Graphs and the Unconscious

Ever wonder how day breaks but doesn’t fall, while night falls but doesn’t break? These are the things that keep me up at night.
— Bert

Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I am the worst at sleeping. I am notorious for saying goodnight and then resolutely remaining for another five hours, trying my best to merely send sneaky @replies to people rather than reveal to world (in the public timeline) what a massive failure I am, and inevitably failing at that too. Perhaps others might use these spare hours to write feverish novels in a deliberately delirious state, speak to missed relatives in different time zones, or organise tax receipts six months before they’re due. I piss them away in a stream of capital letters shouting at Americans over the Internet about how I am the last one in England to go to bed.

I think most humans are pre-programmed to be good at sleeping: it’s one of our many default factory settings. I don’t know why I personally keep getting it so wrong given that sleep is, in short, lying down with your eyes shut and I am spectacular at doing both of those things. I put it to the Internet one quiet 2am when I sat bolt upright in bed, utterly wired. I was handed the secret code by, I think, someone in Arkansas: Lying down + Eyes shut – thinking = Sleep. Total silence of the mind, they said, unfortunately. For someone who can spend an entire day thinking about what cereal she intends to buy that night in Sainsburys this is a ridiculously unachievable goal, and I am distinctly unambitious at the best of times. I’m faintly envious of anyone who isn’t me, simply because I have to be in here – in my head with me – all day, and they don’t. It’s like being stuck in a room with nine old ladies who talk of nothing but talk a lot. I used to go to sleep to escape myself and now I can’t even do that. I got too loud.

Every insomniac knows that deliberately trying to sleep won’t get you anywhere except into a sweaty rage at four in the morning, balling your fists and punching your pillow before eventually growling rude words into the duvet and giving up entirely. Two minutes later, you’re standing by the sink in your socks angrily spooning cereal into your mouth: the crunchier it is the better to suit your midnight strop. In this particular situation I offer you a pro tip, free of charge, and no, really, you’re very welcome: Grape Nuts. It’s like grinding rocks in your mouth, makes you squint like a Clint Eastwood and is, I believe, probably a form of self-harm though I’d have to ask my dentist.

Obviously once you’re up you’re up (and forgive me for saying “you” rather than “I”: allow me the mollifying notion that this is a shared experience). After your 4am cereal has been consumed you pad silently over to your computer in the semi-dark, turn it on and follow the white rabbit down the Wikihole. Intestinal worms are a good option, I find. Perhaps this might lead you to the world of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, where you can watch ex-Superman Dean Cain on YouTube telling you all about the longest intestinal worm to ever be cut loose from some poor dog, most likely in Indonesia or India or something because they seem to be a veritable treasure trove of weird Believe It Or Not stuff. Or maybe you’ll look up famous carrier pigeons and see your life’s achievements whittled to nothing in the light of their awards for bravery, having saved 2000 men in the Battle of Arnhem in 1944. This will of course lead you to believe that it’s okay to stick pointless unwieldy paragraphs in the middle of otherwise successful essays because fuck it, what’s the point, you’ll never amount to as much as William of Orange (pigeon), you may as well digress madly like an insomniac on Google at 4am in her pants.

Recently, I have become obsessed with an iPhone app called Sleep Cycle. You stick your phone face down in the bed and while you (ha!) sleep, some magical accelerometer graphs it– from your deepest, deadest slumber to your peaky mental dreamtime, right up to being wide awake. The idea is that at some point in the half hour before your alarm is set to go off, the device wakes you up when your graph is on an incline anyway. It’s a sort of gentle-awakening thing, which is supposed to set you up for a brilliant mood all day or whatever. Its actual purpose I have zero interest in: all I want is the graph. Checking that graph is the first thing I do in the morning in those minutes spent lolling about in bed when I’m still not mentally equipped to stand, right after I’ve rubbed my eyes like Little Nemo, pre-tea, pre-shower, pre-email, even pre-wee. I love that graph so much I even went through a phase of announcing to people on Twitter just before bed that if they knew me in real life they were absolutely not allowed to text me for about the next eight hours, lest the action of answering their no doubt pointless message (Jamie McKelvie) cancelled my graph and I had to start again, meaning an inaccurate reading to skew my averages (collected diligently over hundreds of nights), or worse: a terrible, peaky result. I have since learned about airplane mode, yes, thank you for asking.

Basically what it boils down to is that my recent failure to sleep has something to do with the fact that I want to impress a phone. And thus, as is the Campbellian way, I have somehow embroiled my friends in yet another stupid competition, this time being Who’s the Best at Sleep. It has nothing to do with health, or wellbeing, or remaining sane: it is all about all about that graph. We email each other our statistics. We refer to the buzzy flatline at the base of the graph – the Holy Grail of Snooze – as “getting some”.

“Did you get some last night?”

“Oh, DID I!”

We are not proud.

It is a competition based entirely on the unconscious, which is what we tell ourselves in order to make it seem more acceptable, as if it’s somehow scientifically, even psychologically accurate: I even heard fellow competitor Nat Metcalfe utter the word “meta”.  Last week I showed him a graph, a total flatline between the hours of 4:30am and 9:46am, which I foolishly tried to pass it off as actual sleep. “Fell off the bed, didn’t it Campbell?” he said, “I’m surprised you haven’t been trying that one all along.”  Our competition, our Contest, relies heavily on the honour system.

I offer you my favourites, thus far, of mine:

For a couple of nights I was visited by Batman in the early hours. For the benefit of big nerds I shall point out the second is a Kelley Jones Batman and no mistake.

Another night this Rocky Balboa dude popped up (Fig. A), punching an enthusiastic little addition to an otherwise depressing montage which generally, despite these pictorial blips, look like the Mountains of Madness (Fig. B):

Or a fun toboggan ride:

POP QUIZ: Guess what time this cat was let out for a wee:

And they might look fine to you, but feast your eyes on this offering from my utterly contemptible friend Chris, who seemingly died in his sleep in order to bag this baby. It is almost exactly the scene a lady beholds when she looks down at her own freshly trimmed beaver.

True fact, gentlemen.

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