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Sleep Deprivation

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Not having slept enough sucks, both in Real Life and in Fictionland. This trope deals with such situations. Characters more or less voluntarily choose not to sleep, or there are some external factors causing them not being able to sleep, or they keep waking up all the time.

Characters who can't sleep or haven't slept well become irritated, tired, exhausted, sick, crazy, desperate, proud of the accomplishment... It depends how serious the situation is and how it is played. It can be played for laughs, for drama or horror. Those who can't sleep will often have Exhausted Eye Bags and the situation might lead to them looking Seriously Scruffy, even after just one sleepless night, though it's more common to show after a longer period of sleeplessness.

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Sleep Deprivation in fiction can come about in various ways:

  • Noisy inconsiderate neighbours who want to party the whole damn night... or worse, ahem, partying in the bedroom.
  • Never-ending noise (airport, train station, traffic, construction site) — typical plot is that a new building is being built in a peaceful neighbourhood.
  • Country Mouse is visiting a big city and the noise level is too much at night and too different from their normal environment; likewise City Mouse in the country can find the silence or the different kind of noise too weird.
  • Emergencies. Sudden serious and potentially dangerous situations which need immediate action to deal with them.
  • Burning the midnight oil. Typical for over-worked or poor-planning students before tests or examinations; writers who are suddenly inspired or need to meet the deadline; night owls who want to work at night, but are forced to wake up early as well and so on.
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  • Stressful jobs: Cops, doctors and others sometimes must prolong their shifts. In business, characters must deal with last-minute orders or important accounts.
  • Anxiety. They feel nervous or worried over something which prevents them from falling asleep.
  • They have to keep thinking about a specific thing, trying to figure out something. Or perhaps they have just seen something and need Brain Bleach.
  • Self-imposed scientific or artistic experiment.
  • Crying babies and sick children who need their parents' care and help.
  • The character's spouse starts snoring.
  • They will watch just one last video... Just this one. And this one. How is it so late? Or so early in the morning?
  • ... and more!

Related tropes and subtropes:

  • Sleep Deprivation Punishment: Torture, punishment or abuse with sleep deprivation.
  • The Insomniac: Characters can't fall asleep for long periods of time.
  • Insomnia Episode: Characters are unable to sleep for one episode/chapter/instalment.
  • Must Have Caffeine: Characters guzzle caffeinated beverages to keep themselves awake, or to give themselves an energy boost when they're sleep deprived.
  • Never Sleep Again: Characters will endanger themselves if they fall asleep. They can't fall asleep and if they do, bad things happen. That's why they try to stay awake as long as possible.
  • The Sleepless: Characters who don't need to sleep, and some are of the cannot sleep well variety.
  • Triple Shifter: Characters who work multiple jobs or lead double life; their need of sleep (or lack of it) might be lampshaded or hand-waved.


Sleep-deprived examples:

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     Anime and Manga 
  • In Naruto, Gaara is unable to sleep before the Time Skip because of the One-Tailed Beast Shukaku sealed inside of him. In part because of this, he has dark circles around his eyes (although part of it is simply because Shukaku is a Tanuki).
  • In Death Note L is a Great Detective that works day and night solving high-profile cases. Because of that, he has severe undereye circles, and relies on sugar to keep himself going. When he does sleep (only when he's too exhausted to continue and his body gives out on him), he's out for days.

     Comic Books 
  • Max Damage of Incorruptible becomes increasingly strong and tough the longer he remains awake, and reverts to normal human levels when he sleeps. This leads him to force himself to say awake as long as possible — unfortunately, sleep deprivation and stimulant drugs have the same mental effects on him that they do on anybody else, which tends to mess up his judgment.

     Fan Works 
  • In An Apple Sleep Experiment, Applejack drinks a potion that was meant to keep her awake for 24 hours straight, but it works too well and instead makes it impossible for her to sleep. By the time Twilight cures her, Applejack had already gone insane from lack of sleep and had killed several ponies due to insomnia-invoked hallucinations.
  • In Brilliant Lights Will Cease To Burn, Izuku suffers from intense Sleep Deprivation over the course of the story between his Triple Shifter tendencies and inability to say no when someone asks for help. His sheer Heroic Fatigue makes him profoundly sarcastic and bitter to the point of joking about wishing for death practically every chapter.
  • Dungeon Keeper Ami: As recounted in "Exhaustion", Ami stayed awake for four days straight in an ice golem body, so she could maintain enough attention to handle "unforeseen complications" from a rescue mission.
  • Much Ado about Shakespeare: Love's Labours Won: Horatio Hornblower is disgruntled at the beginning of the fic because he barely slept "thanks to that blasted storm". He gets annoyed with Archie for his quoting Shakespeare excessively.
  • Sword Art Online Abridged: Sleep deprivation turns out to be Kayaba Akihiko's real motivation for everything he tried. Or, rather, the extremely stupid decision he took while suffering from 500 hours' worth of sleep deprivation, which was to pretend the glitch that was killing players when their avatars died was completely intentional, and locking them in game to pretend to be an evil mastermind rather than an utter fuckup; he thought, at the time, the game would get better scores in Metacritic that way. When he had slept and got back to his senses, he realized how absolutely idiotic this was, but was in too deep to quit. He also notes, as an aside, that other effects of this level of sleep deprivation were thinking "Flubar, king of the mole men" ran the government, and that the night janitor was God.
  • In Amazing Fantasy, Izuku studies well into the night to cram a semester's worth of college-level physics, chemistry, and mechanical engineering into his head in three weeks to build his web-shooters. He mentions that he nearly dozed off in class on numerous occasions and his mom caught him snoring into a textbook at 2:00 a.m.

     Film — Animated 
  • Incredibles 2: Bob is unable to sleep for several nights while trying to watch the kids, due to Dash's difficult math homework, Violet's relationship trouble, and Jack-Jack's newfound powers. He spends a chunk of the film completely exhausted and out-of-it.
  • Goob in Meet the Robinsons was sleep deprived for days due to Lewis being obsessed with an invention, with far-reaching consequences.

     Film — Live Action 
  • My Cousin Vinny: A recurring gag throughout the film is that City Mouse Vinny (and his girlfriend Mona Lisa) can't get a good night's sleep due being unfamiliar with a noise of mostly rural small Southern town. The first two places they stay they get woken up incredibly early (by a pig farmer and an early train). The prosecution attorney loans them his cabin in the woods, but the sounds of animals keep them awake. It gets the point where, when he's held in contempt of court, he refuses to let Lisa bail him out hoping to finally get some rest. The scene cuts to a riot going on, with Vinny sound asleep as it reminds him of home in New Jersey.
  • Much of the drama and horror in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) comes from the fact that a person has to sleep sooner or later, no matter how drastic the measures they take to stay awake. And when they do sleep, Freddy will come for them.
  • The A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) (remake) ups the ante by including the concept of "micronaps," where a sleep-deprived brain will temporarily switch into a kind of sleep-mode to try and recover. So the kids aren't even safe from Freddy before the point where they simply can't stay awake any longer. The film also mentions that if you do push wakefulness far too long, you can fall into a permanent coma.

     Live Action TV 
  • In The Big Bang Theory, "The Work Song Nanocluster": Penny starts making artificial flowers, called "Penny Blossoms", and she sells them online. The guys become involved and Leonard makes the mistake of adding "one-day-rush order" button. They end up spending all night trying to make one thousand Penny Blossoms. They drink tons of coffee (even Sheldon, who considers it a dangerous drug) and are exhausted. When they are done, Penny receives another 24-hour order for one thousands flowers, but they no longer want to help because as Howard puts it, they do have lives of their own.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine:
    • In episode "48 Hours", everyone has to work over the weekend to find evidence against the perp Jake Peralta arrested and the whole precinct skips sleeping. They just take a three-hour nap. They drink a lot of coffee and they all look slightly dishevelled because they had no shower, they have to wear the same clothes, Amy's contact lenses dried out and she only has huge glasses etc.
    • "Old School": Jake Peralta suffers from Sleep Deprivation and Hangover Sensitivity after old-school partying and drinking with an author of his favourite cop book and he has to work his cases as usual. At one moment, he slides onto the floor and just keeps lying there.
    • In "Unsolvable", Jake Peralta mentions that he's severely sleep-deprived when Captain Holt praises his work ethic and grants him a weekend off. However, Jake opts to work on a cold case and even pulls another all-nighter.
    • "The Mattress": Amy Santiago comes to work extremely tired. Her boyfriend Jake is surprised because they went to bed early, and then jokes that she's tired from all the amazing sex. She actually couldn't sleep because Jake has an old, lumpy mattress.
      Amy: No, I was up all night because your dumb, lumpy mattress is so uncomfortable.
      Jake: What? But I gave you the good lump.
      Amy: Ugh, please stop talking till I finish eating my coffee.
    • In "Terry's Kitties", Jake and Terry work on an old cold case, long thought to be unsolvable. They find a lead, only to hit a dead end. Terry leaves the case, while Jake stays up all night trying to solve it. Jake is once again in an unfocused, sleep-deprived state... but they solve the case nonetheless.
    • In "The Box", Peralta and Holt interrogate a murder suspect through the night. Peralta gets the confession in the morning. They go outside to talk and breath some fresh air. Holt suggests they get some sleep, and then Boyle greets them — their new shift is just about to start. Both are so pumped by their success that they barely care.
    • "He Said, She Said": Amy is working particularly hard on a case of sexual assault because it feels personal. She tries hard to crack it and find solid evidence for prosecution. She spends one night at work and in the morning she admits she's a mess. Jake listens to her concerns and tries to comfort her. Then he offers to get her a change of clothes and a coffee, and also a comb, but she doesn't have to use it unless she decides.
  • Chicago Hope: Heart surgeon Kate Austen has spent extremely long hours operating. As a result, she inadvertently leaves an instrument inside a patient who later dies. Kate is crushed, and struggles whether to stay silent and protect both herself and the hospital, or tell the patient's parents.
  • Dexter:
    • Rita and her children Astor and Cody are being kept awake at night by their neighbour's dog. When Rita and Dex confront the neighbour, she just mocks them and says there's nothing they can do about it. Rita then takes the neglected dog to her friend and her nieces who will take care of their new pet.
    • Debra is a detective who pulls an all-nighter when she's searching for clues in the Skinner case (a serial killer of the season). She says she had a metric fuck-ton of coffee and is extremely fidgety in the morning.
    • Dexter stalks his victims at night and it's mentioned he's an extremely early riser who doesn't sleep well. In one episode when he finds Lumen, he spends the whole night with her trying to calm her down. When he comes home to his baby son and his new nanny in the morning, the nanny's pissed that she can't trust him because he didn't inform her he wouldn't be coming home.
  • In a flashback episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show, Rob is shown working as a radio DJ doing a promotional stunt trying to break the record for the most hours broadcasting continuously without sleep... immediately after which, it turns out, he has his important job interview to be a writer on the Alan Brady Show. Needless to say, he is so sleep deprived that he bombs the interview completely, being a weepy, rambling, incoherent sloppy mess. Fortunately, the producers recognize the situation and give him a second opportunity.
  • In the The Drew Carey Show episode after Kate left to join her Navy pilot husband in Guam (Christa Miller left the show at the beginig of season 8), Drew goes several nights without sleep because he keeps dreaming about Kate, and it gets to the point where it starts to affect his daily life. Eventually, Mimi takes pity on him and takes him to a junkyard, where after shooting some garbage with shotguns, he comes to the conclusion that him and Kate were not meant to be together, and it's best to just move on. With that part if his life behind him, he finally gets some much needed sleep.
  • Friends, episode "The One Where They're Up All Night":
    • 6 friends plus Tag are sitting on the roof looking for a comet. Everyone except Ross and Joey head back inside. Those two remain stranded on the roof. They go down the fire escape, but it doesn't go all the way down and it lasts for a long time until they finally make it.
    • Phoebe can't sleep because her fire alarm keeps going off. She rips it out of the wall and even smashes it, but the alarm continues to beep. She tries to throw it down the garbage chute; however, a fireman manages to find it and brings it back, reminding her that it's illegal to remove it. The alarm continues to go off, with Phoebe going crazy from the sound.
    • Tag and Rachel head to their office in the middle of the night to check for some contracts that were supposed to be mailed.
    • Chandler can't fall asleep, so he wakes Monica up and wants to talk. Monica however wants to go back to sleep. Chandler decides to read a boring book and make some hot milk to help him sleep, but makes a loud noise in the kitchen... which wakes Monica up for the night. They stay up and talk, then they have sex and somehow one or the other keeps falling asleep and getting woken up throughout the night. In the morning Chandler calls in sick and stays home from work.
  • Newhart: The the TV station where Dick works holds a multi-day telethon, and circumstances lead to him being the sole host. He starts suffering from insufficient sleep, and in the end can only be lured off the set by Stephanie's "beautiful" rendition of "Old Man River".
  • The episode "Black Dolphin" in Ransom has the game challenge players to conduct this on themselves before they reach the 60th challenge.
  • Schitt's Creek: A very wired Moira comes home from Bosnia having not slept during her three-day plus journey and having taken one or two Bosnia uppers. She wakes up her husband and children to tell them some stories from the set of her film and then proceeds to "plow through" to make it an even four days. This leads to jealous Love Letter Lunacy when she finds some old letters Johnny had been reading in her absence, only to be told that she wrote the letters.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation explored this in "Night Terrors" when the Enterprise comes across another Federation starship where all of the crew (except one) killed themselves or each other. Investigation determined that the ship became trapped in a Tyken's Rift with an alien vessel whose attempts at communication slowly drove the crew mad through sleep deprivation (specifically, deprivation of REM sleep and dreaming). And now the same thing was happening to the Enterprise crew.
  • In the pilot episode of Whiskey Cavalier, Frankie threatens to put Edgar in a Black Site for supposedly hacking confidential NSA data and he gets paranoid that the black site personnel will conduct sleep deprivation torture. Except that Edgar believes that he's being put there because he found incriminating data regarding a potential Double Agent inside the agency.
  • Wings: Helen suffers a concussion and has to stay awake for an extended period of time. She gets more and more loopy, culminating in a "Helen doesn't live here anymore" moment. Then when she's finally medically cleared to sleep, a buzzing airplane keeps her awake.
  • Zoey 101:
    • In one episode, Dustin has agreed to help Quinn with an experiment by wearing a bracelet that shocks him when he starts to fall asleep. He quickly starts to hate it, becoming irritable and delirious in addition to being constantly tired.
    • In an episode, none of the people in the boys' dorm can get a full night sleep for at least three days, as they keep being woken up in the middle of the night for a fire alarm. When it turns out to be Logan's expensive new phone causing it, he gets beaten up.

     Video Games 
  • The All-Night Mask in The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask has the description that it doesn't let its wearer fall asleep, even if they want to. It's used in the game to allow Link to stay awake through Granny's long stories (and earn a prize by doing so), but supplementary information within the game indicates it was originally used as a torture device.

     Web Video 
  • Local 58's "Real Sleep" video's final section shows a bunch of nightmare faces and Thsubliminal messages against sleep and dreaming.
  • CollegeHumor:
    • Sketch "The Horrors of Hungover Traveling" has Zac trying to catch a flight while being brutally hungover and extremely sleep deprived. The flight gets delayed and he passes out lying over several seats at the airport.
    • "I Got NO Sleep Last Night" is considered the most boring conversation imaginable. Zac keeps bringing it up and wants to tell it in elaborate detail.

     Web Comics 
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: Lalli is originally The Night Owl due to his night scout work schedule. During the expedition, he ends up being needed during the day on a regular basis as well, resulting in him working during his usual sleeping hours and being quite the Sleepyhead.

     Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • In "The Chase", Azula's group starts pursuing Aang's right as the latter was about to go to sleep. The lack of sleep aggravates tensions between Katara and the newly joined Toph, and causes Appa (their main means of conveyance) to slow down and crash.
    • "Nightmares and Daydreams" has Aang unable to sleep due to stress over the impending attack on the Fire Nation, which causes him to have Anxiety Dreams.
  • The Beetlejuice episode "Poe-Pourri" has Beej desperately trying to get a decent night's sleep (which you wouldn't expect a dead guy to need) but constantly being interrupted by various elements of Edgar Allan Poe's works. It's subverted in the end, when the entire episode is revealed to have been a series of nested bad dreams he was having.
  • One episode of Clone High uses this as a G-Rated Drug. Abe refuses to sleep in order to study for a standardized test and Joan is forced to give him an intervention, saying how she used to "cut class to stay awake" until she was forced to go to sleepaway camp to cure it.
    Joan: (shows and Embarrassing Tattoo on her ankle) My judgement was so poor due to sleep deprivation that I actually paid money for this!
  • Dragons: Race to the Edge episode, "The Longest Day" features 'The Midnight Sun', a 2 week endless day. As a result all characters suffer from this in different ways. Hiccup becomes careless with a slower reaction time; Astrid is overcome with euphoria, becoming obnoxiously optimistic and carelessly carefree; Snotlout suffers from severe mood swings, switching from laughing to crying to shouting in an instant; and Fishlegs becomes increasingly paranoid of the others. Heather loses all sense of coordination, tripping on her own feet and spilling her water bucket trying to clean Windshear. She later starts losing focus, confusing Windshear with a rock. Ruffnut and Tuffnut are overcome by visual hallucinations; Gothi spends her time "babbling" for hours, drawing in the sand with a blank stare; and Sven dances with his sheep, though Hiccup points out that he does that all the time. Eventually, the dragons just dump them in a dark cupboard to sleep it off.
  • The Fairly OddParents!: Because Timmy wants to experience the night, he wishes that he and the rest of the world would never sleep. The sleep deprivation quickly catches up to Cosmo and Wanda, making them hideous and grouchy.
  • Futurama, "Fry and the Slurm Factory": Slurms MacKenzie, the original party worm working in advertising for Slurm, is partied out. He's covering red eyes under his cool shades and all he wants to do is stay home and rent videos.
  • Mr Krbec and his Animals: Ruprecht and Kokesh can't sleep one night because Mr Krbec snores, and extremely loudly at that. The whole castle is shaking! Ruprecht keeps waking him up in attempts to stop the noise, but it always continues after Mr Krbec falls asleep again. Mr Krbec oversleeps the following morning.
  • The Oblongs: Bob and Pickles have such an active sex life that Milo gets anxious and can't sleep if he doesn't hear their bed creaking. When his parents go through a rough patch and stop having sex, Milo becomes zombie-like and desperate to get some shut-eye.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Homer gets a second job in the episode where Lisa gets a pony. He works days (his old power plant job) and nights (his new job in the Kwik-E-Mart). He gets no sleep and is absolutely exhausted.
    • In one "Treehouse of Horror" segment, the kids try to stay awake as long as possible. If they fall asleep, Willy kills them. It's rather desperate attempt because they know they can't stay awake forever.
    • In one episode, there is a new airport in the Evergreen Terrace. The whole family can't sleep and are in poor shape physically as a result.
    • Marge can't sleep well when Homer starts snoring.
    • Maggie is crying non-stop in one episode when they try to take away her dummy. Cue the whole family looking like zombies without their sleep.
    • Apu once works a 96 hour shift at the Kwik-e-mart. By the end of it, he's hallucinating that he's a hummingbird.
  • In the Sonic Boom episode "Can an Evil Genius Crash on Your Couch for a Few Days?", Sonic and Tails are unable to get any sleep because of Eggman, who's become their roommate because his island fortress was damaged in a storm and needs repairs, and he keeps them up all night with TV, board games, and spontaneous pillow fights. It turns out this was part of his evil plan: he lied about the fortress getting damaged, and he intended to keep Sonic and Tails awake so they'd be too tired to stop his Obliterator Bot. This winds up coming back to bite him when Obliterator Bot mishears his commands to destroy Team Sonic and leaves to destroy Eggman's fortress instead; he asks for the help of his archenemies to prevent this, but when it comes time to defend the lair, Sonic and Tails are too tired to act on his instructions to disable Obliterator Bot, forcing him to use a kazoo to snap them out of it so the team can finally take the robot down (but even then, they couldn't save the fortress from getting destroyed for real).
  • Spongebob Squarepants: In "Fear of a Krabby Patty", when Krusty Krab starts opening for 24 hours a day, Mr. Krabs gets an order of 10000 Krabby Patties. Cue Spongebob making patties nonstop, without any sleep, for days. This later results in him hallucinating people as walking, talking Krabby Patties.

     Real Life 
  • Artist Salvador Dalí deliberately gave himself sleeping problems for the sake of his art. He typically slept in an armchair, while holding a spoon over a metal plate—so as soon as he began to relax, he'd drop the spoon and the resulting sound would wake him back up again. Dali claimed this prevented him from dreaming in his sleep, so he instead dreamed while awake, and used those as artistic inspiration.
  • Truth in Television: If you don't get sufficient sleep, it will affect your brain functions and even your physical health. It can be caused by illness such as insomnia or sleep apnea, or through a busy schedule or stress. The Other Wiki has the details.
  • Fatal Insomnia is a genetic condition that's as just bad as it sounds. The disease first shows up with complete insomnia and processes to hallucinations, panic attacks, dementia, and finally death. There is no known cure. The good news (if we can call it that) is that only 40 families worldwide are known have the genetic markers for the disease, so just don't be the descendent of any of them intermarrying and you should be fine.
  • Randy Gardner holds the world record for going 264 consecutive sleepless hours without using stimulants. Do Not Try This at Home. Guinness World Records no longer keep records for sleep deprivation out of concern for the ill effects.
  • Part of a military's training will involve prospective recruits going through sleep deprivation practice in order to get them used to the actual thing in case they're taken hostage and they actually are forced to have sleep deprivation.

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