Our Embarrassing Sleep-Deprived Mess-Ups and Mishaps: A Roundtable

Chronic sleeplessness is pretty, well… CHRONIC around these parts. Who can fall asleep when there’s so much to overanalyze while lying awake in bed! Recently, Rachel sought your sleep advice in a Friday Open Thread and we placed our dreams about dreaminess in a sleep app. We’re desperate for a little shut-eye, ’cause lord knows the messes we get ourselves into when we haven’t gotten enough.

Which brings us to this roundtable and these stories about what happened to us when we were just intensely, overwhelmingly, unbelievably exhausted. This post is sponsored by Tylenol® PM in recognition that silly things sometimes happen when you don’t get enough sleep.

Unholy Recap — by Heather, Senior Editor

In the last year, I have written 700,000 words about television. That’s almost a million words. About television. I watch a lot of television to recap a lot of television, and also because there will be over 130 queer female characters on TV on 2015, and it’s my job to stay up-to-date. Recently, I spent eight hours of one day recapping a really great episode of Glee, probably the best the series has ever done. It made me laugh. It made me swoon. I cried twice. When I got ready to screencap it, I couldn’t find the episode online. I couldn’t find the episode on my DVR. I couldn’t find any mention of the episode on Wikipedia, and even Google was useless. Had I dreamed an episode of Glee called “Unholy Trinity”? Yes, actually. That is exactly what I had done. I went to bed at 4am after finishing a Pretty Little Liars recap, and woke up at 7am to start writing a Glee recap, and sometime during that three-hour span, I dreamed an entire episode of a television show (complete with musical numbers) and wrote a 4,000 word recap about it after I woke up. I was so delirious from lack of sleep, I couldn’t distinguish my imagination from reality. I recapped my dream like it was real life. Of course, Rachel and Quinn smooched on the lips in my imagination’s episode, so maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Inappropriate Refrigeration — by Ali, Geekery Editor

At any given time, I am made up of 90-95% caffeine. The only reason I am an animate human instead of, say, a stapler or a mop in a bucket or a zombie that eats internet comments is because I am dependent on coffee and show tunes for my altogether subsidized energy level. It is therefore no surprise that, as the edges of my consciousness begin to go fuzzy while the ghost of java leaves my very soul, I start to do really dumb things. The dumb things I am willing to tell you about falls under a heading I like to call “inappropriate refrigeration.” It is not as sense-making as, “Oh Alison, silly me, you’ve gone and put the potato chips in the fridge when they should have gone in the cabinet.” No. It’s much worse than that. In the middle of a freak-out in which I searched frantically for my iPhone, I finally gave in and checked the “Find My iPhone” website like the Good Lord of Location Services intended. “It says it’s here! What the? Where is it?” And with a click my otherwise-noiseless and not-wifi-enabled refrigerator started pinging with abandon. I wish I could pretend this has only happened once.

No One Likes Chemistry Anyway — by Mey, Trans Editor

In college I was a terrible sleeper. Feeling young and immortal, I thought that I didn’t need to sleep and that I could go to school full-time, have a job, volunteer a couple nights a week and hang out with my friends as much as I wanted. Obviously, this led to some problems when I had to sign up for morning classes. One of the worst was my 8 a.m. chemistry class. As an English Major with zero interest in chemistry and a night owl with zero interest in being awake that early, I knew I was in trouble. So I made a plan. Every morning I would buy a sixteen-ounce double shot mocha on my way to class. Not eight-ounce, not twelve-ounce, but sixteen ounces of double shot caffeination. I would drink it right before and at the beginning of class and hope that it would help me make it through the day. I wasn’t that lucky. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning, just like clockwork, I would finish the last sip of my coffee, put my head down on the table and sleep through the next 48 minutes of the 50 minute class. Honestly, the only reason I was able to pass was with some very generous extra credit and the fact that my brother sat next to me and let me copy the notes they took while I was napping every morning.

via Shutterstock

Image via Shutterstock

Growing Up is Hard You Guys — by Hannah, Contributing Editor

This one time, like many other times, I overslept. This wasn’t the end of the world, because for the most part I work from home or the occasional evening shift at a restaurant. I do this because I’m the definition of “not a morning person.” I do a lot of my writing in 10 pm to 2 am window, and if I’m not writing then I’m furiously trying to catch up on House of Cards. I just can’t ever find an excuse to put myself to sleep. I’ve always wanted to know what life is like for the other half; the people who go to bed at 10pm and wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed around six, hit the gym and then, I don’t know, eat lunch at actual lunchtime? I don’t think I’ll ever experience that. But this one time, I really, really overslept. The kind of overslept that makes you feel so worthless you might as well just go back to bed and try again the next day. Instead, I jumped out of bed, nearly spraining my neck, splashed some water to my face and zombie-walked my way towards my espresso maker. Determined to make the most of the remaining daylight hours I threw my double shot with almond milk into a to-go cup, added four heaping spoonfuls of sugar and booked it outside. Once I was standing in the sun, I drew a deep breath of fresh air, shook the sleep out of my eyes and took a big fat slug of double espresso with almond milk and four heaping spoonfuls of… salt. I could have gone back and made another cup. I could have thrown it away and gone to Starbucks. I could have done a lot of things, okay? But I was exhausted, I needed caffeine STAT, and my ego was already so bruised that I just forced a grin onto my face and kept drinking. It was inarguably the most disgusting thing I’ve ever tasted, but it was also a literal wake-up call. I learned that being a grown-up means getting enough sleep that you don’t have to force yourself to drink salty coffee.

Dancing to Vanessa Carlton Sounds Innocent Enough? — by Carmen, Straddleverse/Feminism Editor

My friends and I pulled a lot of all-nighters together in college to work and also just because, which led to a lot of nights of us being wired and watching Camp in the LGBT Resource Center ’til we passed out. It also led to some of our weirdest and most delusional behavior of which that is surprisingly not included. When we weren’t trying to make each other cry by talking about our feelings or writing each other’s coming out letters, putting salt in our coffee just to see how it would taste, or jointly hallucinating a man pulling a rickshaw through the library, we were usually singing and dancing. My roommate and I sang songs to each other while we fell asleep. Once, my friend just put on music and started doing cartwheels. And once, we decided to play “White Houses” out loud in the study lounge of my residence hall.

It started innocently enough: we were playing old songs we used to love and laughing at ourselves. But, as so often happens, first it was funny, and then it was real. Or rather, first it was funny and then we were all dancing emotionally to this song and then my friend, mid-twirl, accidentally fell and pushed open the emergency exit door. We then had to make the ensuing blaring alarm stop, and so for a few minutes I imagined myself explaining the entire mess to people who were awoken by said alarm. It was awkward. “Sorry, people in this notoriously quiet residence hall I was, by chance, placed in, we were just dancing to that Vanessa Carlton song.

All in all, it was better than the rickshaw thing, though. That was just plain weird.


Enemy of the State — by Rachel, Managing Editor

I’ve always had a deep respect for civic duty and for my right to vote, which is why it seemed totally reasonable to show up at the polling place at 8 am. I had just moved to Milwaukee, WI, and the local elections on the ballot were high-stakes. I didn’t want to wait in long lines and lived just a block away from the polling station, so going first thing in the morning was a no-brainer. Until I tried to actually wake up, of course, and also until I realized I was out of coffee. I hadn’t slept well, which is a pretty normal occurrence for me. So normal that I decided I should just walk down the block to vote and get caffeinated later, and it would all be fine.

It actually was fine, until I started the voting process itself. I only made it halfway down the ballot before accidentally filling out two bubbles for the same question. Instantly I was back in the fourth grade, baffled by a test question and having to raise my hand to have the teacher come help me out. A saintlike volunteer came to assist me, and in the process handed me off to two or three other volunteers, each of whom I explained my situation to and each of whom so barely disguised their expressions of exasperation that the entire elementary school gymnasium full of voters knew I was a moron. I can’t blame them. Forty-five minutes or so later, I finally walked out, having cost the state multiple ballot forms and several volunteers a streak of gray hair. None of the candidates I voted for won. Would a full night’s sleep have helped? WE’LL NEVER KNOW.

When You’re So Tired Even Your Dreams are Apologizing for You — by Stef, Music Editor

I keep odd hours, so my sleep schedule is always erratic, but it’s been especially rough the past week or so for no discernible reason. A couple of nights ago, I fell asleep at 10 PM (so pretty early, by my standards), only to come to at 1:30 AM, completely awake. I lay there silently, thinking about falling leaves or counting sheep or whatever I could to try to will myself back to sleep, but I was wide awake and nothing I could do seemed to change that. Around 4:30 I gave up altogether and read for a couple of hours, worrying all the while about how terrible I was going to feel sometime around late afternoon. I finally passed out around 6:30, and fell into a deeply uncomfortable dream I don’t entirely remember. What I do remember is that I had screwed something up somehow, and apologized profusely, telling whoever it was, “I’m really sorry! I haven’t been getting a lot of sleep lately.” I apologized to someone IN A DREAM because of my sleep issues. I’m almost impressed.

Passports Schmassports — by Crystal, HR Director

I’ve done a lot of ridiculously silly things while tired — locked myself out of places, forgotten important things, texted my boss that I love him, etc. The silliest one happened many years ago, while working on a pop tour. I’d worked throughout the entire night and had to go to the airport the next morning with the musicians to get a flight to the next city. I hadn’t had any sleep and was so exhausted that, somewhere between checking in and boarding the plane, I’d managed to lose the passports of not just the pop artist but also her whole band. It was a big problem. Panic ensued. Managers and promoters were flipping out because the tour was going to Asia that week and so passports were kind of essential. I was so sleep deprived that I couldn’t recall having them in my possession at all, so the blame fell onto one of the musicians. Naturally I felt like the world’s biggest idiot the next day, when I finally opened my suitcase and saw all the passports sitting at the top. I guess in my zombie-like sleep deprived state, I must have slipped them into my checked luggage while at the check-in counter. OOPS! Thankfully the passports hadn’t been cancelled yet and the artist who copped the blame had a good sense of humor about it. And I didn’t get fired.

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Cofounder and Design Director of Autostraddle. Professional web/graphic designer. Whiskey enthusiast. Drumming hobbyist. A past speaker at the 2010 BlogHer Conference ("Good Blog Design: The Role of Layout in an Online Medium"), 2013 Salon LGBTQ Conference ("Innovative Best Practices for Brand-Blogger Campaigns") and featured in the Los Angeles Edition of Refinery29's 30 Under 30 in 2013. Co-owns and manages Tully's Training, a dog training company in Los Angeles. Twitter: @a_ex Instagram: alexxxvegaaa

Alex has written 100 articles for us.


  1. These are hilarious.

    Once, I took a Tylenol PM thinking it was regular Tylenol. I slept through history class but it did make my cramps stop, so thanks, Tylenol!

    My most recent sleep-deprived nonsense was this Wednesday. I work with kids ages 5-6 for 3 hours in the morning and my co-workers had taken all of the markers before I got there. Instead of asking them to share I just said, “No problem, we’ll just use glue and glitter instead!”

    • Ha! One time a co-worker gave me Tylenol PM instead of regular Tylenol, about 10 a.m. on a workday. She didn’t tell me until about 4 pm. Coffee helped.

  2. OMG I would love to read that recap, that sounds amazing.

    I’m super curmudgeonly about my sleep and usually pass out pretty early, so I’ve never been sleep deprived on the regular, it’s just for certain events.

    Once I was flying back to Florida from Nepal and had two stupidly long layovers in airports(12 hours and 26 hours) so understandably I was pretty freaking exhausted with jetlag by the last flight. I’m normally an extremely nervous flyer who self-medicates with copious amounts of alcohol, so you’d think when the captain came on and said we’d need to circle the airport for awhile because there was an issue with the landing gear I would have freaked out. NOPE. I just became filled with an inordinate amount of rage that I wouldn’t be able to get out of the goddamn seat. Honestly it was nicer than the anxiety attack I would have normally had.

  3. Such a good round table!!!!!!!!!!

    One time I was so tired I decided to nap at 2pm, woke up at 4pm thinking I was late to work because my mind said ITS THE NEXT DAY!!!!, stood up and started cussing, headed to my closet to get dressed only to hear my mom making dinner. IDK what else I’ve done being so tired. Forgotten the day, my name, put on mismatched socks, put potatoes in the fridge, lost the eggs, lost money, washed clothes 2x in the washing machine and put them in the dryer for 3 cycles.

    You guys being in an LDR has FOREVER messed up my body clock. Being up at midnight to talk, waking up early to say good night. Being a nurse doesn’t really help either nor does my being a gym rat. My body knows to wake up at just about 5am everyday…and I mean EVERY DAY..and knows to sleep past 11pm and often midnight. I mean seeing that I get an extra 10minutes of sleep is like life changing.

    • I so did the nap in the afternoon and woke up thinking it was the next day. Worst feeling ever!! I really wanted to cry thinking I was late for work! But I was amazed at how fast my body jumped into action.

  4. wow AS with the timing! i don’t want to win no comp that I’m not even eligible for, but I have had the most sleep deprived week of my life. I’ve really had to bust everything to keep being awesome at work, but I am almost broken on the inside now. tomorrow I sleep foreverrrrrrrrr

  5. These were all fantastic.

    What is it with all chemistry classes being in the morning? The chemistry department at my university was notorious for having mainly morning classes. Wearing my jeans inside-out to biochem and dreaming about o-chem reaction mechanisms are among the silly sleep-deprived things I did as a chem major in undergrad. And the raw instant coffee grounds. shameful…

    • I can’t speak for your university, but as someone whose entire job consists of scheduling university classes, some possibilities come to mind:

      1) A lot of STEM classes are deliberately designed to weed out students, and part of how they do that is to schedule 8 a.m. classes so the less dedicated students don’t enroll in the first place. (Of course this can also weed out less privileged students, commuter students, student parents who have to drop their kids at daycare, etc., but in any case it’s a thing they do.)

      2) In a similar vein, demand tends to be very high for pre-med requirements and similar prerequisites that often include chem — higher demand than university resources (instructors, classrooms, etc.) can fully accommodate. Long waitlists are a pain in the ass for everyone — obviously they suck for the waitlisted students, they cause overcrowded classrooms in violation of fire/safety codes, and the department staff and instructors get flooded with waitlist-related questions and demands from upset students (and sometimes parents!). The more you can reduce demand with 8 a.m. time slots, the less waitlist misery there will be for everyone.

      3) At least at my school, some chem classes are so huge that there’s really only a couple rooms on the entire campus they could possibly fit in. The more popular a time slot you request, the more competition you’ll have from other departments wanting the same time slot, and the less likely you are to get the room. So they request a time slot so unpopular that they’re practically guaranteed to receive the room the want.

      4) Choosing an unpopular time slot reduces logistical difficulties like making sure the class time doesn’t conflict with the TAs’ own classes, the faculty’s committee meetings, etc.

      Yeah anyway I hope your question wasn’t just rhetorical and you don’t feel condescended to because you already know this stuff — if so, sorry! I just dorkily enjoy talking about classroom scheduling.

      • That was quite informative. I was only halfway joking – I wasn’t aware if it was actually a trend among universities, but it seems to be in my observation. Now that I’ve graduated, I work at a job that requires me to rise at 4:30 am… and I chuckle at my former undergrad self falling asleep in my 8:00 classes. Still, it seems like the crack of dawn when you stay up til 4:00 am cramming…

  6. I don’t remember doing anything particularly ridiculous when sleep-deprived – beyond saying weird stuff and getting kinda hysterical – but I did use to put carmex around my eyes and on my eyelids during school lessons to try and keep myself awake, and then proceed to frantically rub my eyes and tear-up.

    There was also the all-nighter in my undergrad first year where I wrote “diet notes” to myself at about 4:30am with stuff like ‘diabetes type II’ and ‘a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips’ on them (awful, I know) and stuck them up (all 20-odd of them) around my bedroom and our shared living room/fridge door. I then forgot about them until someone else noticed the slightly deranged orange sticky notes all around my room mid-conversation with me several days later. I think the first one they read just said ‘wobble wobble’ and the next just ‘CHINS!!!’

    So I guess the moral is that all-nights make me body/fat-shame myself.

  7. I’ve put a second pair of contacts on top of old ones on several occasions. Also put on my half-blind sister’s contacts once. Went through the whole day thinking my brain hurt. On doubles I got paranoid about whether my contacts were maybe reproducing, or that there was ALWAYS a second pair under there. Then touching my naked eyeballs in frenzy until eye infection. I should use glasses more.

  8. Y’all need an early bird in your life. Folks love when I come over, because there’s always fresh coffee and possibly breakfast by the time they wake up. ;]

  9. Stef. Hmm. Well, in my dream you were one of many slumber party guests in my childhood bedroom. You decided to make banana splits with So Delicious vegan ice cream. (In the dream) next morning I found my dresser drawer full of melted ice cream, banana peels, and crushed nuts. I, in turn, offered you a turnip. Apology accepted.

  10. You know, if someone had told me Hannah’s story when I was like 12, I’d have actually totally understood the whole adulthood thing way earlier. Or at least been less surprised by my own mistakes later on.

  11. I’ve put my phone in the fridge more than once and slept through more classes than I can count. But the worst by far was one morning 5 years ago, when, as a sleep deprived grad student, I put bread in my toaster (which was broken and didn’t pop up on its own), put the toaster back into the cupboard, closed the door, and proceeded to instantly fall asleep on the couch. Woke up to fire alarms and a charred circle on the inside of the cupboard. Had to throw the toaster out on my balcony in the snow. My apartment was filled with smoke. I had to disable my apartments smoke alarm and and I was hours late to work because I was afraid that if I opened my door it would set of the alarm for the whole building.

  12. I’m loving all y’alls stories! I wish I had a funny story to share. I don’t know, once I put orange juice in my cereal instead of milk? Does that count? But unlike Hannah, I couldn’t bring myself to eat it anyway.

    And I agree that Heather should definitely write that recap!

  13. Oh man, lately I’ve had to be taking antihistamines for springtime allergies and nondrowsy is a lie, that stuff all knocks me out, so I’ve been in a perpetual tired-fog. Just today in my university’s library I stood looking at a bookshelf in bafflement trying to figure out what exactly a book on “owl engineering” would entail until I was eventually able to read it right and saw that it was, in fact, titled “civil engineering.”

    • I am still keen to find out the story on Owl Engineering. It sounds like a reasonable bedtime story involving an Owl Family who help out local river Beavers to make a dam. And they would wear fluoro vests and hard hats, and carry ipads of their dam-lodge plans in their tidy owl pockets. And in the evenings they listen to the crickets singing from their front perch while enjoying a whisky laced hot chocolate. Perhaps.

  14. Once I couldn’t sleep for three days, and I decided the third day was the perfect time for my first ever trip to IKEA. It was horrifying.

    • see that’s a good case of judgement gone bad with sleep deprivation. That is an awake nightmare. I feel for you.

  15. I don’t think I have any good ones. I’ve done the usual like say sentences that don’t make sense to people. The worst that I’ve ever done is fall asleep and dream about sleeping. Like I was watching myself sleep in the dream. It was weird. But I was well-rested the next morning!

  16. I work in a lab, and have been sleep-deprived often enough that I figured out my own safety guidelines of doing science while tired, especially when working alone at night. The rules are if I break more than two pieces of glassware in an hour, or accidentally set something on fire, then I’m too tired to be safe in lab. The rules are helpful; I got to ‘go home early’ because of incorrect flames/broken glass on many occasions.

    I am very sensitive to coffee/caffeine, which is a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because I can bomb my system with coffee alertness for emergency deadlines, but it’s a curse because it turns me into a zombie if I drink a cup of coffee more than a few days in a row. I can only have 1 cup of black tea in the AM and 1 of green in the PM at most, otherwise I can’t sleep at night. Fixing my sleep schedule and getting off of coffee after a big deadline takes about two weeks of miserable insomnia and being useless at work. I love coffee so I’m one of those people that ‘enjoys’ eyerolls from the whole world whenever I ask for decaf coffee.

    I have been so tired that I literally could not walk in a straight line. That was weird.

    Sleep well everybody!

  17. OMG. This is just so wonderfully everything. YES.

    And I sincerely hope Heather’s dream-Glee re-cap is still in existence. I too, would like to read! (post it post it post it)

  18. My dad once took a nap in the late afternoon/early evening and woke up in the dark so disoriented he thought it was the next morning. He got up, ate some cereal, and was about to leave for work (about an hour’s drive) when my mom got home for dinner. “Did you stay out overnight?” he asked her, puzzled.

  19. I guard my sleep very carefully. I make a point to always go to bed around the same time, because I hate feeling tired the next day. Thanks to this rule, I’ve never done anything horrifically embarrassing, but I did once send a typo-ridden email to a vendor and CC’d my boss. It wasn’t “sleep deprivation” so much as “stubborn refusal to take a sick day,” but humiliating nonetheless.

  20. About 3 months into my OB residency I was on call for a weekend which was 24 hrs on Friday then 12 hrs on Sunday. We did like 2-3 of these a month so it wasn’t new. But I came home Saturday morning and went to bed and when I woke up it was dark. I freaked out b/c I thought I had overslept for work and when the coffee maker said 10:00 I couldn’t tell if it was AM or PM. I called my mom. It was PM. Back to bed.

  21. Zombie on coffee and instant noodle.. I woke up after 2 pm on Saturday with my glasses still on, bag on my back, fully clothed and a bus ticket in my hand. The last thing I remembered was a lecture on Friday afternoon.

  22. I was literally hallucinating from lack of sleep last Thursday. I don’t remember exactly everything that happened, but I was pretty loopy and enthusiastic, pretty much how I get when I’m drunk. I think this week’s gonna put me in a similar state. And next week. And the week after. Yay I took on too much work this semester and I’m staring into a black hole of doom.

  23. Carmen salts her coffee too! Except she does it on purpose, which is weird… fine… but weird. It’s okay Carm, I still love you soul sis.

  24. I went through high school lovingly called “Sleeping Beauty” by my friends because as someone in an IB program who also ran cross-country, played soccer, and did theater (as well as taking an SSRI that contributes to my eternal exhaustion) I was never awake. I had an excellent ability to wake up right as a teacher asked a question, answer the question, then go back to sleep. My teachers finally gave up on keeping me awake.

    In college writing my thesis I pulled multiple all-nighters and then would nap for an hour in the Anthro Lab before there were classes. I used to get up on all the big table students sat around, blast “Kids” by MGMT, and dance to keep myself awake.

    The worst are nights when I get a normal amount of sleep but I spend the entire night having such intense dreams that when I wake up in the morning I am exhausted and feel as if I got punched in the face. So wrong.

  25. Such hilarious stories! I’m in a constant state of sleep deprivation and/or over-caffeination, but my stories are mostly saying incoherent things, forgetting about stuff in my calendar, or taking awkward naps. Not too interesting. I did have a very vivid dream once that Waffle broke up with me for no reason and I woke up crying and I was irrationally mad at him all afternoon. I could not be comforted by reality. Dream Waffle went too far.

  26. I once did the same thing many people have reported here and woke up in the evening thinking it was morning, but it was so much more convincing because my mum was also asleep when I woke up at 7. I went into her room and told her I’d missed the school bus and needed a ride to school, and we were both so confused!

    I’ve also been late for work because I couldn’t find my phone on my way out. I checked the places I tend to leave it, nothing. Then I checked the usual funny places like in the mug cabinet and the fridge, nowhere to be found. I called it from the house phone and my hoody pocket started ringing. Good reason to be late for work…

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