Sleep! 4 Movies About Sleep

4 Movies About Sleep

By Frankie Wallace. It’s no secret that some movies just make you fall asleep. But did you know, there’s actually a whole bunch of movies about there about sleep itself? From dealing with sleep disorders to trying to get out of a dream, sleep-related issues and events make for the plots of many different films, even if we don’t realise it at first glance.

Perhaps one of the reasons films based on sleep-related themes are so common is because they are so relatable. Almost everyone has faced some sort of sleeping issue during their lifetime — be it insomnia, sleep apnea, snoring, or even recurrent dreams and nightmares. Today, other disorders like Restless Leg Syndrome and Periodic Limb Movement Disorder are also considered sleep disorders, as they most often occur when patients are trying to fall asleep, or while they are already asleep. In the US alone, 50-70 million adults have a diagnosed sleep disorder.

As much as we take it for granted, getting a medically-approved “good night’s rest” is often a lot harder than it sounds. Sleep can be affected by everything from your diet and what you consume to your bedroom atmosphere and your pre-bedtime habits. Subsequently, changing these aspects can lead to improved sleep. For instance, it has been proven that blue LED lights negatively affect sleep, and so, powering down well before your bedtime is a recommended way to better your sleep quality.

Thus, with an increasing number of people dealing with sleep disorders on an almost daily basis, it makes sense that movies based around similar themes would resonate with most. Here are some of the most famous examples of movies centered around sleep. Some of these descriptions may contain spoilers, so if you haven’t watched any of these yet, skip ahead!

Fight Club

Based on the 1996 book of the same name, this film features a protagonist, Edward Norton, who suffers from severe insomnia. Norton’s sleep disorder has various effects on his life, often confusing and bizarre. For one, Norton creates a second personality that only he can see. At the end of the film, we learn that Norton also suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder, which explains these happenings.

According to this article on Sleep Education that lists various sleep-related movies, “… individuals who suffer from dissociative identity disorder tend to have more sleep problems and lower quality of sleep. This can partly explain his behaviour in the beginning of the film and why he experiences insomnia.”


Directed by Christopher Nolan, Insomnia is about two homicide detectives who are investigating a murder in a small Alaskan town. At first, this may seem like any other murder-mystery plot, but this town is special as it is one where the sun never sets. Due to this, a day can be as long as a full 24 hours.

The constant sunlight, as well as other events, lead to one of the detectives (played by Al Pacino) suffering from severe insomnia. Ultimately, insomnia makes Pacino’s character delusional and affects the outcome of the investigation and overall story in various ways.

A Nightmare on Elm Street

The first of many, but yet the top-ranked Wes Craven film, A Nightmare on Elm Street deals with how a woman is constantly tormented through her nightmares. Her dreams are haunted by her dead neighbour who was burnt alive as punishment for his crimes. The neighbour then returns to get revenge, by invading people’s dreams and killing them in their sleep; thereby killing them in real life, too.

This movie manages to make something as regular as sleep into something scary and dreaded. As per the Sleep Education article, even though the events in the movie are fictitious, the film is inspired by sleep-related deaths of Southeast Asian refugees. Apparently, the refugees would have terrifying nightmares, and many refused to sleep. Some of the refugees would die in their sleep during these nightmares, and these occurrences formed Kraven’s basis for the screenplay.

The Machinist

No list of movies about sleep would be complete without the inclusion of The Machinist. Starring Christian Bale, this movie is perhaps one of the most telling when it comes to the effects of common disorders like insomnia. In the film, Bale plays a man who hasn’t slept well in a year, resulting in the loss of his ability to determine what is real. Not only does he doubt his own sanity, but Bale also questions the intentions of his coworkers — convincing himself that they resent him and are trying to drive him mad.

Science has shown us that sleep is essential when dealing with mental and physical recovery, and without it, the consequences can be dire. While The Machinist exhibits extreme and generally rare repercussions from insomnia, studies have proven that insomnia truly can cause anxiety, depression and “anomalies of experience”.

Sleepless in Seattle

The only romance-genre film on this list, Sleepless in Seattle is an oldie but goldie. The film stars Tom Hanks as a grief-stricken widower, who relocates to Seattle to distance himself from the place of his wife’s death. Due to his overwhelming grief, Hank’s character Sam Baldwin is unable to sleep.

While sleep (or lack of it) doesn’t have a huge effect on the plotline of this movie, the movie does shed light on the very real link between loss, grief, and disruption of sleep. Ultimately, Sam Baldwin falls in love with Annie Reed (Meg Ryan), and the movie ends happily ever after, leaving the viewer emotionally moved yet content.


If you’ve watched Inception, you can’t deny its major connection. Also considered a heist film, Inception stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a thief of different sorts — one who steals information via dreams. A Movieraiders article on Top 5 Sleep Movies of All Time states, “Inception is the process of entering into someone’s dream state and placing an original idea there. It is the opposite of extraction, which is the process of stealing an idea from someone while they are in the dream state.” Thus, the film Inception deals with things that can happen in the dream state and explores the, albeit fantasy, possibilities of moving through any given person’s dreamscape.

Inception was based on the concept of lucid dreaming, or the ability to be aware of the fact that you are dreaming and control what happens in your own dream narrative. Other movies that reference lucid dreaming include Being John Malkovich and Total Recall.

So there you have it  — the top movies. Remember, don’t watch them right before going to bed, lest you want your own sleep cycle to be negatively affected!

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