up the creature as an action.

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