"I detest sleep. I've got better things to do. Besides, I find it frightening — to awaken and be unsure of everything you remember about life not being just part of a dream. Waking means I've slept, and sleep dissolves what certainty I have left."
A common way to convey that a character is either really strange or has either paranoid or schizophrenic tendencies (or both) is to make them an insomniac. Whether only during times of great stress or as a chronic disorder (obviously a case of Truth in Television) expect these characters to be cranky, moody, mistrusting and sometimes even violent.
Expect lots of Eye Tropes.
See also Bad Dreams. Waking up from one may cause a sleepless night; waking up from one many, many, many nights may lead to this in its milder forms, since the character gets some sleep. Characters for whom not sleeping is normal are The Sleepless, though it can overlap with this trope, particularly when they're obsessive. See Insomnia Episode when the character becomes insomniac just temporarily.
Compare/contrast The Sleepless for characters who cannot sleep or physically don't need any sleep for some reason, often with signs of the supernatural.
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Anime and Manga
L from Death Note gets far less sleep than should be healthy for him - though like his eating habits, it doesn't seem to have any negative effect. His insomnia is arguably one of the reasons why he's the best three detectives in the world at the same time.
Possibly as a callback to the above, in Bakuman。 (by the same scenarist/artist duo) Mashiro often foregoes sleep for days on end in order to work. It's mostly because he's a Determinator, though it is also often Played for Laughs (his face gets zombie-like) and shown to have realistic consequences on his health.
Gaara from Naruto, who remains awake to prevent a forcible takeover by the monster inside him. He seems to spend most of the time a normal person would spend sleeping just standing still, likely to get physical rest (and possibly trying some form of meditation to make up for the loss of mental rest). This is clearly one of the many things that has a detrimental effect on Gaara's sanity.
Keiichi states a few times that this is becoming the case in Onikakushi-hen of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni. Hey, you'd become an insomniac too, if you thought your friends were trying to stalk and kill you. True to the trope's description, though, he's actually just a paranoid wreck.
It's implied that Rena and Shion have also stopped sleeping when their paranoia reaches its peak.
Kaoru of ...Virgin Love, thanks to being perpetually haunted by Bad Dreams of his childhood. He discovers being in a stable relationship combats this.
Beet in Beet the Vandel Buster stays awake for 72 hours, then sleeps for 24. Since the series is on indefinite Series Hiatus due to the illustrator being ill for five years and counting, and the writer's inability to find a replacement, we may never know why his sleep pattern is so unique.
Syrus/Sho for a while in Yu-Gi-Oh! GX when he's obsessed with finding the lost Jaden. It makes him a bit more impulsive he does suffer a Heroic RROD by the end.
Seto Kaiba in the original Yu-Gi-Oh! anime is implied to forgo sleep in favor of translating the Winged Dragon Of Ra card's hieroglyphic text.
Casca from Berserkshows signs of sleep deprivation after the Eclipse, another realistic after effect of those who were a victim of rape like she.
Superman villain Riot couldn't sleep ever since he was mutated; the effects of sleep deprivation drove him insane.
In the Postboot Legion of Super-Heroes, Nura Nal starts out as a Fainting Seer, since she dreams of things to come and visions can take her at any time, resulting in narcolepsy. The Legion kind of laughs her off as an applicant, except for Star Boy, who winds up dating her. During a time skip, however, she meets up with an armada of a Proud Warrior Race whose home planet is permanently dark, who give her Training from Hell that turns her unreliable visions and narcolepsy into pinpoint tactical precognition and not sleeping ever again.
Irredeemable: Max Damage is one of these out of necessity: the effectiveness of his powers are directly proportional to how long he's been awake. Unfortunately, he isn't immune to the effects of sleep deprivation, and is depicted as suffering because of it.
The titular Mister X is a Mad Architect who takes a variety of homemade drugs to stay awake for months on end so he can attempt to fix the 'psychetecture' of a city he may or may not have designed. The city itself may also cause sleep disorders in its inhabitants.
The monster Gulgol never sleeps nor needs it. Gulgol is the one being in all creation that the Dream Demon Nightmare, a recurring Doctor Strange foe, fears more than any other because he is utterly immune to Nightmare's Dream Weaver powers. Gulgol never dreams.
Considering The Sandman focuses on the lord of the Dream world, it's unsurprising that various forms of this crop up from time to time. In the very first issue, Dream's imprisonment caused one shellshocked soldier in the First World War to eventually commit suicide because he couldn't sleep.
Rarity in The Powers Of Harmony: something has made it hard, near-impossible at times, to sleep. Because of this, her magic font is never fully recharged, always putting her health at risk. And it's only gotten worse since she gained the Element of Generosity's Foresight ability. It eventually turns out that this was just one more part of Harmony's Long Game.
Whenever the Tenth Doctor's sleeping habits are brought up in Children of Time, it's because he's not sleeping. He consistently blames it on several centuries of collecting personal demons and the Bad Dreams they produce.
Films — Live Action
Gustav Graves from Die Another Dayas a result of gene therapy used to change his look.
He seems pretty unaffected on the whole, though he claims to need to spend a few hours using a "dream machine" each day to stay sane.
The narrator from Fight Club. When he thinks he's sleeping, he becomes Tyler Durden.
Detective Will Dormer in the film Insomnia, whose judgment and overall mental state decline severely over the course of the movie due to an extreme case of insomnia after he travels to Alaska during the time of year when the sun is up for months at a time.
Jonas Engström in the original Norwegian movie.
Trevor Reznik from The Machinist, who goes for a year without sleep. The only time he goes to sleep in the movie is when he goes to the police station and reports the hit-and-run he was involved in a year ago, which kickstarted his guilt-ridden insomnia.
Jordan from Real Genius, as part of her hyperactivity disorder, never needs to sleep. There doesn't seem to be any negative side effects... aside from her being a Genki Girl.
Samara Morgan from The Ring: "She never sleeps. The horses keep her up at night." At first, she and her adoptive parents believed that the whinnying and thrashing of the horses in the stable kept her awake, when in reality she was the one driving them mad with her uncontrollablePsychic Powers. Surveillance tapes from a mental facility proved she didn't sleep at all, and at the end the phrase "She never sleeps" is revealed to refer to how her spirit will never rest, forever (and deliberately) spreading the deadly curse through the Video Tape.
Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver works at night to cope with his chronic insomnia.
In Mariel of Redwall, Gabool the Wild starts having prophetic dreams that turn him into a completely insane insomniac.
As does the aquaphobic Queen Tsarmina Greeneyes, as the good guys set up a dam to flood her and her minions out of Castle Kotir and she constantly hears dripping water.
Sherlock Holmes. When on a case, Watson has given up on trying to get Holmes to go to bed. His energy becomes more focused on trying to keep away the morphine and replace it with the food that Holmes forgot to eat this morning.
Ralph Roberts from Insomnia, at least in the beginning. Later, it turns out that his insomnia allows him to see the aura of people as well as higher powers that influence the world.
The In Death series mixes Determinators with realistic effects depending on the seriousness of the situation. Eve Dallas is Determinator but frequently experiences realistic consequences, and other characters will note that she's getting slower, edgier, and even getting sick. Roarke, though he pulls a sleepless routine less often, is even better at it than Eve, and is closer to a pure Determinator.
In Tanith Lee's Companions on the Road, the main character is in danger from ghosts that kill in dreams, and so does everything possible to stay awake, including using drugs. After a few days, he's in terrible shape, exhausted and thinking confusedly, though not delusional.
Alonso Quijano, as described in Part I Chapter I: led by his obsession to read chivalry books, he sleeps less and less while reading more and more and that sends him over the edge. After that, in various parts of the novel, Don Quixote is seen continuously staying awake, thinking of his lady Dulcinea del Toboso (that does not exist), only because he has read that is what true knights do!
" In short, he became so absorbed in his books that he spent his nights from sunset to sunrise, and his days from dawn to dark, poring over them; and what with little sleep and much reading his brains got so dry that he lost his wits"
There was no sleep for Kull that night, for it was nearly dawn and he spent the rest of the night hours pacing the throne-room, and pondering over what had passed.
The fourth book of the The Dresden Files opens with Harry evidently suffering from the occasional bout of insomnia. It's self-induced, however, in his attempts to find a cure for his girlfriend's recent partial vampirification.
Evan Tanner in Lawrence Block's series beginning with The Thief Who Couldn't Sleep, due to a brain injury he suffered in the Korean War. In a later novel a mad scientist cryogenically freezes him, forcing him to sleep for years.
While teacher's behaviour in The Fire-us Trilogy' is obsessive (she spends most of the night writing in her Great Big Book of Everything, recording the dreams she and the other children have and pasting in whatever writing and pictures she can find, or forgetting that she wrote X message then "discovering" it and interpeting its signs) it leaves her exhausted and is part of her own personal brand of insanity.
Matt Stover's novelization of Star Wars - Episode III: Revenge of the Sith reveals that after he had his nightmare of Padme dying in childbirth, Anakin Skywalker swore off sleep and was using the Force to sustain himself. "The force could keep him upright, keep him moving, keep him thinking, but it couldn't give him rest. Not that he wanted rest. Rest might bring sleep. What sleep might bring, he could not bear to know. He could remember Obi-wan telling him about some poet he'd once read—he couldn't remember the name, or the exact quote, but it was something about how there is no greater misery than to remember, with bitter regret, a time when you were happy." No wonder the guy's about to go Sith...
Lord Meren, from Lynda Robinson's Ancient Egypt mystery novels, due to the chronic stress of being the Pharaoh's spymaster. Once his son got him to take up juggling, a hobby that forced him to fully focus his attention on a task unrelated to crime or security, he was able to step back from his worries and get some proper rest.
In the Left Behind seres: before being indwelt by Satan, people comment that Nicolae Carpathia. never seems to sleep as he is often too busy. After he is indwelt he never has to sleep at all and remains awake for 3 and 1/2 years.
Live Action TV
Patrick Jane on The Mentalist can't sleep without the aid of pills. It doesn't come up every episode and it's more an element of characterization than a disadvantage.
Dr. House, towards the end of Season 5, after a coworker's death. He starts hallucinating and gradually losing his mind.
Billy Flynn from Criminal Minds usually smokes meth to keep himself awake for days or even weeks so that he can perform several rapes and murders during planned blackouts.
Dr. Franklin on Babylon 5, leading to his abuse of stimulants. His department is understaffed, and he refuses to delegate as much as he should, which leads to drug abuse.
The protagonist of Sherlock doesn't have chronic insomnia, but tends to forgo sleep - and food - for days on end whenever he's working on a particularly difficult case; most notable in the Blind Banker, where both he and John stay up all night trying to decipher The Book Cipher of the episode.
Max, protagonist of Dark Angel, claims not to sleep. She uses the night for more important matters. Such as stealing. She has lied to explain coming in to work late as "I overslept" on one occasion.
Haywire in Prison Break has a mental imbalance that means he "doesn't sleep. Ever." Not the kind of cell mate you want if you're routinely sneaking out at night.
Sam from Supernatural starts staying up all night in the first season when he's having nightmares about Jessica. In a much creepier example, he also stops sleeping entirely in season six, when he's lost his soul. And for several days in season seven, to the point where he nearly dies, after the hallucination of Lucifer left over from his time in hell becomes unbearable.
Little Pete from The Adventures of Pete & Pete manages to get his friends to stay up for several days as a protest against early bed times. Pete almost manages to make it to eleven days.
Fox Mulder is a well-known insomniac. We almost never see him sleeping, and when we do, he's usually in the throes of a nightmare.
In episode "The Sleepless", victims of a military experiment lose the ability to sleep, and subsequently gain the ability to induce hallucinations in others.
In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Paradise Syndrome", Spock goes without sleep for around two months. He states that Vulcans under enough stress can go without sleep and/or food for much longer than humans.
An early episode of Kyle XY deals with this, due to Kyle's inexperience with sleep.
Victorious: In "A Christmas Tori," Beck becomes a Cloudcuckoolander due to a chirping cricket getting stuck in his RV. It getsworse when he starts drinking lots of coffee so he won't fall asleep in class.
Dr. Rush on Stargate Universe is chronic insomniac. A mixture of obsession and paranoia frequently drives him to go for days without sleeping, eating, or really doing anything except trying to fix Destiny. Subverted in that the lack of sleep actually makes him less adept and more prone to sloppy mistakes. His own Destiny-induced hallucinations eventually start calling him out on this fact.
According to Adam Young, "Fireflies" is about this.
Actually, most of his music was written simply when he could not shut his mind off.
Emilie Autumn's 4 o'clock, a realistic and somewhat insane example.
Delta Goodrem has "The Analyst" in a way similar to Emilie Autumn's example.
"Prepare yourselves to meet, the girl who cannot sleep"
Faithless has a song about this very trope called Insomnia.
"Asleep or Awake" by Apoptygma Berzerk.
"You Can't Walk In Your Sleep (If You Can't Sleep)" by the Go-Gos.
City And Colour's album Bring Me Your Love has three songs that have the singer state he cannot sleep due to the troubles he is suffering in life: "The Death Of Me", "Sleeping Sickness", and "Constant Knot".
The Barenaked Ladies song "Who Needs Sleep?" is all about insomnia — and references "a guy who's been awake since the Second World War."
The Green Day album Insomniac was made when Billie Joe was suffering from major sleep deprivation. "Brain Stew/Jaded" on that album describes Billie Joe's sleepless woes.
Space Marines of Warhammer40000's Adeptus Astartes are implanted with a node affecting the circadian rhythm of their sleep cycle. When deprived of real sleep, it provides a substitute by switching off areas of his brain sequentially. Normally marines require only four hours of full sleep, but are known for going up to two weeks straight without it.
Don't Rest Your Head: The PCs are all insomniacs, though considering their current situation, this is for the best.
Bliss Stage: The Authority Figure has been awake for the past seven years, because everyone else over eighteen is in a blissful coma.
Exalted has several charms which allow a character to go without sleep, but the one that fits this trope is Nightmare Fugue Vigilance, an Infernal charm which makes it so they never need to sleep again, but gives them nightmares when they do.
"Glamis hath murdered sleep, and there Cawdor/Shall sleep no more, Macbeth shall sleep no more!"
A variation of this trope occurs in God of War: Kratos has been plagued by nightmares for ten years, which started when he crossed the Moral Event Horizon by murdering his wife and child in a berserker rage. He serves the gods because he believes that when he has redeemed himself, they will rid him of the nightmares. They don't.
Marius, the narrator of DiabloII, is haunted by dreams of the demons in Tristram. He understandably tries to avoid them by fighting sleep for days at a time. He only sleeps once in the cinematics, noting that it was the first time he slept in weeks, and that was only so Diablo/the Wanderer could send him a vision of Tal Rasha sealing Baal in his own body.
In the Sega DreamcastAction RPGNapple Tale, one of the Napple Town townsfolk, Alice, looks exhausted all the time because she is afraid of going to sleep. Fortunately she's sweet-tempered despite this.
The "Strange New Powers" update to Don't Starve made Ms. Wickerbottom an insomniac, and unable to use sleeping items such as a tent or a bed roll to restore her Sanity Meter.
Gunnerkrigg Court: Zimmy never sleeps. She also has a severe case of Power Incontinence, the only thing that prevents her hallucinations from becoming real rests with her friend Gamma, who acts a Power Nullifier. Unfortunately, Gamma does need sleep. Zimmy fits the personality profile of an insomniac, even though not sleeping is natural for her.
While his brain was hijacked by one of Zimmy's hallucinations, Jack Hyland picked up her habit of never sleeping. Unfortunately he needs it and suffered the effects of deprivation.
In The Order of the Stick, Vaarsuvius went several months without trancing (the elven equivalent of sleep) while at sea, which severely changed V's appearance, patience, social skills and (arguably) alignment. Due to a mixture of determination and terrifyingnightmares of guilt, V defended this saying trancing isn't biologically necessary for elves. The veracity of this claim is dubious.
Xykon, being undead, cannot sleep. But the rules say he can only be productive for eight hours each day regardless, so he filled the rest of his time during the occupation of Azure City by torturing prisoners for giggles.
Sniper Wolf from The Last Days of FOXHOUND can go on for long periods of time without sleep. She catches up on sleep by hibernating for a week or so every couple of years. Unfortunately, right before she hibernates, she would become disoriented and hallucinate various things.
Princess November from No Rest for the Wicked is unable to sleep with the moon gone from the sky. Red has likely gone without sleep since getting eaten by the wolf.
Fall from Parallel Dementia sometimes goes for several weeks without sleeping to try and avoid nightmares. This has led her to pass out and may be contributing to her hallucinations.
In Questionable Content, Hannelore the resident "OCDelightful" cleanfreak occasionally goes days at a time without sleep, due either to her Monk-level need to clean things or some new medication she is taking. She seems to be a mash-up between goofy and realistic, as seen here.
Homestuck: After the trolls' game of Sgrub began, Karkat Vantas barely slept at all in the three weeks the game took, according to Vriska. After that, he slept a grand total of once, during which time his dreamself was killed and he experienced things that put him off sleeping for a very long time, after which came severaldistractions.
In the "Nightmares and Daydreams" episode, Aang has a turn as a Goofy Insomniac — although he quickly degenerates to the more realistic variant. He begins to experience hallucinations, culminating in one where the Team Pets begin talking, then get into a fight that escalates into a samurai duel.
In The Promise comic, Zuko has an insomnia caused by the stress of his new position and assassination attempts.
On Code Lyoko, Jérémie has a tendency to be the Obsessive Insomniac. Of course, his enemy never sleeps at all, and his behavior is not unlike that of a normal computer programmer with a big project and an approaching deadline. Still, pulling it for about two years in a row cannot be healthy for a developing brain.
Or a developing body. Kid's 12 at the opening of the show...he's likely stunted his growth permanently. Thank goodness it doesn't seem to have damaged anything.
The Simpsons features a throwaway gag of Apu having worked a 96-hour-shift. At the end, "I apparently thought I was a hummingbird of some kind." He also tried to drink nectar out of Sanjay's head.
This was explained in the comic books: during Homer's Mr. Plow days, his incompetence had left the Kwik-E-Mart doors blocked by snow, and Apu was trapped in the store with Snake, who had just tried to rob him.
In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Applebuck Season", Applejack becomes a Goofy Insomniac when she takes on the task of harvesting all the apples on her farm by herself and has to do favors for her friends as well. She snaps out of it at the end when she finally relents to Twilight Sparkle's advice to ask for some help.
Twilight herself becomes an Obsessive Insomniac in "It's About Time" - she spent one straight week without sleep monitoring everything trying to catch the big disaster that her future self wanted to warn her about. Even Pinkie Pie is concerned.
She also started the episode as an Obsessive Insomniac, fretting over her schedule.
Twilight Sparkle: "Frankly, I don't know how you can sleep at a time like this!"
Spike: "Three A.M.?"
In an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants, Mr. Krabs falsely accuses SpongeBob of being an insomniac when he doesn't flip a Krabby Patty fully and uses a bit too much mustard.
WWE CEO Vince McMahon is well-known for sleeping very little. According to wrestler Triple H (who is also Vince's son-in-law), Vince only gets about 2-3 hours of sleep a night before getting up and going back to work.
Peter Tripp, a disc jockey who went for 8 days without sleep in 1959 as part of a wake-a-thon stunt. He suffered heavily from hallucinations during the experience and its been suggested that he was never quite the same after the experience, which might hint at permanent damage. A trippy experience. According to the Wikipedia article, for the last 66 hours of that marathon the observing scientists and doctors gave him drugs to help him stay awake! Yeesh, first do no harm? Were they away that day?
Possibly Michael Jackson; his need for stronger anesthetics just to sleep may have caused his death. Ironically, the powerful drug that he was attempting to use is a poor choice as it only works for minutes at a time.
As mentioned above, Fatal Familial Insomnia is a genetic disease which causes the breakdown of the mechanisms in the brain which allow sleep (meaning that falling asleep becomes entirely impossible), resulting in insanity followed shortly by death. It is a dominant and autosomal (meaning it affects men and women equally) trait, a person who possesses the trait has a 50% chance of passing it to their child, and it inevitably affects anyone who possesses the trait. There is currently no treatment or cure. Thankfully, it is incredibly rare, only affecting 50 known families worldwide. To make matters worse, it doesn't manifest until the patient is anywhere from 30 to 60 (average about 50), which gives the future patient time to have children before finding out that oops, they inherited that gene (and in women, childbirth can trigger it).
Part of what causes meth addicts to be so paranoid is the days or weeks without sleep, due to being on such strong stimulants.
And then there is those who suffer from Hypnophobia.
Full International Baccalaureate students don't usually sleep more than two hours on average until the weekend or long breaks. Eventually, some of them become accustomed to it.
In some cases, people with post-traumatic stress disorder suffer from insomnia as part and parcel of the disease, especially in people with this disease who have nightmares about their traumatic experience. Alternatively, a person with PTSD could be lying down trying to sleep and then, BAM! they relive their traumatic experience and it takes a while for them to recover from this so they can sleep.
This is essentially the premise of many jams (particular game development jams). Rather ironically, people usually go into indie development to avoid crunchtime that usually come in big studio environments.
In 1965, Randy Gardner went 11 days without sleeping for a high school science project, having a doctor on hand to record his symptoms and general state of mind. The case study wound up being greatly quoted among the medical and psychological communities as an example of the effects of extreme sleep deprivation. It stands as the world record for longest time spent without sleep.
Similarly to the above, The Guinness Book Of World Records no longer accepts or acknowledges attempts to break Gardner's record out of concern for the health of anyone who might try.
Scientists have isolated a gene that allows for a shortened sleeping period, allowing a person to get by with just 3-5 hours of sleep a night, instead of the usual 7-9 hours, without any detrimental effects. Just like a normal person can't sleep much longer than 9 or 10 hours in most circumstances, though, a person with this gene can't sleep for 8 hours, giving the appearance of insomnia, event though they are perfectly healthy.