Sleep Differential

(I’m already running on a minus five, and it’s only one in the afternoon)

It might just be due to the orgasmic climax of the NFL season that is the Superbowl, with its increasing external pressure, moans and shouts from people in Lycra and final release of tension and elation for some, and this year’s conclusion that closely resembled the Catholic method of contraception as it all ended a bit early, was a little messy and ultimately unsatisfying after the hours of build-up before, but terms like ‘turnover differential’ have been swimming around my head for a while now.

And perhaps this is why I have termed this post as I have: the idea I’m about to explain has been in my head for a while, but it took the epiphany-inducing powers of some large men running into each other in pursuit of a chocolate egg to enable me to put a concise name to it: this is the idea of Sleep Differential.

This is a value, calculated by subtracting the number of hours you’ve been awake from the number of hours you were asleep, to generate a positive, or negative, value. For instance, last night I had two hours of sleep, from 4am to 6am, and I’ve been awake for seven hours, from 6am to 1pm. Therefore, 2 – 7 = -5, so my Sleep Differential (SD) is minus five.

Normally, I find that an SD of zero to minus one is appropriate for a working day: I sleep from 10pm to 6am (eight hours of sleep) and by the time school’s almost over by 2pm or 3pm, I’ve been awake for eight or nine hours. Therefore, when my first period of work for the day ends, my SD is zero or minus one, and I have a bus journey home to recover for another working session when I get in.

However, I’m at minus five and I’m halfway through the damn day; normally, an SD of minus eight is easily enough for me to get to sleep (sometimes a minus seven will do), so I’m incredibly tired at this point. I spent five minutes trying to spell ‘Lycra’ correctly in the first paragraph, and I seriously required a sheet of working-out to make those calculations in the middle of a History lesson earlier (because doing maths is somehow less mentally strenuous than writing an essay for a future English student, right?). I’d fear for my performance in my impending Geography lesson, but gracious Lord Kronos has scheduled an hour-long video watch to fill this afternoon.

I’m not sure when, how or why I worked out this unusually mathematical system for measuring tiredness – seriously, I can’t do long division and struggle with long multiplication – but it might stem from the human desire to codify the world as a means to understand it: our planet and the garbage we’ve drilled into, pulled out of and piled on top of are often unfathomably complicated, both in terms of the multitude of processes that go into keeping our society together, and the fact that all human knowledge and understanding stems from potentially narrow-minded subjectivity (we only think science is factually accurate because we deem that it is; a few centuries ago, religion was factually accurate).

And while the SD system won’t be adopted by anyone on the planet, due to the pointless complexity of a process that could be otherwise expressed by the declaration that ‘I’m tired!’, I do find satisfaction in understanding my body. It doesn’t matter that this is a relatively meaningless and temporary bit of information, I just want to know about stuff in a more precise way than whether I’m tired or really tired.

This is the problem with language: the complexity of words allows for the simple expression of sophisticated ideas, but not really the simple expression of simple ideas; there is a universal law that dictates that two is greater than one, but no such rule saying that ‘really’ reflects greater significance than ‘very’.

Furthermore, saying ‘I’m really tired’ introduced subjective judgement into the conversation; you are not saying how tired you are, but how tired you feel. Using numbers in this sense means we’re talking about how tired we actually are, leaving out any of that messy judgement stuff. Hell, we could even get discussions going, that I crash out at a minus ten, but you can power through a minus thirteen on a weekly basis! I suppose I only used numbers to express the amount of sleep I’m running on because it’s explicitly simple to do so.

The desire for precision in our lives is what built us the car, the computer and the Pokémon strategy guide; it’s just a shame that we’re running out of cool things to invent, so this awesomely productive desire is being wasted on futile attempts to codify a fundamentally unconscious and near-vegetative state of being. Oh well.


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