Imagine a scenario in which most of the world population falls asleep in, for example, the year 2020. It happens at such a global scale and rate that no one realizes what is happening, except for the few who stay awake after this hibernation takes place.

After a few years, everyone wakes up simultaneously, by the combined effort of the awake people to break them free from their slumber.

Let's say that the ones that were asleep are in more or less the same condition as they were before they fell asleep, so they received nourishment and such. They do not remember the sleep, for them it is as if they woke up from a nap or good night sleep.

Is a scenario conceivable where the majority of the population never knows/comes to realize that they have been asleep for a couple of years? There are several indicators I thought of, and I have the feeling I'm missing a lot more. What should be done to make the world believe that nothing really happened and that they are still in the year 2020?

What I thought of that could be difficult to write around:

  • Season change
  • Clocks (in many different forms)
  • Earth's position relative to stars etc.

It might be possible to cut down years to months, but that does make it difficult regarding seasonal changes. Earth is Earth as we know it, no magic but advanced technology (more than we have now) is allowed.

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    $\begingroup$ Don't hide it. There's no way to do so. Instead, rely upon the human conventions - culture, religion, politics. Truth can be apparent and people will still ignore it, just like our universe. Rely on belief for your story, not truth. $\endgroup$ Dec 15, 2016 at 15:56
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    $\begingroup$ What happens to the billions of moving cars whose drivers fall asleep at the wheel? $\endgroup$
    – SPavel
    Dec 15, 2016 at 16:02
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    $\begingroup$ Do you have an actual solution for how people stay in the same physical condition the entire time they sleep? It's basically the same problem as most of the obvious signs everyone was asleep (I.e. things and people need regular maintenance or they decay). $\endgroup$
    – Kat
    Dec 15, 2016 at 18:16
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    $\begingroup$ After a few years, everyone wakes up simultaneously ... and finds all their stuff gone, having been stolen by looters, who noticed it was easier and more profitable to rob unconscious people than it was to try to save them. $\endgroup$ Dec 15, 2016 at 19:56
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    $\begingroup$ And that's the ones who didn't die of hypothermia when the power turned off... $\endgroup$ Dec 16, 2016 at 11:43

10 Answers 10


If only a few stay awake, how will they manage to keep the world running? Imagine power plants suddenly without workers.

All houses, building, man made structures, they'd all weather without the constant maintenance.

Most fields and crops are withered. Cattle has either freed itself or perished.

Planes dropped from the sky, because the pilots took a nap, trains, busses and cars crashed.

And that's only the beginning.

Astronomers look at the sky and see the difference, the ISS may even have entered the atmosphere, because it requires constant corrections to its path.

Whole scientific experiments gone mad.

And many many more. There are some TV shows that paint the Life after Man, that'll give you an idea what happens.

So, your small group of caffeine junkies who didn't fall asleep have to clean up all this mess until the others are waking up again.

And last but not least:

You have to keep the non sleeping ppl from talking. The first thing they'd do when the majority are waking up again is asking what happened to them and then tell the story of the last year(s)

  • $\begingroup$ The non-sleeping won't talk, that is not a problem. If we cut it down to months, that would help in some degree, but there are a lot of problems to be solved I see. $\endgroup$
    – Century
    Dec 15, 2016 at 14:57
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    $\begingroup$ There's an enjoyable 1965 novel called Sleeping Planet by William F. Burkett in which alien baddies use a drug to put Earth's population to sleep and conquer the planet. You will be glad to hear that a few people are naturally immune and some of them save the day by deeds of derring-do. It is said that 150,000 people never woke up for all the reasons you say, plus simple exposure if they were outside in a cold climate, plus those who were in need of medical attention when the gas struck. There's no effort to conceal what happened but most people find it very hard to believe what did happen. $\endgroup$ Dec 15, 2016 at 16:09
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    $\begingroup$ You mentioned crops withering. On the other hand, in an area that gets lots of rain, I can imagine a homeowner waking up and saying, "Hey, I just mowed the lawn yesterday! Now the grass is taller than I am! It's like my house has been transplanted into the middle of a hayfield! What happened?" $\endgroup$
    – Lorendiac
    Dec 16, 2016 at 0:38
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    $\begingroup$ + a sudden hippie/hipsterization: everyone has long hair, beards and all other bodyparts are unshaven, too.. $\endgroup$
    – cypherabe
    Dec 16, 2016 at 12:49
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    $\begingroup$ In the series Flashforward the premise was that people blackout for around 2 minutes, and even that 2 minutes and 17 seconds caused a huge amount of problems $\endgroup$
    – SztupY
    Dec 16, 2016 at 13:27

I'm going to turn your question on its head a bit. I will ignore whether it is possible to deceive the public short-term, and instead show that someone, somewhere, will figure it out in the long-term. The first clues could come from a variety of sources:

The astronomer. You mentioned it yourself, the position of stars vary during the year, which you can get around by having the sleep/wake event happen at the same time of year. However, stars also undergo proper motion. This motion is so slow as to be practically imperceptible, but with careful measurements and improving telescopes, we have been observing this phenomenon for a few hundred years. One careful astronomer will observe that 61-Cygni is 0.01 arc-seconds further ahead (for example) in the sky than it ought to be.

The entymologist. Again as an example, suppose the last emergence of the periodic cicada was just five years ago. Now they are emerging again. It's supposed to be 13 to 17 years between, so what happened to the missing 8 to 12 years?

The meteorologist. Similarly, just last year the El Nino cycle was winding down, now it seems to winding up again. Let's blame it on El Nino!

The guy who monitors nuclear fuel rods The output readings seem to have reduced pretty suddenly. This stuff is supposed to have a much longer half-life than this.

Erosion, decay, growth, and so on. The clues may be subtle, but they will be many. Humanity will eventually put it together and figure it out.

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    $\begingroup$ The IT guy who has his inbox filled with gigabytes of downtime reports. $\endgroup$ Dec 16, 2016 at 16:02
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for the additional periodic events I need to look into. :) $\endgroup$
    – Century
    Dec 16, 2016 at 18:12
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    $\begingroup$ I'm unclear what people are talking about. There was no double posting of comments, at any point, and no moderator deleted any. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Dec 16, 2016 at 18:28
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    $\begingroup$ Even if the stars were in roughly the same positions, any astronomer worth their salt would notice that the planets and the moon had moved relative to the stars. $\endgroup$ Dec 16, 2016 at 19:19

This requires one thing for sure:

Someone who keeps everything running during the hibernation. And that someone needs to have quite some power and must definitely be a perfectionist.


What happens to a train, if the train engineer suddenly decides to take a nap in the middle of the track? Well, most modern trains (not so modern to be honest) have measures against crashes in that case, but there definitely will be cases, where this ends ugly. Or consider a highway. Multiple crash, here we come. That one guy whos going climbing has definitely lived the longest part of his life, if the hibernation kicks in while he's on some climbing track.

Power supply

Consider a nuclear power plant without engineers. That won't work out that well for all too long. Noone wants to wake up on a planet that basically became uninhabitable by hundreds of meltdowns. On the other hand for noone to notice the hibernation, the whole infrastructure needs to keep running. It'd be a bit weird, if you took a nap and woke up to a global blackout. And quite a few sorts of energy-infrastructure require regular maintenance or even fueling to be kept running. This goes from power supply lines to entire power-plants.


A few years are definitely enough time for the sentence "nature takes back what is its" to come true. Larger cities already have issues with everything from rats to bears, which are attracted by cities as synanthropes. Now wait a few years without any humans being in the way and the city will have plenty of inhabitants that weren't there beforehand. Pets, especially carnivores like cats (not that much) and dogs will definitely impose a problem. So you've somehow got to keep fauna at bay. On the other hand going to sleep and waking up with the skeleton of your beloved brutus in the living-room would be suspicious to say the least as well. This is one of the simpler problems to solve: hibernate the animals as well.


Googling for what Chernobyl looked like in 1990 should give you a vague impression of what happens to a city, if noone is there to care about it. You'll need an army of gardeners to stop this problem from getting out of hands. Especially since plants will start to dissolve streets and buildings over a few years (tree roots, etc). You might have a really nice looking city with a lot of green areas, when waking up again from hibernation, but I guess most people will notice.

Time keeping

One doesn't need to be astronomer to immediately notice somethings not all alright, when looking at any electronic media. Every PC has a built-in battery that keeps it's time-keeping chip alive. While that battery will die sooner or later - another problem - I'll at least notice that my PC will notify me about the fact that the battery ran out of power and the fact that the clocks a few years off. As soon as we use a bit of astronomy, we finally get to the point where this will finally get entirely undoable.


Keeping the world in a fully functional state requires resources. Be it batteries, fuel, replacements, tools, somehow all will need to be produced. Now imagine the power-plant topic: An uranium-mine that overnight gets entirely exploited will for sure look fishy to someone. Same goes for production of batteries. Basically quite a large part of the economy would have to be kept running in order to prevent people from noticing anything suspicious when they wake up. Which itself will produce noticeable results. The larger the required amount of resources, the more noticeable the results. Transportation of goods to their destination requires fuel, which run short pretty fast, if not replenished, which in turn drains an oil-field. "We're missing several bio barrels of oil" is definitely a result you won't be able to hide.

Etc. etc.

So in short:
Hiding the results is only partially possible at all. And even that "partially" requires an army of perfectionists rather than a few people that escaped hibernation. Keeping this world running requires 7bio people in it's current state - well, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but I think you get the problem - keeping it in the state it's currently in won't require much less.

  • $\begingroup$ You could get around the crashing part by saying that people only hibernate when they go to sleep - ie everyone has a normal day, goes to bed at the normal time and then doesn't wake up for a long time... $\endgroup$ Dec 16, 2016 at 11:37
  • $\begingroup$ @MattBowyer That leaves you with another problem: Let's say I work during a night shift. While I go home I normally meet a lot of people on their way to work. But this day, the streets are empty except for a few of my colleagues that have the same way I have. Doing the hibernation with respect to when people go to sleep removes the crash-problem but induces the problem that the people going to sleep last will notice something weird already before they go to sleep. $\endgroup$
    – Paul
    Dec 16, 2016 at 12:29
  • $\begingroup$ Possibly - but I reckon that most people don't actually meet many people on their way home (although they might wonder why there's no traffic around). But the effect on shift handovers would be interesting when no one shows up to relieve people. $\endgroup$ Dec 16, 2016 at 13:55
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    $\begingroup$ 911, what's your emergency? Mommy and daddy won't wake up! $\endgroup$ Dec 16, 2016 at 16:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Daerdemandt Erm... Don't worry; I'll send a doctor. – czzt – Ambulance: Child and two parents at this address. Parents unconscious. Do you read me? ... Hello? $\endgroup$
    – wizzwizz4
    Dec 16, 2016 at 17:47

Basically everything can be used as a clock, even the average household has many things that will roughly indicate how much time has passed.

The fridge, and its contents. You'd roughly know whats in your fridge and none of it will keep for years.

Any battery powered device will have dead batteries after a few years and a few of these batteries will leak, damaging the device or at least leave the telltale signs of the leak. If you own a PC, there is a good chance the battery (there is one for the clock) might kill the mainboard. Many electrical components also have a limited life time, for example capacitors will dry out and fail as soon as powered on. Even if its only a few years, all the power supplies that would have naturally died over these years would now die the moment they're turned on, a notable spike of dead power supplies.

Looking outside, the growth of trees would notably change a cities face, even if all the houses were perfectly maintained in their current state (which would present a challenge all by itself). If you owned a car or motorcycle, its oil and fuel would degrade to a point where it would render the engine inoperable after some years.

And also, anyone you knew that didn't fall asleep would have aged visibly in a few years (especially if they were kids or teenagers). If the sleeping people age normally, many would notice it by simply looking into a mirror.

A multitude of other things, technical or natural, would also show the passage of time. Many of these (as the mentioned astronomical measurements) would be completely outside humanities influence and impractical to deceive/hide.

In conclusion, the passing of time is near impossible to hide. It would be much simpler to just construct a lie about the reason (I'm assuming thats what you really want to hide) than to try to hide the fact that time has passed.


Actually they would know very quickly. You couldn't hide this.

  1. Entropy. Most man-made things (houses/apartments, cars) were not made to last on their own. Many houses would completely deteriorate; the furniture would break down after 10 years. So it would be pretty clear almost immediately that something had happened.

  2. Nuclear Power Plants. Nuclear power plants require working staff ready to step in in the case of an emergency to prevent a meltdown. If all the staff are unconscious then nothing is there to stop a meltdown during the ten years that everyone is asleep. I think you can see how bad this would be.

  3. Fuel refineries. Again these require human intervention to keep running. Without humans there to monitor it or shut the factory down, chances are the fuel would ignite fires which could burn for months without human intervention.

Look up Life After People for more information.

  • $\begingroup$ I made some spelling and grammar corrections to your post. I deleted some words and phrases that were probably input errors. You can, of course, make further edits yourself. $\endgroup$ Dec 15, 2016 at 16:47
  • $\begingroup$ thank you I'm doing this on my phone so I don't get to edit until I can get to a computer $\endgroup$ Dec 15, 2016 at 17:03
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    $\begingroup$ But if the nucelear power plant operator wakes up, goes to work, not thinking anything is wrong, and sees everything shut off, he might start to think of other, more likely explanations (hackers, glitches, etc.). It might be a while before anyone even considers that they've all been asleep. $\endgroup$
    – LukeN
    Dec 15, 2016 at 20:00
  • $\begingroup$ I'm fairly sure that a nuclear powerplant wouldn't have a meltdown - there are far too many failsafes. It would stop working though. $\endgroup$ Dec 16, 2016 at 11:38
  • $\begingroup$ Not only would it stop working, but it will run through the whole procedure which takes hours and can not be hurried up and fires ups lots of alarms. It's like you come to your job and they say that we've finished renovation of our office - except that yesterday nobody know about those renovations. $\endgroup$ Dec 16, 2016 at 16:09

Perhaps you can convince the population that anyone who thinks something happened has a mental illness. Most everyone would then keep their suspicions to themselves for fear of admitting that they were crazy. The brave ones who point out things like the Earth's position relative to the stars would be publicly mocked and locked up in asylums. Other "experts" would present counter evidence that's plausible enough for the average person to believe.

So most people would know something happened, but nearly all would deny it.


First, a great idea. The problem is the practical issues, as you suspect.

Besides everything decaying/breaking/exploding -- as mentioned in other answers -- everything would be covered in a thick coating of dust. Not to mention that people who fell asleep in bathtubs, pools, the ocean -- or even on the beach -- would drown and people who fell asleep outdoors might well die from the cold, be eaten by animals (unless they, too slept), or be sunburned beyond recognition.

And security cameras all over the world would have recorded either sleeping people or emptiness for as long as they were powered. (Probably overwriting in a loop, so you'd only have the last few days or weeks.)


Without anti-aging in some way thousands and thousands of people would die. Their bodies would either decay or have been moved. Both would pose issues you could not get around. "Millions of people die in their sleep!" Would read the papers, or perhaps "Millions of people missing overnight!".

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site, could you expand on this answer to provide an answer to the question> $\endgroup$ Dec 15, 2016 at 17:28
  • $\begingroup$ Hi malbolger. Like Bellerophon allured to, this doesn't really answer the question as asked. I would encourage you to take the site tour as well as read through How do I write a good answer? in the help center to learn how we do things (that should only take a few minutes of your time), then you can edit your answer such that it provides an actual answer to the question. As it stands, your answer may be at risk of being deleted by our experienced community members as it does not meet the standards for what we consider an answer. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Dec 15, 2016 at 21:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Malbolger You've made an important point in your answer. The reason this isn't a complete answer is that it highlights one aspect of hiding the hibernation, but doesn't carry through to say everything you see as needed to hide the hibernation. Anti-aging is necessary, but clearly isn't sufficient. Does that make sense? $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Dec 16, 2016 at 4:07

Beside the decay of everything the man have build. Wonder why no one mention New Orleans and Netherlands be under water

Im worry about natural disaster, how will you able to hide a volcan eruption, earthquakes, tsunami or forest fire.

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    $\begingroup$ This is, in different terms, the same question the OP is asking. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Dec 16, 2016 at 15:16
  • $\begingroup$ This answer uses such poor grammar that it is impossible to understand. If this is an answer, please edit to use valid punctuation and complete sentences. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Dec 17, 2016 at 3:43
  • $\begingroup$ @SRM Sorry english isnt my first lenguaje. Dont know how improve the grammar. I accept suggestions. $\endgroup$ Dec 17, 2016 at 3:53
  • $\begingroup$ I kind of guessed that. Usually I try to help with editing, but I honestly don't know what you were trying to say in this case. Sorry. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Dec 17, 2016 at 4:04

Build thousands of large EMP (electro-magnetic pulse) weapons and fire them before the waking up, to destroy all electronics.

Then blame it all on a sudden solar event. With all electronics destroyed, it will be a few years before anyone will be able to make precise enough measurements to figure out what really happened, even though there may be small signs like mechanical clocks that raise suspicions.

Of course this will not result in the people thinking that nothing happened, but it should hide the side effects of the hibernation pretty well. It is not inconceivable that a strong enough solar storm might kill a few people and make buildings weather a bit.

  • $\begingroup$ And how do you build "thousands of EMPs" with only a few people awake? An irish shepherd for example may know about sheep, but not about building EMP grenades. You need specialized people for that. $\endgroup$ Dec 16, 2016 at 9:35
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexandervonWernherr The question does not provide details on whether "a few" is 10, 100 or 10000 people; all of which would be "a few" in relation to the global population. It also doesn't say whether the ones staying awake are random, or if they are pre-selected (by the person who caused the hibernation). I'm assuming the story is flexible in these points, so they could be made to fit my answer. $\endgroup$
    – jpa
    Dec 16, 2016 at 10:29
  • $\begingroup$ It'd be easy to work it out - just find someone who planted a tree in a known year. Chop it down, count the rings and add it to the planting date, and hey presto you know what year it is. I'm fairly sure that there are astronomers who could tell you what year (and probably much more precise than that), assuming that they could find a book (with computers no use any more) that has the information they'd need. $\endgroup$ Dec 16, 2016 at 11:41
  • $\begingroup$ @MattBowyer Yeah, but only if you suspect that years have passed. This might cause enough chaos that most people won't be drilling trees or locating stars for some time. $\endgroup$
    – jpa
    Dec 16, 2016 at 11:50
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, but if I went outside and my car had rusted, all the paint had come off the house and the hedge was four times the size it was when I went to sleep then I'd spot that something was odd. Also, people tend to know roughly how long they've been asleep - if you'd had a four-year snooze, then you might not be able to accurately say how long you'd been out, but you'd know it was a very long time! $\endgroup$ Dec 16, 2016 at 11:59

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