Awake on Netflix: The ending explained and all your questions answered

What caused the no-sleeping phenomenon? Here are some answers to the sci-fi thriller's biggest questions.

Jennifer Bisset Former Senior Editor / Culture
Jennifer Bisset was a senior editor for CNET. She covered film and TV news and reviews. The movie that inspired her to want a career in film is Lost in Translation. She won Best New Journalist in 2019 at the Australian IT Journalism Awards.
Expertise Film and TV Credentials
  • Best New Journalist 2019 Australian IT Journalism Awards
Jennifer Bisset
5 min read

Gina Rodriguez stars in Awake.


What happens when everyone in the world loses the ability to fall asleep? We all go mad, according to Netflix's Awake, a sci-fi thriller starring Gina Rodriguez as a mom protecting her children during an "extinction event". If you missed the flick's explanation for how the world reached this state, here are some answers, including what's next after that hopeful ending.

Read more: Awake review -- Netflix has found its next Bird Box with Gina Rodriguez thriller

Warning: Spoilers ahead


Shamier Anderson plays Dodge and Lucius Hoyos plays Noah.


Why do people lose the ability to fall asleep?

While Jill's in custody at the military hub, Major Murphy starts talking about the no-sleeping phenomenon. "It was some sort of a solar flare," she says, continuing, "It changed our electromagnetic wiring. It affected our glymphatic system. Messed with our clocks."

Let's break all of that down. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, "Solar flares are large eruptions of energy coming off the Sun containing several different forms of energy: heat, magnetic energy, and ionizing radiation." So that ionizing radiation, which can damage satellites, made it through the Earth's atmosphere, which normally protects us. The magnetic energy interrupted everything, from radios to our electromagnetic wiring.

What's our electromagnetic wiring? According to one simple definition, "You are an electric field -- a giant electric field which holds your atoms together, and which uses other electric fields to talk to other bits of yourself." As for your glymphatic system, according to Nueronline, "The glymphatic system is a network of vessels that clear waste from the central nervous system (CNS), mostly during sleep." This explains the acceleration of everyone's descent into madness.

Why don't cars work anymore?

We first see the power cut that kicks off events when Jill (Rodriguez) is driving. She, Noah and Matilda hear static on the radio, then it crackles and shuts off. Several cars veer across the road and Jill slams the breaks, only for another car to smash them into the nearby lake. Later, a soldier says, "Anything with a microchip is fried." Cars use semiconductors, tiny but critical chips, for fuel injection, infotainment systems and cruise control. The first microprocessor chips were put in cars in the early '80s. The men at the garage get a Dodge Polara, first introduced in the early '60s, working again by fitting it with an older battery. "We need an old car, no electrics," one of them says.

Why can Matilda fall asleep?

After emerging from the lake, Jill and Noah see Matilda already on the bank, where police officers perform CPR and revive her. The sheriff says she was "out for a minute" and that she'll be fine. Of course, later Matilda realizes that in that minute, she was actually dead. But the new rules of the world saw her come back to life, with the ability to fall asleep. "Maybe I started over." Basically, the solution to the sleep problem is a factory reset: Turn yourself off and on again.


Jill, with Noah (Lucius Hoyos) and Matilda (Ariana Greenblatt).


How exactly does Murphy die with the syringe?

Early on, Matilda demonstrates that you must "always clear out the air" from a syringe before her grandmother Doris uses one. Later, at the military hub, Dr. Katz saves Matilda from being experimented on by using a syringe to inject Jennifer Jason Leigh's Major Murphy without clearing out the air first. According to Healthline, "These air bubbles can travel to your brain, heart, or lungs and cause a heart attack, stroke or respiratory failure." It isn't clear which of these Murphy suffers when she collapses -- all we know for sure is that she's not getting up.

Is Jill's husband dead?

Pictures on the mantle of Doris' house show Jill's wedding picture with her husband in military uniform. Later, when Dodge asks Noah what happened to his father, Noah says, "He died in the war."

Why does Jill not have custody of her children?

When Doris asks Jill for sleeping medication, Jill replies, "I don't do that anymore. You know the judge said that I wasn't allowed." Doris implies Jill might have used drugs herself, saying, "Well, I guess you really aren't using if you're awake too." Jill's troubled past (and present) explains why the children live with their grandmother.

Did Jill used to be in the army?

Yes. When Jill is caught snooping around Murphy's office for sleeping pills and a soldier catches her, she says, "I'm 68 Whiskey. Corporal Adams. Out of Fort Huachuca."

How do Jill and Murphy know each other?

Jill thanks Murphy, a psychiatrist whose expertise is sleep, for getting her a job as a security guard at the unnamed university. Jill later tells her son Noah that she and Murphy worked together in the army overseas. "In the desert, Murphy would help set parameters for interrogation. Sleep deprivation, it was torture," Jill explains, adding, "They killed people." No wonder Jill can't trust Murphy with Matilda.

Why does Jill want to go to the hub?

Despite knowing what Murphy is capable of, Jill realizes she must rescue the woman being held at the hub who's also able to fall asleep. Jill needs her because otherwise there won't be anyone to take care of Matilda when she dies.

Why is there a shoot up at the military hub?

Murphy explains that the soldiers inject a cocktail that helps with mental acuity, but it also causes some neurological damage. After six days, the soldiers start to hallucinate. One soldier sees what he believes to be a grenade, but is in fact a pinecone. The soldiers start shooting at the thin air -- and then at each other.

What happens to Noah?

After Noah cuts into a wire believing it's a fish, which his dad had taught him how to debone, he's badly electrocuted. Jill attempts to revive him with a defibrillator, but because she and Matilda are touching him and each other, the electrical current passes through all of them, reducing the shock needed to restart Noah's heart or shock it back into its correct rhythm.

Does Jill survive?

After the kids deduce that they must kill their mother for her to restart, they drown her. They attempt to revive her using CPR chest compressions. When the screen goes black, we hear Jill gasp, confirming she comes back to life. Now that the Adams family have figured out how to restart everyone's "clocks", they can no doubt use Jill's military contacts to spread the word and save the world.

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