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Why does Bender need to sleep? He does this at least in a couple of episodes, like Godfellas, Bendless Love, and The Honking. I believe other robots also sleep, so I don't think this is unique to him?

Are there canonical reasons that robots have to sleep, or are they just plot devices?

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Haven't heard of any explanation in the actual series, but I'd assume there are several reasons for him to "idle" at least some time during the day:

  • Maintenance work: We don't know the exact inner workings, and despite seeing gears and stuff in some episodes, I'd just assume he needs maintenance, even if it's just like some kind of reboot (free/optimize memory and stuff) plus some added stuff that can't be done while he's active. He could even defragment his file system or whatever, which could be interpreted as something similar to dreaming. Maybe there is even something like nano robots to clean his exterior, which could explain his "beard of rust" when not sleeping during extended periods of time (e.g. due to drinking all the time).

  • To save power: We know he's running on alcohol, but I don't think there's been any word on how effective this whole reaction/conversion is. So if there's some time during which he's inactive or "sleeping" (while still producing energy), this might make the whole process more effective by using less energy when not needed (something like standby/power safe).

  • As a plot device: Given the fact he's a robot, you could assume he wouldn't even need something to call a home. He could just stay at work all day. Having him sleep adds new things they're able to pick up for plots and stuff happening (e.g. during the episode with Flexo where they guarded a box).

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    Additionally he could sleep for the same reason we sleep/dream, to run through the day's events in simulation to form long-term memories of things that work to make us better at those things in the future. Dreaming is how we/they train our neural networks. This will probably be a component of any true AI that we eventually create, too. It is sublimely realistic of the creators of the show. – DampeS8N Jul 18 '12 at 17:47
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There likely isn't an in-canon reason given as to why robots need to sleep. However, it is probably safe to assume that robots sleep similar to the reason why humans do: to recharge their battery and be fully functional for the next day.

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    "Bender operates on alcohol-based fuel, which is converted into electrical energy strong enough to power not only Bender himself, but also small household appliances plugged into his power receptacle" - so no, this is not a valid explanation. – Secko Jul 18 '12 at 13:15
  • This might still be valid, just don't misinterpret the battery mentioned. As I wrote in my answer, it's possible he produces X amount of energy per hour, but burns up to 2X amount of energy per hour. To negate this difference, you could let him sleep a quarter or half a day to offset it (allowing him to operate essentially all the time without pausing more often). – Mario Jul 18 '12 at 16:51
  • @Mario Alright, we can call that a valid statement. – Secko Jul 18 '12 at 17:58
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Here's a thought, what if he doesn't need to sleep, but future scientists built in the sleeping because humans of the future are unnerved by robots running around while they sleep. Maybe the sleeping is a feature, not a requirement.

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  • Although valid, I would personally build my robot to work for me while I'm asleep. – Secko Jul 18 '12 at 18:02
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    Even when they occasionally mutter "kill all humans"? :) – dlanod Jul 18 '12 at 22:19
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Since he's a robot, he probably only sleeps to regain some energy in another part of his body, because whatever alcohol he drinks probably juices him up.

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