Is it possible that a person, dreaming at 2nd or 3rd level, can die of hunger? And, will that person wake up to reality?

In case, the person is heavily sedated, will he wake up or go in a limbo?

  • In terms of biology, I'd say 'no' as one would first die of lack of water prior to being able to die of starvation.
    – DA.
    Commented Jul 13, 2015 at 16:22

2 Answers 2


Time is dilated depending on the different levels of dreaming.

ARIADNE: We were only asleep for five minutes? We talked for an hour at least...

COBB: When you dream, your mind functions more quickly, so time seems to pass more slowly.

ARTHUR: Five minutes in the real world gives you an hour in the dream.

COBB: Let's see how much trouble you can cause in five minutes.

In the 1st level of dreaming 5 minutes in the real world equals 1 hour of dream time. Each level further down you go the more time dilates.

YUSUF: Brain function in the dream will be about twenty times normal.

COBB: And when you go into a dream within that dream the effect is compounded.

ARIADNE: How much time?

YUSUF: Three dreams... that's ten hours, times twenty, times twenty, times twenty...

EAMES: Math was never my strong suit.

COBB: It's basically a week one layer down, six months two layers down-

ARIADNE: And ten years in the third level. Who wants to spend ten years in a dream?

YUSUF: Depends on the dream.

Now let's talk about a physical body starving to death. It's generally said that a person can live 3 week without food before starving to death, or 504 hours, or 30,240 minutes.

Given that 5 minutes in real time would equal 1 hour of dream time on the 1st level. It would take 6048 hours (or 252 days) of dream time at the 1st level to succumb to death through starvation. If we used the calculation of multiplying by 20 for each level down, you would be at level 2 for 5040 days (13.8 years), and you would need to be at level 3 for 100800 days (276.16 years) before dying of starvation.

Again, this has no relation to the real world which is what's needed to maintain the body. Any way you look at it, it's still 3 weeks of real world time outside of the dream. A person trying to starve someone in a dream state would have to keep a person sedated and unfed for 3 weeks.

A person would be way more likely to dehydrate to death (which only takes 3 days of real world time) or go insane after being stuck in a dream after the first 100 years or so (for level 3).

So, in short the answer would be: yes it's possible to starve to death in a dream, but only if they are sedated and not feed for 3 weeks time. It's their physical body starving to death, not their dream selves; their dream selves are nourished by their physical body, and thus can't starve unless their physical body is starving.

  • 1
    I'm not sure you understood my question. What if the person dies of starvation inside a dream(not level 0) If a person is in a dream for a full day which means 20 days of level 2 which means 20*20 days of level 3 Suppose he starves to death in level 3, will he wake up at level 2? And if he's sedated, will he go in a limbo?
    – Nicky
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 6:03
  • 1
    @Nicky I understood the question, but a person can't starve in a dream unless their physical body was starving. We can see evidence of this after the characters spend 10 years in the 3rd level, and can make a pretty safe assumption that they never eat in the dream (as they don't need to). The whole point of dying in a dream is meant to be a sudden and unnatural shock to your system to bring you out of the dream, starvation would be way to gradual and wouldn't shock your system unless it was happening to your physical body.
    – onewho
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 13:13
  • 1
    Ok, why is Cobb eating in the beginning of the movie ?
    – Nicky
    Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 6:04

I think I understand your question. Just like you can think you can be shot in a dream and your mind makes it real, It is perfectly possible for a person to starve in a dream. His/her mind would make it real too. One can eventually die of starvation inside the dream.

Now about being in the 2nd or 3rd level and dying and the consequence, that's a whole other ballgame.

Reff: Inception Kicks Explained

If you die in a simple dream. Lightly sedated. Then death will bring you back one level up. Eg: when cobb shoots Arthur in the head, Arthur wakes one level up.

If you die in a complex dream. Heavily sedated. Then death in any level of the dream will take you to limbo. Eg: when saito dies, he goes to limbo. The addendum to this is, if you die in limbo, you wake up in real life no matter how many levels of dreams there are. Eg: when cobb and saito take the leap of faith and kill themselves and wake up on the flight.

Hope that answered your question.

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