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Exhaustion-Induced Idiocy

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"Cut me some slack, okay? Can you two even begin to imagine 500 uninterrupted hours of consciousness? Forget Mole People! About halfway through, I swore I saw the face of God! Until I realized it was just the night janitor, Reki. On the plus side, I gave him a hell of an ego boost. Man was riding that compliment for days."

When you're running on fumes, you're not always in the right state of mind to make decisions. If you don't even have the energy to stand up, you probably don't have the energy to think rationally. Exhaustion-Induced Idiocy tends to be the result. This occurs for a number of reasons. The victim might be suffering from Sleep Deprivation for whatever reasons, they been out in the blazing sun for too long and are potentially suffering heat stroke, they may be Working Through the Cold, or they've worked so hard that they have completely drained all their energy. In any case, their judgement is so hazy that they end up making some rather questionable decisions.


This usually manifests in at least one of four ways:

  1. Forgetfulness: The victim fails to remember important information or even basic common sense. Usually it is some sort of seemingly innocuous, but ultimately very crucial detail that slips their mind. Things they would have very little trouble recalling if they were more alert.
  2. Delusion: Their thought-processes are so clouded that they end up believing things that they normally wouldn't. This can also include hallucinations and paranoia. This symptom is especially Truth in Television regarding Sleep Deprivation.
  3. Confused Logic: They may have all the pieces of information to work with, but their train of thought takes a detour (or several) causing a disorganized approach at logic. May result in Skewed Priorities or even Insane Troll Logic.
  4. Too Tired to Think: The victim literally does not have enough energy to spare to even try to think straight. They may not pay attention to important details because of this.

These four symptoms can often overlap and may even play into others. The end result is the person acting or thinking in a way that they normally wouldn't. Usually at the cost of common sense. It can be something as small as putting salt in their coffee instead of sugar, or something major like accidentally selling off a company because they weren't paying attention. When the victim recovers from this exhaustion, you can probably expect them to reflect on their terrible mistakes and think It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time.

Compare Alcohol-Induced Idiocy, Blinded by Rage, Fury-Fueled Foolishness, Heroic RRoD, and Worf Had the Flu. May result in Too Desperate to Be Picky when someone is so hungry that they'll eat something they probably shouldn't. Contrast with Heroic BSoD and Angst Coma, which result from emotional exhaustion instead.



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    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 
  • In the Avantasia Protag AU series, Aaron gets too into his work and refuses to sleep for days at a time, resulting in this trope often. If he leaves the house, he may wander off in a trance. Or he puts his hand in the toaster and burns himself. Or he may get in the shower with all his clothes on. Point is, Aaron exhausts himself into idiocy all the time.
    Scarecrow: How can someone so smart be so stupid?!
  • Avatar: Legend of the Guardian: All of Team Avatar suffers it "The Chase." When they discover Min's true identity as Xia, Zuko's twin sister, they violently reject her and depart. Once they manage to get some sleep and have some time to think things over, with help from Toph, it's clear they would have been more willing to hear her out and listen to what she had to say had Azula not been chasing them and running them ragged for two days solid.
  • In Brockton's Celestial Forge, Joe calls it "3 a.m. thinking", because if you are still awake when you need to sleep you will be more prone to making stupid decisions.
  • In Cheshire (Miraculous Ladybug), due her exhaustion by long fights and/or the use of Unify, Marinette revealed to Master Fu that she could read the symbols of the Miraculous Grimoire and about her great-grandfather's journal about the kwamis, and later, instead of treats for Master Fu's kwamis, she gave macaroons with power-up potions, revealing that she can make them.
  • In the Miraculous Ladybug fanfic Sleep Is For The Weak, Marinette and Adrien have been run ragged and are dead on their feet. This leads to Adrien's perfect persona slipping, and he starts making cat puns in public. Marinette, half-awake, hears Chat Noir's voice making cat puns, thinks they're both in costume, and screams about how she's going to skin him alive and wear him as a coat. Then she passes out. The rest of the class is very confused when Adrien just smiles and kisses her forehead, because he's just realized she's Ladybug.

    Films — Animation 
  • Jack-Jack Attack: During the latter half of The Incredibles, Kari has to babysit Jack-Jack. However, this is when he develops his powers. By the next day, she is completely exhausted and sleep-deprived. When Syndrome comes along to take Jack-Jack, she believes he's the replacement babysitter and believes his lie that the "S" on his suit means "sitter." She hands him off without question simply because she's tired and desperate to get away from the baby. When Agent Dicker quips about how stupid that was, she angrily retorts with the understandable justification that she had to sit an "exploding baby," which was a thoroughly draining experience.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • A Curious Conjunction of Coincidences: In the third act, Jacob, who is supposed to be an expert when it comes to wooden pilings, is so tired from sleep deprivation that he ends up choosing a wrong type of wood for the pilings for the construction of the Royal Palace of Amsterdam.

  • Ascendance of a Bookworm: Ferdinand, one of the smartest and most astute characters of the story, is also a Triple Shifter. If the plot requires Ferdinand to miss a crucial detail of a situation that he was made aware of, the situation will usually have been intentionally or accidentally presented to him while he was exhausted.
  • In the Nero Wolfe short story "Murder Is Corny", Archie is exhausted after having been up for 30 hours. He needs to have a conversation with Susan, and suggests to Wolfe that he have the conversation elsewhere, but Wolfe offers the use of the office. Archie Lampshades the fact that if he hadn't been so exhausted, he would have realized that Wolfe intended to eavesdrop on the conversation.
  • Early in Percy Jackson and the Olympians the heroes stumble into a novelty statue shop the reader will immediately peg as Medusa's lair. Percy explains that yes, it was dumb, but they were exhausted and had been staggering through the woods of New Jersey for a long time.
  • The Revenge of the Sith novelization explains Anakin Skywalker's poor decision-making and paranoia from the film as the result of sleep deprivation. Because Anakin sees the same vision of Padmé dying every time he sleeps, he stops sleeping altogether and uses the Force to sustain himself.

    Live-Action TV 

  • The Barenaked Ladies song "Tonight is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel" is about a man too exhausted to think straight trying to drive home, and getting into a fatal car accident as a direct result.

    Music Videos 
  • In the music video for Cat Hairballs, Stimpy is being used to farm hairballs via licking "fuel" off of various body parts then hwarfing the results onto a conveyor belt, where the hairballs are then stamped by Ren. Though Stimpy is high energy at first, all the licking and hwarfing proves to be extremely physically taxing. By the end, Stimpy has been completely licked clean and is completely burnt out from it all, which results in Stimpy jumping on the conveyor belt and trying to hwarf one more time. Resulting in passing out on said conveyor belt and getting brutally stamped on the ass.

    Web Animation 
  • Red vs. Blue: In Season 15, Wash is completely exhausted and loopy after days of being locked in his armor by Temple without receiving food or water. He is generally disconnected from reality during that time and says many things that he wouldn't in a clearer head. This also leads to him walking out in the middle of gunfire without a care in the world, ending with him getting shot in the neck.
  • Sword Art Online Abridged: Unlike in canon, Kayaba's plan was ultimately boiled down to how sleep-deprived he was after working three weeks without so much as a wink of sleepnote  to finish Sword Art Online. The game was Christmas Rushed and he needed to get it done after already being delayed twice. Thus, he busted his ass to get it ready for release. Unfortunately, this resulted in causing a glitch that killed the players when their avatars died, and Kayaba's mind was still in shambles when he was trying to think of a way to fix it after people started dying from it.
    Kayaba: Now, in this case, any sane man would simply turn off the servers before anyone else got hurt, but because you've now been awake long enough to think the government is run by "Flubar, King of the Mole Men," the best idea that comes to your mind is to double, triple, and quadruple down. So you lock everyone in the game, tell them they'll die if they don't finish it, and try to make it look like this is all part of your "master plan" instead of an ever-spiraling series of events that you have long since lost control of.


    Web Original 
  • The last two lines of this story from Not Always Working imply that the clerk was too sleep-deprived from overwork to understand that the submitter wasn't buying alcohol or cigarettes, only that they didn't want to show ID (because they didn't need to).
    Despite his boss's ranting, he has fallen asleep with his head on the counter.

    Western Animation 
  • The Amazing World of Gumball: "The Mess" has Gumball and Darwin stay up all night watching an internet video, and the next day they constantly black out and proceed to do random things such as build a meat snowman.
  • In "The Sleepover" episode of Bluey, Muffin is seen acting like a drunk after she skipped a sleep earlier that day.
  • In an episode of Doc McStuffins, Doc stays up late at her slumber party, so she's sleepy in the morning and she pours orange juice into her cereal instead of milk.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Apu once worked for four straight days at the Kwik-E-Mart without sleep. By the end of it he thought he was a hummingbird. There's videotape evidence of that.
    • Homer (who's already stupid) is sleep-deprived because his baby daughter Maggie is keeping him awake at night and he mistakes Maggie for Marge (his wife) and Lisa (his eldest daughter) for Maggie.
  • In the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Fear of a Krabby Patty", Mr. Krabs starts keeping the Krusty Krab open 24 hours a day to compete with the Chum Bucket's new open-23-hours-a-day policy. After 15 or so days working with no sleep, SpongeBob starts to hallucinate everyone as giant Krabby Patties.
  • In the Star Trek: Lower Decks episode "Temporal Edict", Captain Freeman learns of the existence of "buffer time" (crew members padding their estimates of how long it takes to get things done). Furious at people apparently slacking off, she enacts a new policy in which everyone must perform back-to-back tasks in the minimum amount of time. Within a week, everyone (except Boimler, perhaps the biggest workaholic on the Cerritos) is exhausted from overwork and making stupid mistakes, one of which causes a diplomatic incident and an invasion by hostile aliens with the crew too tired to fight back.


Video Example(s):


"Because of Metacritic."

After taking a jab at Canon Kayaba's "I Don't Even Remember", Abridged Kayaba states that the reason behind everything that happened in SAO was because he was extremely exhausted from programming the game three weeks straight, with the Players dying with their Avatars was because of a glitch he created accidentally and his attempts at covering it up.

How well does it match the trope?

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