The 10 Best Movies About Insomnia and Sleep Deprivation

Sleep (or the lack of it) is such an interesting subject for cinema, especially with how it can affect characters in many ways.

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We've all had sleepless nights that left us groggy and useless the next day, right? Sleep is a funny thing sometimes, and it can elude us for all kinds of reasons—both within our control or beyond.

Whether it's from late nights at the club, skyrocketing stress levels, or deep-rooted health issues, sleep deprivation and insomnia are never fun the following morning. Even worse when they're for life.

Here are our picks for the greatest movies about characters whose lives are irrevocably affected by insomnia and other sleep problems.

10. Sleepwalk With Me (2012)

Mike Birbiglia writes, directs, and stars in this indie comedy that might have flown under your radar.

In this feature-length exercise in breaking the fourth wall, Matt tells us the story of how he started sleepwalking.

It all began eight years ago when he moved in with his girlfriend (Lauren Ambrose). As that relationship intensifies and marriage begins to rear its head, Matt's sleepwalking worsens.

Matt wakes up in increasingly dangerous situations, like the time he jolts awake in shards of glass—from jumping out of a window.

Although it never gets to the severity seen in Side Effects, Matt does end up having to buy a sleeping bag to restrict his movements.

Related: Breaking the Fourth Wall, Explained (With Examples)

9. Buster's Mal Heart (2016)

When Rami Malek signed up to lead Buster's Mal Heart, he'd just started playing the drug-addicted hacker Elliot Anderson in Mr. Robot. This time, he's not causing a worldwide digital crash; he's terrified of one.

Remember the Y2K scare at the turn of the millenium? Basically, computer systems around the world were at risk of collapse because the year 2000 would've been indistinguishable from the year 1900. (Luckily, it was addressed in time and nothing actually happened.)

Buster's Mal Heart takes place before the Y2K scare. After Buster meets the "Last Free Man," he goes from family man to crazed conspiracy theorist on the run from police.

It doesn't help that he works hotel shifts, which amplifies his sleep deprivation and makes him more susceptible to paranoia. Sarah Adina Smith writes, directs, and edits this surreal indie mystery.

8. Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

As you might infer from the title, the stars of this feelgood romcom live sleeplessly in Seattle, Washington. Sam and Annie's fates accidently collide when insomnia keeps them awake at the same time.

Despite being strangers in different states, the two happen to meet via radio talk show. When your circadian rhythms align, that's destiny!

In reality, Sam's (Tom Hanks) sleep deprivation renders him hazy, scatterbrained, and piling on the pounds rather than dashing to the airport to win over Meg Ryan.

Still, Nora Ephron's comedy-drama, inspired by 1957's An Affair to Remember, has us yearning for late-night love.

Related: The Best 90s Romcom Movies, Ranked

7. Last Night in Soho (2021)

Ellie (Thomasin McKenzie) doesn't suffer from a sleep problem so much as a dream problem—one that, at first, she's completely fine with.

When studying fashion in London doesn't work out, Ellie moves into a single-room occupancy unit while pursuing her 1960s designer dreams. And we don't just mean dreams as in life goals—she literally has dreams about living in the 1960s.

And these dreams are lucid. They actually bleed into her reality, such that Ellie transforms from awkward student to gorgeous blonde singer (Anya Taylor-Joy) while she's asleep.

Of course, these visions turn quickly into nightmares and start pressing against the walls of Ellie's real life.

Edgar Wright delivers this psychological thriller in his usual punchy, dynamic style, also starring Matt Smith.

Related: The Best Movies About Fashion, Clothes, and Designers

6. Vanilla Sky (2001)

Vanilla Sky features a lucid dreamworld, this time in early-2000s Manhattan. Tom Cruise plays rich playboy David, whose face is disfigured in a car accident (or, really, a completely on-purpose crash).

Recalling the events through a creepy prosthetic mask, David 's memories start to move and distort like his face.

A US remake of the 1997 Spanish film Open Your Eyes, Vanilla Sky is one of those films where the viewing experience is totally different your second time around (assuming you catch all the little details).

Related: The Best Dream Movies With Dream Logic and Dreamscapes

5. Inception (2010)

Filmed in classic Christopher Nolan style, Inception features lots of complex storybuilding, shifting timelines, and crescendo music. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Dom Cobb, an "extractor" who enters people's dreams to find secrets and plant ideas.

Nolan began work on Inception shortly after completely Insomnia (which is also on this list down below), inspired by its sleepless plot to write a treatment about "dream stealers."

Deeming the original idea far too ambitious, Nolan shelved the concept until he was able to gain more experience—which he surely did with the creation of his The Dark Knight trilogy.

Related: The Most Misunderstood Movie Endings (And What They Really Mean)

4. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

People literally need sleep to survive, but for the kids on Elm Street, sleep guarantees their death—and a gruesome one at that.

Teenager Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) relies on coffee to keep her awake, but it doesn't quite do enough. Whenever she inevitably dozes off, Freddy Krueger is there waiting with his metal claws.

Krueger has become a standard Halloween costume nowadays, what with his melted face and brown fedora. He's not your usual child-killer, but a spirit who attacks his victims in their sleep.

When brought into the real world, his supernatural shapeshifting powers are rendered useless—but he can still kill you!

Related: The Best Final Girls in Horror Movies

3. Insomnia (2002)

Insomnia might not be Christopher Nolan's most hailed movie, but he did set a high bar for himself. (Notably, Insomnia is Nolan's only movie for which he didn't write the screenplay himself.)

Led by a solid cast—Al Pacino, Hilary Swank, Robin Williams—this psychological thriller follows a police investigation in Nightmute, Alaska where people spend entire months in perpetual daylight.

Detective Dormer (Al Pacino) doesn't quite live up to his usual investigating standards thanks to his chronic insomnia. His inability to sleep is brought on by a mixture of guilt and sunlight, and the killer uses it to his advantage to tease him.

2. Fight Club (1999)

The main plot twist of Fight Club (which might be a spoiler, but it's been over two decades and nearly everyone on the planet knows it by now) is the fact that Edward Norton and Brad Pitt play the same character.

While they're presented as two separate, polar opposite best friends for most of the movie, one is imaginary. Experts say that Tyler Durden's Dissociative Identity Disorder is likely exasperated by his insomnia.

"With insomnia, nothing's real. Everything is far away."

Tyler Durden

As if a soul-crushing office job doesn't make you enough of a zombie, Tyler's insomnia has him stumbling red-eyed through work, barely even a person at all. And that leads to some serious consequences.

Related: The Best Movies With Imaginary Friends and Characters

1. The Machinist (2004)

In The Machinist, Trevor is a skeletal man who's so consumed by guilt and paranoia that he becomes anorexic. He also has insomnia.

His inability to sleep or eat stems from the fact that he (accidently) ran over a young boy in the past, and he's been suppressing the reality of this hit-and-run ever since. Now he works as a machinist—a dangerous trade for a man who can't focus.

Christian Bale is known for undergoing extreme physical transformations for his roles, but his weight loss for The Machinist no doubt takes the cake. In fact, it's still the biggest example of weight loss for a role in cinematic history.

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