Magical sleep is a trope that goes back to the earliest days of mythology and folklore. The Greek goddess of the moon Selene had a mortal king put to sleep, Finn MacCool faced a sorceress who put warriors to sleep, and Cu Chalain was put to sleep by both Scatach and Lugh. Often, magical sleep was also a gateway to the fairy realm — just ask Rip Van Winkle.
In Dungeons and Dragons, sleep is a convenient low-level spell useful for putting creatures into such a state, saving you both time and energy. A mob of goblins fobbing your job up? A giant rager rattling your cage, sir? Put any or all of them to sleep. At least… if they aren’t fae, elves, undead, or constructs…
This post is all about the ins and outs of the sleep spell — who can cast it, who should cast it, and when you should cast it. We’ve also got a few tricks up our sleeves for how to make this spell more effective and then a list of common questions we run into fairly often.
- Casting Time: 1 action
- Range: 90 ft. (20 ft. area)
- Duration: 1 minute
- School: Enchantment
- Class: Bard, Sorcerer, Archfey, Twilight, Wizards, Redemption
- Level: 1st
- Damage/Effect: Unconscious
- Attack/Save: None
- Components: V, S, M (sand, rose petals, crickets, etc.)
- Ritual/Concentration: (None)
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.
* (a pinch of fine sand, rose petals, or a cricket)
Spell Tags: CONTROL
Available For: BARD SORCERER WIZARD TWILIGHT DOMAIN OATH OF REDEMPTION THE ARCHFEY
Basic Rules, pg. 276
Who Can Cast Sleep?
Easy answer? Most spell casters can cast this. Bards, wizards, and sorcerors all get this spell. Twilight clerics, redemption paladins, and archfey warlock get it too. Do you see the similarity between these casters? Magical sleep is a thing from folklore and mythology. Since Dungeons and Dragons draws heavily from the myth and folklore of Western Europe, sleep is a trope that belongs to the fae folk.
Arcane casters all have the ability to flavor their spell lists with fae-like spells composed mostly of enchantment and illusion spells. Twilight clerics have a divine connection with the fae world, and thus have access to this spell.
Redemption paladins do not have a connection to the fae; instead, they seek to use peaceful means to overcome violence, and sleep fits the bill — although it helps if you soften the bad guys up with a little violence first. Everything in moderation.
When Should You Take Sleep?
The decision of which spell to put on your spell list is the single most important decision you will make as a spellcaster. When choosing your first-level spells, you’ll need to consider what your party role is and weigh that against what other spells will assist you in that role.
At Black Citadel, we have identified several party roles into which to fit your character. Are you a tank? Do you prefer a more social role? How about dropping large amounts of damage? If you answered yes, sleep is probably not for you.
If you like to alter the battlefield or at least the odds against which your party is faced, then sleep IS for you! You are most likely a support or utility character.
Below is a handy chart we’ve developed to help make this decision.
Since sleep is the kind of spell that can have benefits beyond the simple thought process of “If it’s a bad guy, then kill it,” we recommend this spell for the support or utility characters.
From a support perspective, sleep will allow you to end combat quickly, maybe even before it begins. This way, you can help your party save its precious HP.
From a utility perspective, sleep will allow you to control a group of creatures on the battlefield and change the odds of any given encounter. Furthermore, it will help you decide when and where to engage in combat. This gives you the advantage.
If you consider yourself the face of the party, you may still consider taking the sleep spell. As the face, you may not be a combat-oriented class. If you can walk into a room or a hallway and strike up a conversation with a few creatures, this could give you the opening you need to get the spell off without being interrupted.
Other 1st-Level Spells
There are several other 1st-level spells that are absolutely essential… depending on your build.
Sleep is one of those spells. The only other support or utility spell that comes close is color spray.
Even though color spray affects more targets than sleep, it doesn’t have the added effect of making the targets sleep peacefully so they wake up embarrassed and covered in their own drool — like a school child who was magically knocked out as soon as the teacher started talking about The Great Gatsby. Again. This means that when the bad guys wake up, they might be too embarrassed to admit any fault and just decide to stay there instead of raising any alarm.
With color spray, you are making the targets blind. Yes, this is still helpful, but it doesn’t keep them quiet.
Consider sleep to be the chloroform of the magical world and color spray to be the flash grenade. Both are useful in different situations.
When Should You Cast Sleep?
From a tactical perspective, it is important to note what it says in the spell description. The spell states, “Creatures… are affected in ascending order of their current hit points.” This means you need to guess about how much HP there is spread around your target(s). To make this decision, ask yourself the following questions:
1. If I roll 5d8, I could put 5-40 Hit Points worth of creatures under. Does my target(s) seem low on Hit Points? If the answer is yes, go for it. If no, continue to question 2.
2. Could I soften them up a little bit? Maybe if I cast a magic missile, fireball, or a synaptic static? An Area of Effect spell you choose will be able to affect about the same number of creatures as sleep. This means you can lower their combined HP before finishing them off with a sleep.
3. If I can not put all of these enemies to sleep, can the others be dealt with? If you know that you will not be able to affect all of the targets, consider the next few turns and the next round. Will your party be able to mop up the rest? Will the remaining bad guys be overwhelmed enough to run away?
The most important consideration in this link of thinking is whether or not you will be able to put enough pressure on the bad guys to stop them from waking up their unconscious team members.
4. Am I about to cast this on an elf, a fae, an undead, or a construct? If the answer is yes, then cast something else. They are all immune.
Common Questions About Sleep
We get a lot of questions here at the Citadel, so we gathered the four most common ones and answered them here.
Does This Spell Deal Damage?
No. There are some DMs and players that will say the 5d8 is a damage roll and that falling asleep will leave creatures at 0 HP. This is wrong.
If you want to do this, make a third-level homebrew spell that combines fog cloud and sleep and deals poison damage. That will put them to sleep… permanently.
Can Empower Spell Be Used?
No. Empower spell is about the only metamagic ability that does not work with sleep. We recommend the Heighten and Extend options.
Can You Wake Up a Sleeper Accidentally?
No. You can only wake someone up by intentionally using an action to do so or by dismissing the spell.
Does This Spell Affect Yourself/Allies?
Yes. This spell affects everyone within the 20-foot range you choose. Consider using the Careful Spell metamagic option to do otherwise.
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I played the game a lot as a kid, back in first edition. Over the past few years since 5e was released, I’ve really started getting back into it. Currently, I run a campaign online for some friends and my brothers, and we also play a side-sesh just to mix things up.