Are Your Characters Sleep Deprived?

The characters in your screenwriting become a whole lot more interesting when they’re placed in physical and emotional stress. One easy way to do this is to think about how they might act if they haven’t had enough sleep. This could range from a sleepless night when the dog was barking all night to a chronically bad sleeper.

Consider how your characters behave when they’re in an alternative state of consciousness. We all know that a lack of sleep makes people do crazy things like yawn a lot, drink more coffee than usual, or fall asleep at the wheel. And even losing your… mojo.

Prolonged lack of sleep can have a more detrimental impact on brain function. Let’s take a look at how screenwriters can used sleep deprivation to make their screenplays stand out:

Here are some effects:


Lack of sleep impairs both long and short term memory. A sleep starved brain can also falsely encode thoughts and experiences into false memories. Imagine your character you is unsure if something is true or not? Or better yet, believing something is true when it isn’t. Imagine the courtroom scenes in your screenplay where the sleep deprived witness must account the events on the night of the murder? Or a waiter who can’t remember an order? You can really have fun with this.


Lack of sleep inhibits your ability to analyze data and draw conclusions. You can’t even make simple decisions such as choosing something from the menu. This can be used to tremendous comedic effect such as a couple deciding where to go on vacation.


Most film and TV characters cruise through life with the occasional ups and downs. Not so when your characters (and their screenwriters for that matter) haven’t had enough sleep. Emotional volatility caused by a reduced ability to process and regulate emotions because the amygdala and medial prefrontal cortex aren’t functioning properly. These are the parts of the brain involved with emotions.

Throw in some uncontrolled rage, unprovoked anger or crying fit and you’ve just ramped up your screenwriting. If only your character hadn’t stayed up all night on a school day. The risk of depression also increases when you have prolonged sleep deprivation.


When the brakes of the risk-taking part of your brain aren’t rested, you have a problem. Lack of sleep makes your characters make poor choices. How can you illustrate such behavior in your film or TV script? Imagine a casino scene. Your main character has had too much to drink and hasn’t had a good night’s sleep in days. They put all their chips on red or draw an additional card in Blackjack when they’ve scored twenty. Or they participate in an impromptu drag race on a wet street. This can really add thrills and spills to your screenplay.

Lack of sleep also makes you more impulsive. You either do things without assessing the risks or feel emboldened to try new things that you probably shouldn’t.


This is a fun one to use in your bumbling comedy scripts. The sleep deprived waiter who spills hot soup on a diner, constantly breaks plates and causes a calamity in the kitchen. Your motor skills are compromised, so tripping over your own feet and spraining an ankle suddenly become a real possibility.


Come on. Admit it. You slept for four hours last night and are expected to function properly at work the next day. Good luck with that. So what is brain fog? Inability to focus on a task, you can’t concentrate enough to realize you’ve read the same page three times and still don’t know what it’s about, you forget where your desk is (you’ve been working at the same place for five years), or process half of what someone is saying to you. You get it.


This is for all the pilots, flight attendants and shift workers in our midst. They may get by on a few hours of sleep each night, but their Circadian rhythms are completely out of sync. But when you’re really sleep-deprived (hello Apu from The Simpsons who works double shifts all week and can see imaginary hummingbirds), yeah well.. get some shut eye.

Get excellent script coverage and development notes at Script Firm.scriptfirm final logo colourCheck out Writer Duet, one of the best online screenwriting tools around.


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