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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. It could be considered Exhaustion-Induced Insanity.
  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 to 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 or Fell Asleep Driving if the person is operating a vehicle, often leading to tragedy. Contrast with Heroic BSoD and Angst Coma, which result from emotional exhaustion instead.


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    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 
  • 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 during "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.
  • 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.
  • Cheshire (Miraculous Ladybug): Due her exhaustion by long fights and/or the use of Unify, Marinette reveals far more information to Master Fu than she originally planned, with a slip of the tongue resulting in him learning that she knows how to read the symbols of the Miraculous Grimoire. In addition, her sleep-deprived mind ends up giving Master Fu's kwamis macaroons with power-up potions rather than normal sweets, revealing she's a gifted potion maker as well.
  • 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 during class. 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 made even more confused when Adrien, now wide awake from her outburst and able to put two-and-two together, just smiles and kisses her forehead in response, now knowing she's Ladybug.

    Films — Animation 

    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.
  • Nero Wolfe: In the 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.
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians: Early in the story, the heroes stumble into a novelty statue shop which 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 
  • 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 
  • Not Always Working: The last two lines of this story 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.
    Manager: ... I'll talk to him about shifts.

    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.
  • Bluey: In "The Sleepover", Bluey and Bingo's younger cousin Muffin is adjusting to an older child's sleeping patterns (that is, no longer taking a nap during the day). Due to sleep deprivation, she spends most of the episode acting a lot like a very drunk person, doing things like picking fights with inanimate objects and yelling random nonsense.
  • Doc McStuffins: Doc stays up late at her slumber party in one episode, so she's sleepy in the morning and she pours orange juice into her cereal instead of milk.
  • In an episode of Ed, Edd n Eddy, Edd stays up all night building a model, and when Ed and Eddy (and many of the other kids) try to use his brain, they find too late that said brain wasn't firing on all cylinders with the advice he gave them.
    Rolf: Ed-boy, a moment of your time? Never use hot wax to soothe enraged lobsters! Thank you.
  • Gravity Falls: In "Sock Opera", Dipper tries to figure out the mysteries of a laptop late into the night, causing him to become sleep-deprived. Because of his, he makes the mistake of agreeing to a deal with Bill Cipher.
  • 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.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: In "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.
  • Star Trek: Lower Decks: In "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.
    Real Life 
  • Sleep deprivation and airlines working their pilots too hard without sufficient rest has been cited as a contributing factor in a number of crashes.
    • Colgan Air Flight 3407 is one example as two fatigued pilots wound up putting their plane into a stall, causing it to crash outside Buffalo, New York.
    • The crew of American International Airways Flight 808 were found to have acquired a significant sleep debt, which may have contributed to the Captain poorly communicating with his crew and not reacting fast enough.
    • The captain of Korean Air Flight 801 was also found to be fatigued and communicated poorly with his crew.
  • Fatigue was also cited as a contributing factor in the Exxon Valdez oil spill, as the crew had been working long hours with little rest.
  • In the leadup to the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster, top managers had been awake a considerable amount of time helping prepare for the launch, leading to decisions being made that resulted in the fatal explosion.


Video Example(s):


Danny and Helen

Due to being tired from a late night, Danny puts orange juice on his cereal and Helen puts her pyjamas on backwards.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / ExhaustionInducedIdiocy

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