Sometimes the fate of the world rests on them finding a solution. Sometimes they are just extremely dedicated to their job. Sometimes they just are too hard-working for their own good. But the end result is that they fall asleep while in the middle of their important task. Often an Establishing Character Moment, but can often happen near the climax as the pressure gets to them.
This usually involves a desk job of some sort, since falling asleep while using a lathe or driving a car would be a lot less peaceful.
Expect other Sleep and Wakefulness Tropes tropes to follow, especially Messy Hair or Comforting Comforter. Compare Seriously Scruffy, which uses a lack of grooming to demonstrate the strain someone's under, and Heroic RRoD, which deals with physical exhaustion.
Not to be confused with Sleepyhead, which is where people just nod off without really caring where they are. The usual consequence from Overworked Sleep is sympathy for their amazing effort rather than being reprimanded for their laziness.
- Ah... and Mm... Are All She Says: When she's got a deadline, Toda frequently falls asleep with her head on the desk, her manuscript pages all around her.
- Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Togusa pulls an all-nighter investigating Interceptor technology. The next morning, the other members of Section 9 comment on him falling asleep on the couch.
- During one of Shriayuki's first visits to the castle after moving to Clarines in Snow White with the Red Hair Zen has been working nonstop after getting in trouble for sneaking out. When his aides tell him she's there he finally leaves his office in order to visit with her only to promptly fall asleep, though he did warn he was about to.
- Shirayuki herself has one of these (in Episode 5 of the anime adaptation) when she,along with Zen's group investigate a garrison they had lost contact with, it turned out the reason was a mass illness. The others only realise Shirayuki's state when they casually mention that she makes fresh batches of medicine for each of the soldiers shifts which had reached 3 shifts of 8 hours by that point.
- In Judge Dredd, the future policemen are encouraged to go to sleep in works' time. The kicker is that Judges who have done a thirty-hour shift in very busy time get maybe ninety minutes in a machine that stimulates and accelerates deep sleep - condensing nine or ten hours into that ninety minutes. Then they are expected to go out on the street and do it all over again for another thirty hours...
- Marvel Comics character Jackson Arvad became the superpowered Will-o-the-wisp as a result of this. Because he fell asleep after working all night, he was unable to prevent a lab accident that ultimately gave him his powers.
- In the Robin Series, Tim normally does not fall asleep while working as Robin, though Catwoman once caught him taking a bat-nap on a roof when he was recovering from the Clench. Sometimes his habit of falling asleep anywhere and everywhere in his civilian persona does not work out in his favor, like the time he fell asleep on a roller coaster during a date with Zoanne.
- Wonder Woman (1987):
- Etta Candy, Julia Kapatelis, Steve Trevor, and Matthew Michaelis all fall asleep at the table or on the couch after working through the information in the files on the "Ares Project" Etta secretly copied and studying the talisman Diana got from Harmonia to no avail.
- Dr. Leslie falls asleep at her desk while trying to figure out a way to save Vanessa, who is dying due to the Silver Swan modifications but would die on the table in her current state if they tried to remove them.
- Missing (Sherlock Holmes): Holmes falls asleep in a chair in Lestrade's office after spending a week worrying about Watson and trying to find out what happened to him when he disappeared.
- In Good Company: We see how much of a Workaholic Carter Durier is thanks to one of these.
- Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: Wayne Szalinski falls asleep while working to repair the machine responsible for the titular remark.
- The Fantastic Four (2005) movie had Reed Richards falling asleep on his keyboard, and the CGI people giving him "qwertyitis" note because while asleep he can't control his rubbery body.
- In Miracle Run, Corrine falls asleep at the table while working on a letter about her autistic sons' educational rights.
- Kathy from Jimmie (2008) works as a translator. When her employers bump up her deadline from spring to Christmas, she works so hard that she falls asleep on the couch with the book she's translating and her notes next to her.
- In Dog Days (2018), overwhelmed new mother Ruth falls asleep with one of her twins in her arms. Dax turns to the father, Greg, but he's also fallen asleep in his chair.
- Atlas Shrugged: Dagny Taggart, being the hard-working capitalist that she is, has a few of these.
- Discworld: Sam Vimes is often doing this.
- In I Flew With Braddock, a collection of stories about the fictional World War 2 pilot Matt Braddock, a junior mechanic falls asleep in the cockpit of a plane after finishing a job and is threatened with a court martial. Braddock tells him he'll be a defense witness as the entire base had been working around the clock to rectify a long term slide in performance and standards due to a poor commander and he'd panicked at news of an upcoming inspection. The court martial was dropped rather than expose his incompetence to an independent panel during the investigation.
- In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry falls asleep in the library desperately trying to find a magical way to breathe underwater the night before needing to do so for the second Triwizard Tournament task.
- The West Wing: Josh - sound asleep at his desk, oblivious to the janitor loudly vacuuming around him, but waking up as soon as his pager goes off.
- NCIS: Much of the cast do this multiple times. They often live for their work, causing other relationships to suffer.
- Horatio Hornblower has an interesting deconstruction. Hornblower falls asleep on duty (a capital offense), despite his best efforts after being ordered to keep 36 hours continuous watch by the mad Captain Sawyer.
- One episode of The Drew Carey Show had Drew working through the night to find the savings necessary to save the company's health plan, and falling asleep at his desk immediately after he does so.
- The made-for-tv movie Apollo 11 that aired in honor of the 25th anniversary had a scene that showed Neil Armstrong falling asleep in the simulator because the guys had been training so much.
- The Office (US): In "Local Ad", Pam is absorbed in perfecting the animation for Michael's ad. She's tired, so she looks up - and it's 2 am. She falls asleep while trying to decide whether to risk driving home while sleep-deprived, or staying there with Michael (still editing in his office) and Dwight (watching Michael edit).
- Brooklyn Nine-Nine: A mistake by Peralta forces the squad to stay at the station for 48 hours. Jeffords has it worst because he was already spending as little time at home as possible to avoid his awful brother-in-law and spends the episode falling asleep standing up or doing pull-ups.
- Babylon 5: In the second season during the Narn-Centauri War, Dr. Franklin is having to deal with so many patients in addition to running Medlab that he's found asleep at his station at one point. He also admits he's been resorting to stims to keep himself going, which has ramifications later on.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Usually combined with Asleep in Class as Buffy spends the night patrolling for vampires, so her school studies tend to suffer.
- In "Beauty and the Beasts", Giles is furious when Xander Harris falls asleep when he's supposed to be guarding Oz in his werewolf phase. When he discovers Buffy asleep on guard duty surrounded by Tome of Eldritch Lore she's been researching, he just smiles.
- Happens several times in Season 7 when Buffy is under more stress than usual and refuses Giles advice to get some much-needed rest. The lack of sleep explains a lot about her poor decision-making and people skills in that season.
- Loki: When Loki and Mobius realize in Episode 2 that the Variant is probably hiding in apocalypses, since any action there won't registered by the TVA, they start to go through all files on such events. Since they haven't found a way to narrow it down yet, they have a lot of files to go through and in the next cut Loki is sleeping at the desk.
- Star Trek: Voyager. In "Muse", after forgoing sleep to search for their missing crewman (claiming that as a Vulcan he can go for weeks without sleep) Tuvok falls asleep on the bridge, snoring loudly.
- Velvet: Ana and Alberto stayed up all night to recreate the props for a presentation that were lost by the airline. They are so exhausted that they oversleep the appointment time and almost lose the opportunity.
- In The Coma: Youngho falls asleep during his exams because he had been pulling an all-nighter and ended up taken into the eponymous location.
- Death Stranding: Sam will take any chance he can get to catnap. He can rest pretty much anywhere safe on the map (that is outside of MULE/terrorist camps and BT zones). You can make him sleep (rest and then sleep button prompts), but he will also nod off if he's only resting and if left standing idle in the overworld.
- In Mass Effect 2: If you help Liara become the new Shadow Broker, her assistant will mention that she has developed a habit of falling asleep at her terminal due to her vastly increased workload.
- Obsidian has a vidbot whose sole job is to shred documents. If you talk to him, he'll claim he wasn't sleeping, angrily ask why so many people come through his office, then instantly falls asleep again.
- Survivor: Fire: Implied when the father is seen asleep at his desk.
- In The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, this happens to Towa late in the first game, who not only has to deal with the paperwork that comes with being Student Council President, but also the paperwork that Instructor Sara pawns off on her. She promises to help Rean come up with an idea for the school festival, yet when he meets up with her, he sees she fell asleep before he arrived.
- Warbot In Accounting: James (one of Warbot's coworkers) pulls an all-nighter at work trying to finish a report. When Warbot sees James asleep at his desk, Warbot assumes James finished and puts the work in their boss's mailbox. He makes a mess of the report in doing so, which gets James fired for turning in shoddy work. James is unaware of Warbot's "help", but takes losing his job rather badly.
- In Freefall, during the "Gardener in the Dark" crisis the already overworked Mr. Raibert is found sleeping at his desk, surrounded by empty cans of energy drinks.
Max Post: One of these drinks would have had my eyeballs vibrating out of my skull. He's had three and he's still fallen asleep.
- The Simpsons: In Lisa's Pony, Homer passes out in the doorway of the Kwik-E-Mart after taking a second job at the Kwik-E-Mart to pay for the titular creature.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
- In Applebuck Season, Applejack bucks out all the apples herself to the point of exhaustion (with a mix of hallucinations, outright refusal for help, and making havoc all over town). When it's pointed out that she's only bucked half of the orchard, she passed out.
- For Twilight Sparkle, being a princess doesn't always mean time for tiaras and parties, and often ends up requiring to save the realm from outright destruction. After planning the events for the royal summit and welcoming the delegates for the grand unveiling of the big-ass crystal statue, she falls asleep in exhaustion on a pile of books. Spike then takes over her duties for the afternoon, which kinda doesn't work out and leads to taking advantage over responsibilities, a broken pipe spilling gallons of water, allergic flowers, an angry mob, and a broken statue.
- In another episode, after helping her friends on their daily chores to the point of overdoing it just to avoid staying at her new crystal castle, Twilight falls asleep in a pile of pancakes, with bits of mud from yesterday after helping Fluttershy for the animal bath.
Twilight Sparkle: I'm PANCAKE! I mean, awake...
- In A Health Of Information, Fluttershy refuses to rest until she finds a cure for Zecora's Swamp Fever. This includes staying up for days on end researching and traveling, even after she contracts Swamp Fever herself. She ends up passing out at the worst possible time—in the middle of being attacked by a swarm of Flash Bees—and ends up staying asleep for three days.
- In the Justice League episode "Only a Dream", after staying up all night for three days and beating the crap out of a nightmare-producing Villain of the Week, Batman falls asleep in a chair.
- Code Lyoko's Jeremie Belpois occasionally falls victim to this trope, falling asleep at his computer or at the Supercomputer.
- Gravity Falls: In the episode "Sock Opera", Dipper starts suffering from this after a entire week of trying to crack the computer's code. Bill Cipher takes advantage of this and tries (and suceeds) in convincing Dipper to make a deal.
- Plankton in the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Sleepy Time", seeing as the episode shows him sleeping at his desk.
- During the final coding of MS-DOS, Bill Gates would often fall asleep at his keyboard only to wake up and continue coding from exactly where he left off.
- In Japan, falling asleep at your desk from overwork is fairly common and is seen as a sign that you're dedicated to your job, to the point where some people fake it.