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Caffeine Failure

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"One of these drinks would have had my eyeballs vibrating out of my skull. He's had three and he's still fallen asleep."

Someone Must Have Caffeine (or some other stimulant)—but is so exhausted, even that won't ward off sleep.

This is Truth in Television for three reasons: First, if a person is sufficiently exhausted, no amount of caffeine or stimulant will keep them awake. Caffeine works by suppressing the sleep hormones adenosine and melatonin; if the brain has already managed to signal for those to be released into the bloodstream, caffeine has no effect. Second, people develop a tolerance for caffeine leading to diminishing returns on each subsequent dose. On people who are naturally "wired" to a certain degree, like those with ADHD, especially those who have been on medication for a long time (since ADHD medications are typically powerful stimulants that make caffeine look weak by comparison), caffeine may have drastically limited effects, so a dose that would make most people into jittery insomniacs may just cause them to yawn less for an hour. In some cases, it may even make the individual more drowsy. Third, just like with other active compounds such as alcohol and morphine, some people may be genetically predisposed to deal with caffeine faster, having a liver that’s got a greater capacity to metabolise it. This is why (again, much like alcohol) there are some people who can drink a cup of coffee at midnight and sleep soundly, while others might drink a cup at 7 PM and not be able to sleep at all for the whole night.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Played for Drama in ''Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai", where Sakuta finds out that Mai's adolescence syndrome is spreading to more and more people as they sleep, even his closest friends have started forgetting about her. The only reason he can still see her is due to the fact that they slept together the night prior. And so, despite Mai's pleads, Sakuta decides to ingest heavy doses of anything from energy drinks to caffeine pills in an effort to stay awake, even in spite of that fact that he has to cram for his oncoming exams. After a few days of this he inevitably collapses from sleep deprivation, which leads to his Anguished Declaration of Love where he screams his love for Mai at the top of his lungs in front of the entire school.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Before I Wake, young Cody's dreams manifest in real life. He is so terrified of his night terrors of a being he calls the "Canker Man" that he frequently drinks soda and pops caffeine pills at night to stay awake. One night, though, his brain simply shuts down from lack of sleep, and is attacked by a manifestation of the class bully while yelling, "I'm awake! This shouldn't be happening!" over and over.
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors had a character actually eating coffee grinds in an attempt to stay awake and avoid Freddy from trying to kill her in her dreams. It did not work, at all.

  • One common urban legend is of a student who uses energy drinks or some other stimulant to stay awake to study for an exam—only to hand in gibberish, drivel, or something bizarre due to their brain not working.

  • Whateley Universe: As with alcohol and other drugs, those with Regeneration powers have idiosyncratic reactions to caffeine. The most common result is that it is neutralized completely, as said in Round and Round (Part 2):
    I stared into my half-empty cup of coffee, letting out a faint sigh. Mom had never liked to let me drink coffee, saying that it made me too hyper. Jackie and Emily didn’t care and let me drink as much as I wanted. This was actually my third cup today, but I still didn’t feel it. My go juice no longer provided any go.
    “Stupid regeneration,” I muttered in annoyance. I’d already built up an immunity to caffeine, and even if I hadn’t, my power would have wiped it out of my system too fast to get much effect.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Better Call Saul: In "Fall"—a bottle of No-Doz is visible in an overworked Kim Wexler's car, shortly before she falls asleep at the wheel and drives off the road, resulting in a broken arm.
  • In Diagnosis: Murder episode "Sea No Evil", Rip McCord believes himself to suffer from this while working as a life guard, resulting in a woman drowning. However, it turns out that someone added tranquilizer to one of his coffee, allowing him—as the audience already knows—to murder this woman in the sea.
  • Golden Girls: A variation on this trope happens in "From Here to the Pharmacy". Dorothy, upset with her mother for hoarding money for Dorothy's siblings Gloria and Phil while forcing Dorothy to "go without," remarks that if she had the money, she could have been living "in a swinging condo" instead of with...
    Dorothy: I'd better not say anything else until after I've had my coffee. [sips coffee] A SLUT AND A MORON!!!! [Blanche and Rose look hurt] Sorry, must be decaf.
  • Peripheral plot line in House, M.D. episode "Help Me"—the medical mystery of the week—stems from the crane operator apparently having fallen asleep while working, despite being literally overloaded with caffeine (due to ingestion of lots of coffee and caffeine pills). House believes this irregularity to be a symptom of a hard-to-diagnose disease, and diagnosing patients with these is his favorite part of the job.
  • The Inbetweeners: In "Exam Time", Will is overworking himself and relying on energy drinks and caffeine pills to keep him awake whilst revising. His revision efforts go horribly wrong, with him failing to understand anything he reads no matter how many times he reads it, and starting to get confused over what certain words mean. Simon suggests he get more sleep and stop drinking energy drinks, but Will refuses, insisting that they help. Eventually Will suffers a Potty Failure while taking his last exam.
  • Mayday:
    • Because they lost so much sleep flying into Newark, the pilots of Colgan Air Flight 3407 didn't get even slightly awakened by a cup of coffee in-universe.
    • Another in-universe example is the captain of Trans-Colorado Flight 2286; the coffee he drank before takeoff did nothing to ward off the effects of his cocaine withdrawal.
  • The "Engaged Part 1" episode of NCIS has the team having to work overtime on the Mystery of the Week, and Gibbs at one point walks in on Abby's lab to see a huge pile of empty Caf-POW! cups on her desk. She says she's written an algorithm to determine how long she can go on like that and that she's got about five minutes before she becomes "Zabby or zombie Abby".
  • The children of the two rival houses of Step by Step have a bet to see who can stay up for the longest period of time. At one point, Karen is about to crack, and Dana pushes her to keep going and drink more and more coffee ('Coffee is our friend!'), even as its effectiveness is diminishing.
  • Yellowjackets: Taissa, who has a history of sleepwalking both as a teen and as an adult, is seen drinking cup after cup in "Edible Complex" to keep herself awake. She ends up hallucinating her son has come to visit.

  • Mentioned in PMMP's song "Joku raja" to underline just how sick and tired the viewpoint character is of her abusive nightmare relationship.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • In one story arc of For Better or for Worse, Michael is so nervous about an upcoming series of exams that he pops a bunch of caffeine pills to help him pull an all-nighter—one of several in a row, as it appears. The last panel shows him sitting at his desk, eyes wide open... and snoring.

    Web Comics 

    Web Video 
  • SuperMarioLogan: An illogical example with the video "Bowser Junior's all-nighter". Junior, Cody, and Joseph all drink a bunch of Red Bull, Monster Energy, and 5-hour energy drinks, and instead of staying up all night or even dying from overdose, the effects wear off after a measly one hour and they fall asleep.
  • Ultra Fast Pony. In "Smoky and the Crystals", Princess Cadance is eating coffee beans in order to stay awake and keep casting a magic spell. It gets bad enough that she screams at random intervals and has crazy hallucinations. By the end of the episode, she collapses from exhaustion anyway.

    Western Animation 
  • The Help!...It's the Hair Bear Bunch! episode "The Bear Who Came To Dinner" centers on Square Bear who is faking an injury that zookeeper Peevly is on the hook for. Square is in a body cast, so to ensure that he doesn't move from bed, Peevly tells Botch to watch him 24 hours a day. "And don't let me catch you asleep on the job, you hear?!" he charges. Botch eventually does fall asleep...with his eyes open, giving the bears the chance to sneak out to a drive-in movie.
  • In the Hey Arnold! episode "Helga Sleepwalks", when Helga starts sleepwalking to Arnold's house every night, Helga decides to drink a lot of coffee to keep herself awake. It doesn't work and Helga sleepwalks to Arnold's house the following night.
  • Justice League:
    • In "Only A Dream", Batman has been up for three days in a row and needs to track down a supervillain attacking his teammates in their dreams. He grabs something super-caffeinated, but the rush is noted to wear off quickly. He makes it through sheer stubbornness, and the episode ends with him conked out.
    • Earlier in the same episode, Batman tries to wake Superman by giving him some stimulants but isn't surprised when it fails. "This is someone who could have a building fall on him and not feel it."
  • In the Looney Tunes cartoon, "Bedtime for Sniffles", Sniffles the Mouse is trying to stay awake until midnight on Christmas Eve so he can see Santa Claus. Throughout the cartoon, he keeps nodding off. He finally decides that coffee will keep him awake. It ultimately fails. By the end, he falls asleep right before midnight, just barely missing Santa.
  • Regular Show: Mordecai and Rigby drink huge quantities of coffee so they can earn enough overtime money for concert tickets. By the time they arrive they're so exhausted they fall asleep after the opening chord.
  • In the "Gnomes" episode of South Park the boys are introduced to coffee by Tweak's father while working on a school presentation. Pretty soon they're bouncing off the walls; one Time Skip later, they've crashed completely and Cartman is throwing up coffee on the floor.
  • In The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror episode spoofing A Nightmare on Elm Street, Bart & Lisa drink coffee to stay awake so Groundskeeper Willie won't kill them in their sleep. Eventually they fall asleep anyway.
  • In the Tom and Jerry short "Sleepy-Time Tom", Tom is trying not to get caught sleeping, so he takes pot after pot of coffee. Eventually he has a Balloon Belly slushing with gallons of coffee, yet is thoroughly exhausted and falls asleep shortly afterwards.