The Insomniac

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"I detest sleep. I've got better things to do. Besides, I find it frightening -- to awaken and be unsure of everything you remember about life not being just part of a dream. Waking means I've slept, and sleep dissolves what certainty I have left."

A common way to convey that a character is either really strange or has either paranoid or schizophrenic tendencies (or both) is to make them an insomniac. Whether only during times of great stress or as a chronic disorder (obviously a case of Truth in Television) expect these characters to be cranky, moody, mistrusting and sometimes even violent.

Expect lots of Eye Tropes.

In fiction, four types can be observed:

  • A. The Goofy Insomniac: Usually used as a comedy device. The character in question goes without sleep for a number of days (as these characters are often only temporary insomniacs) and react comically out-of-character for the duration of their sleep deprivation.
  • B. The Obsessive Insomniac: More likely to be a chronic insomniac. This character is so driven to catch or kill their nemesis that they forgo everything, including sleep. Typically, their sheer determination, rigid mindset and complete disregard for their bodies' needs actually make them more capable, making this a common Disability Superpower. See also Triple Shifter. May result in a Heroic RROD.
  • C. The Realistic Insomniac: Often used in more serious works, where the disorder is neither funny nor makes the character any better at what they do. Often the delusional/hallucinogetic part of sleep deprivation is played up, sometimes in conjunction with Tomato in the Mirror surprises for the viewer.
  • D. The Superpowered Insomniac: Part of the character's power set is the ability to go without sleep—either for long periods of time or for good. The Undead nearly always fit into this category as a general rule, usually pairing it with Perpetual Motion Monster.

See also Bad Dreams. Waking up from one may cause a sleepless night; waking up from one many, many, many nights may lead to this in its milder forms, since the character gets some sleep. Characters for whom not sleeping is normal are The Sleepless, though it can overlap with this trope, particularly the obsessives of Type B.

The webcomic No Rest for The Wicked can be found by following that link.

Examples of The Insomniac include:

Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • L from Death Note gets far less sleep than should be healthy for him - though like his eating habits, it doesn't seem to have any negative effect. His insomnia is arguably one of the reasons why he's the best three detectives in the world at the same time.
  • Possibly as a callback to the above, in Bakuman。 (by the same scenarist/artist duo) Mashiro often foregoes sleep for days on end in order to work. It's mostly B-type, though it is also often Played for Laughs (his face gets zombie-like) and shown to have realistic consequences on his health.
  • Gaara from Naruto, who remains awake to prevent a forcible takeover by the monster inside him. He seems to spend most of the time a normal person would spend sleeping just standing still, likely to get physical rest (and possibly trying some form of meditation to make up for the loss of mental rest).
  • Keiichi states a few times that this is becoming the case in Onikakushi-hen of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni. Hey, you'd become an insomniac too, if you thought your friends were trying to stalk and kill you. True to the trope's description, though, he's actually just a paranoid wreck.
    • It's implied that Rena and Shion have also stopped sleeping when their paranoia reaches its peak.
  • Hayate sleeps less than an hour a night: He goes to sleep at 4 AM, and is dressed and preparing breakfast at 5 AM. He's apparently been like this since he was six.
  • Kaoru of Virgin Love, thanks to being perpetually haunted by Bad Dreams of his childhood. He discovers being in a stable relationship combats this.
  • Beet in Beet the Vandel Buster stays awake for 72 hours, then sleeps for 24. Since the series is on indefinite Series Hiatus due to the illustrator being ill for five years and counting, and the writer's inability to find a replacement, we may never know why his sleep pattern is so unique.
  • Syrus/Sho is Type B for a while in "Yu-Gi-Oh GX" when he's obsessed with finding the lost Jaden. It makes him a bit more impulsive he does suffer a Heroic RROD by the end.
  • Casca from Berserk shows signs of sleep deprivation after the Eclipse, another realistic after effect of those who were a victim of rape like she.


Comics[edit | hide]

  • Rorschach from the graphic novel Watchmen goes long hours without sleep. Of course, Rorschach is a thoroughbred Determinator.
  • Judge Dredd prefers 10 minutes on a sleep machine to actually sleeping in a bed—less time for criminals to get away with the lawlessness!
  • The Joker in Batman comics is sometimes portrayed as an insomniac. This is directly addressed in The Dark Knight Returns.
    • Batman himself is the Obsessive Type, although part of it is the necessity of leading a double life. How much this affects him tends to vary.
      • Some Batman variations have him using a meditative technique to get the equivalent of around six hours of sleep in just over a half hour.
  • Johnny the Homicidal Maniac has a distaste for sleep. It doesn't seem to make him anything other than crazier, though, making him a type C.
  • Superman villain Riot couldn't sleep ever since he was mutated; the effects of sleep deprivation drove him insane.
  • In the Postboot Legion of Super-Heroes, Nura Nal starts out as a Fainting Seer, since she dreams of things to come and visions can take her at any time, resulting in narcolepsy. The Legion kind of laughs her off as an applicant, except for Star Boy, who winds up dating her. During a time skip, however, she meets up with an armada of a Proud Warrior Race whose home planet is permanently dark, who give her Training from Hell that turns her unreliable visions and narcolepsy into pinpoint tactical precognition and not sleeping ever again.
  • Irredeemable: Max Damage is one of these out of necessity: the effectiveness of his powers are directly proportional to how long he's been awake. Unfortunately, he isn't immune to the effects of sleep deprivation, and is depicted as a Type C.
  • The titular Mister X is a Mad Architect who takes a variety of homemade drugs to stay awake for months on end so he can attempt to fix the 'psychetecture' of a city he may or may not have designed. The city itself may also cause sleep disorders in its inhabitants.

Films -- Live Action[edit | hide]

  • Trevor Reznik from The Machinist, who goes for a year without sleep. The only time he goes to sleep in the movie is when he goes to the police station and reports the hit-and-run he was involved in a year ago, which kickstarted his guilt-ridden insomnia.
  • The narrator from Fight Club. When he thinks he's sleeping, he becomes Tyler Durden.
  • Gustav Graves from Die Another Day as a result of gene therapy used to change his look.
    • He seems pretty unaffected on the whole, though he claims to need to spend a few hours using a "dream machine" each day to stay sane.
  • Jordan from Real Genius, as part of her hyperactivity disorder, never needs to sleep. There doesn't seem to be any negative side effects... aside from her being a Genki Girl.
  • Samara Morgan from The Ring: "She never sleeps. The horses keep her up at night." At first, she and her adoptive parents believed that the whinnying and thrashing of the horses in the stable kept her awake, when in reality she was the one driving them mad with her uncontrollable Psychic Powers. Surveillance tapes from a mental facility proved she didn't sleep at all, and at the end the phrase "She never sleeps" is revealed to refer to how her spirit will never rest, forever (and deliberately) spreading the deadly curse through the Video Tape.
  • Detective Will Dormer in the film Insomnia, whose judgment and overall mental state decline severely over the course of the movie due to an extreme case of insomnia after he travels to Alaska during the time of year when the sun is up for months at a time.
    • Jonas Engström in the original Norwegian movie.
  • The kid in the second X-Men movie who can change channels by blinking.

Wolverine: Shouldn't you be asleep?
Mutant: I don't sleep.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • In Mariel of Redwall, Gabool the Wild starts having prophetic dreams that turn him into a completely insane insomniac.
    • As does the aquaphobic Queen Tsarmina Greeneyes, as the good guys set up a dam to flood her and her minions out of Castle Kotir and she constantly hears dripping water.
  • Sherlock Holmes is a Type B. When on a case, Watson has given up on trying to get Holmes to go to bed. His energy becomes more focused on trying to keep away the morphine and replace it with the food that Holmes forgot to eat this morning.
  • Ralph Roberts from Insomnia is a Type C, at least in the beginning. Later, it turns out that his insomnia allows him to see the aura of people as well as higher powers that influence the world.
  • Colt Regan is a solid type C, partially because... you know... Coffee
  • Anton Vowl from A Void is a type C with no clear reason as to why. He just has it and it slowly drives him slightly insane, which is justified.
  • In the later books of The Black Company, Tobo suffers from type three, as he deliberately refuses to sleep because his mother's ghost guilt trips him in his dreams. This gradually turns him Ax Crazy. With Great Power Comes Great Insanity also helped the process.
  • The In Death series mixes types B and C depending on the seriousness of the situation. Eve Dallas is type B but frequently drifts closer to type C, and other characters will note that she's getting slower, edgier, and even getting sick. Roarke, though he pulls a sleepless routine less often, is even better at it than Eve, and is closer to type B.
  • In Tanith Lee's Companions on the Road, the main character is in danger from ghosts that kill in dreams, and so does everything possible to stay awake, including using drugs. After a few days, he's in terrible shape, exhausted and thinking confusedly, though not delusional.
  • Alonso Quijano was a type B, as described in Part I Chapter I: lead by his obsession to read chivalry books, he sleeps less and less while reading more and more and that sends him over the edge. After that, in various part of the novel, Don Quixote is seeing continuously staying awake, thinking in his dame Dulcinea del Toboso (that does not exist) only because he has read that is what the true knights do!

" In short, he became so absorbed in his books that he spent his nights from sunset to sunrise, and his days from dawn to dark, poring over them; and what with little sleep and much reading his brains got so dry that he lost his wits"

There was no sleep for Kull that night, for it was nearly dawn and he spent the rest of the night hours pacing the throne-room, and pondering over what had passed.

  • The fourth book of the Dresden Files opens with Harry evidently suffering from the occasional bout of insomnia. It's self-induced, however, in his attempts to find a cure for his girlfriend's recent partial vampirification.
  • The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had To is a type D.
  • Nancy Kress's Beggars in Spain and its sequels revolve around the Sleepless, Designer Babies engineered to be Type D.
  • Evan Tanner in Lawrence Block's series beginning with The Thief Who Couldn't Sleep. He's a Type D, due to a brain injury he suffered in the Korean War. In a later novel a mad scientist cryogenically freezes him, forcing him to sleep for years.
  • The Wild Cards series is home to Croyd "The Sleeper" Cranson, a combination of Type D and Type C. His powers let him stay awake for weeks or months at a time, but then he hibernates, and wakes up in a new form with new powers. This process mimics the Superpower Russian Roulette that gave people their powers in the first place, leading to his quite justified fear of dying in his sleep. So, when he starts getting tired, he turns to drugs, leading to Type C behavior.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Patrick Jane on The Mentalist, of the third variety. It doesn't come up every episode and it's more an element of characterization than a disadvantage, but he can't sleep without the aid of pills.
  • Dr. House, towards the end of Season 5, after a coworker's death. He starts hallucinating and gradually losing his mind.
  • Billy Flynn from Criminal Minds usually smokes meth to keep himself awake for days or even weeks so that he can perform several rapes and murders during planned blackouts.
  • Dr. Franklin on Babylon 5, leading to his abuse of stimulants.
    • A Type B case. His department is understaffed, and he refuses to delegate as much as he should, which leads to drug abuse.
  • Max, protagonist of Dark Angel, claims not to sleep. She uses the night for more important matters. Such as stealing. She has lied to explain coming in to work late as "I overslept" on one occasion.
  • In Carnivale Ben develops insomnia as a side effect of suffering from Dreaming of Things to Come, to the point where he starts seeing things while he's still awake.
  • A Victim of the Week in Ghost Whisperer appears to be suffering from the Real Life disease fatal familial insomnia, and is being Driven to Suicide by the ghost of his father, who killed his wife while delusional and as a ghost watched his daughter succumb to the disease. However, it appears that the son never had it and the symptoms were the result of the father's extreme paranoia. "What's worse, insanity, then death, or just death?"
  • Haywire in Prison Break has a mental imbalance that means he "doesn't sleep. Ever." Not the kind of cell mate you want if you're routinely sneaking out at night.
  • Sam from Supernatural starts staying up all night in the first season when he's having nightmares about Jessica. In a much creepier example, he also stops sleeping entirely in season six, when he's lost his soul. And for several days in season seven, to the point where he nearly dies, after the hallucination of Lucifer left over from his time in hell becomes unbearable.
  • Little Pete from The Adventures of Pete and Pete manages to get his friends to stay up for several days as a protest against early bed times. Pete almost manages to make it to eleven days.
  • Fox Mulder of The X-Files is a well-known insomniac. We almost never see him sleeping, and when we do, he's usually in the throes of a nightmare.
    • In one episode, victims of a military experiment lose the ability to sleep, and subsequently gain the ability to induce hallucinations in others.
  • In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Paradise Syndrome", Spock goes without sleep for around two months. He states that Vulcans under enough stress can go without sleep and/or food for much longer than humans.


Music[edit | hide]

  • According to Adam Young, "Fireflies" is about this.
    • Actually, most of his music was written simply when he could not shut his mind off.
  • Emilie Autumn's 4 o'clock, a realistic and somewhat insane example.
  • "Sleepflower" by Manic Street Preachers is about insomnia

Endless hours in bed, no peace, in this mind
No one knows the hell where innocence dies


Poetry[edit | hide]


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • Elves from Dungeons & Dragons don't sleep, but trance instead.
  • Oathsworn from Arcana Evolved eventually no longer need to sleep.
  • Warhammer Fantasy Battle: Archaon, the Chosen One of Chaos does not sleep. Or eat. Or do anything but work towards the apocalypse.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Space Marines of the Adeptus Astartes are implanted with a node affecting the circadian rhythm of their sleep cycle. When deprived of real sleep, it provides a substitute by switching off areas of his brain sequentially. Normally marines require only four hours of full sleep, but are known for going up to two weeks straight without it.
  • Don't Rest Your Head: The PCs are all insomniacs, though considering their current situation, this is for the best.
  • Bliss Stage: The Authority Figure has been awake for the past seven years, because everyone else over eighteen is in a blissful coma.


Theater[edit | hide]

  • "Glamis hath murdered sleep, and there Cawdor/Shall sleep no more, Macbeth shall sleep no more!"


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • A variation of this trope occurs in God of War: Kratos has been plagued by nightmares for ten years, which started when he crossed the Moral Event Horizon by murdering his wife and child in a berserker rage. He serves the gods because he believes that when he has redeemed himself, they will rid him of the nightmares. They don't.

Athena: Your sins are forgiven. But we never promised to remove your nightmares. No man, no god, could ever forget the terrible things you have done.


Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • Gunnerkrigg Court: Zimmy never sleeps. She also has a severe case of Power Incontinence, the only thing that prevents her hallucinations from becoming real rests with her friend Gamma, who acts a Power Nullifier. Unfortunately, Gamma does need sleep. Zimmy fits the personality profile of an insomniac, even though not sleeping is natural for her.
    • While his brain was hijacked by one of Zimmy's hallucinations, Jack Hyland picked up her habit of never sleeping. Unfortunately he needs it and suffered the effects of deprivation.
  • Vaarsuvius, an elf from Order of the Stick, hasn't tranced in months in a recent story arc, which has severely changed V's appearance, patience, social skills and (arguably) alignment. Due to a mixture of determination and terrifying nightmares of guilt, V defended this saying trancing isn't biologically necessary for elves. The veracity of this claim is dubious.
  • Sniper Wolf from The Last Days of Foxhound can go on for long periods of time without sleep. She catches up on sleep by hibernating for a week or so every couple of years. Unfortunately, right before she hibernates, she would become disoriented and hallucinate various things.
  • Princess November from No Rest for The Wicked is unable to sleep with the moon gone from the sky. Red has likely gone without sleep since getting eaten by the wolf.
  • Fall from Parallel Dementia sometimes goes for several weeks without sleeping to try and avoid nightmares. This has led her to pass out and may be contributing to her hallucinations.
  • In Questionable Content, Hannelore the resident "OCDelightful" cleanfreak occasionally goes days at a time without sleep, due either to her Monk-level need to clean things or some new medication she is taking. She seems to be a mash-up between types A and C, as seen here.
  • The nameless zombie Narrator of Hanna Is Not a Boy's Name doesn't seem to sleep. He has been seen to spend the night reading in the one-room apartment of his Heterosexual Life Partner, the eponymous Hanna. So... sitting a couple feet away from Hanna's bed while Hanna sleeps. Awww.
  • Homestuck: After the trolls' game of Sgrub began, Karkat Vantas barely slept at all in the three weeks the game took, according to Vriska. After that, he slept a grand total of once, during which time his dreamself was killed and he experienced things that put him off sleeping for a very long time, after which came several distractions.
  • Jyrras from Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures has shown signs of sleep deprivation, which includes waving a knife in a dangerously random manner.
    • Cubi start to lose the need to sleep as they age, which can appear as insomnia to the uninformed.
  • CRFH's Roger can attend class, and successfully complete tests, in his sleep.
  • In Endstone's Backstory, the Artifact of Doom preyed on Jon until he could not sleep.


Web Original[edit | hide]

  • Shadows in Lonelygirl15 are so devoted to their duty that they take drugs that remove the need to sleep. Unsurprisingly, they tend to die before the age of 30.
  • J of Marble Hornets has mentioned suffering from insomnia in his Twitter. In this case, it's considered a sign that (much like Alex before him) he's losing his mind.
  • The Nostalgia Critic is fine with naps, but has taken Nyquil and Vicodin together in order to get proper sleep. It's a miracle he hasn't died yet.


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Avatar: The Last Airbender
    • In the "Nightmares and Daydreams" episode, Aang has a turn as a Goofy Insomniac—although he quickly degenerates to the more realistic variant. He begins to experience hallucinations, culminating in one where the Team Pets begin talking, then get into a fight that escalates into a samurai duel.
    • Prince Zuko is shown to be a Type B during the first season when he was in full, obsessive I-Must-Capture-The-Avatar mode. But later, during the third season before his Heel Face Turn, his guilt over his actions under Ba Sing Se coupled with the paranoia that comes from living with Azula moves him into Type C territory, slowly driving him insane.
    • In one episode the whole team is relentlessly pursued by a Fire Nation tank with Azula on board. Unable to get even a moment of rest, they go deeply into Type C.
  • On Code Lyoko, Jérémie has a tendency to be the Obsessive Insomniac. Of course, his enemy never sleeps at all, and his behavior is not unlike that of a normal computer programmer with a big project and an approaching deadline. Still, pulling it for about two years in a row cannot be healthy for a developing brain.
    • Or a developing body. Kid's 12 at the opening of the show...he's likely stunted his growth permanently. Thank goodness it doesn't seem to have damaged anything.
  • The Simpsons features a throwaway gag of Apu having worked a 96-hour-shift. At the end, "I apparently thought I was a hummingbird of some kind." He also tried to drink nectar out of Sanjay's head.
    • This was explained in the comic books: during Homer's Mr. Plow days, his incompetence had left the Kwik-E-Mart doors blocked by snow, and Apu was trapped in the store with Snake, who had just tried to rob him.
  • In the My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic episode "Applebuck Season", Applejack becomes a Goofy Insomniac when she takes on the task of harvesting all the apples on her farm by herself and has to do favors for her friends as well. She snaps out of it at the end when she finally relents to Twilight Sparkle's advice to ask for some help.
  • When it comes to Slade, Robin from Teen Titans becomes Type B on several occasions. Slade even once mockingly lampshades it.


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • Peter Tripp, a disc jockey who went for 8 days without sleep in 1959 as part of a wake-a-thon stunt. He suffered heavily from hallucinations during the experience and its been suggested that he was never quite the same after the experience, which might hint at permanent damage. A trippy experience. According to the Wikipedia article, for the last 66 hours of that marathon the observing scientists and doctors gave him drugs to help him stay awake! Yeesh, first do no harm? Were they away that day?
  • Possibly Michael Jackson; his need for stronger anesthetics just to sleep may have caused his death. Ironically, the powerful drug that he was attempting to use is a poor choice as it only works for minutes at a time.
  • As mentioned above, Fatal Familial Insomnia is a genetic disease which causes the breakdown of the mechanisms in the brain which allow sleep (meaning that falling asleep becomes entirely impossible), resulting in insanity followed shortly by death. It is a dominant and autosomal (meaning it affects men and women equally) trait, a person who possesses the trait has a 50% chance of passing it to their child, and it inevitably affects anyone who possesses the trait. There is currently no treatment or cure. Thankfully, it is incredibly rare, only affecting 50 known families worldwide. To make matters worse, it doesn't manifest until the patient is anywhere from 30 to 60 (average about 50), which gives the future patient time to have children before finding out that oops, they inherited that gene (and in women, childbirth can trigger it).
  • Part of what causes meth addicts to be so paranoid is the days or weeks without sleep, due to being on such strong stimulants.
  • And then there is those who suffer from Hypnophobia.
  • Happens to many participants of NaNoWriMo.
  • Full International Baccalaureate students don't usually sleep more than two hours on average until the weekend or long breaks. Eventually, some of them become accustomed to it.
  • In some cases, people with post-traumatic stress disorder suffer from insomnia as part and parcel of the disease, especially in people with this disease who have nightmares about their traumatic experience. Alternatively, a person with PTSD could be lying down trying to sleep and then, BAM! they relive their traumatic experience and it takes a while for them to recover from this so they can sleep.
  • There are countless examples of artists who have had or do have sleeping problems, Emilie Autumn, Michael Jackson and Owl City are a few examples.

Now stop reading All The Tropes and get some sleep already, would you?