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Zero Gravity: The Lighter Side of Science

The Sleep-Retardant Properties of My Ex- Girlfriend

By Ryan Shaun Baker

The importance of a good night's sleep cannot be overestimated. Getting more than 7 hours of sleep a night helps in retention and deep encoding of information, which is essential in graduate school. Also, getting sufficient amounts of sleep results in a better mood and a greater level of happiness. Given this, I decided to conduct a study on those factors which influenced the amount of sleep I was getting, in order to determine how to get more sleep. One factor which I predicted would have especially large effects was my girlfriend at the time, Hermina.

Over the course of 28 consecutive nights, I collected data on the number of hours of sleep I obtained, and on a number of factors that might potentially affect the amount of sleep obtained. These variables included:

  • Whether or not I had read in bed that night.
  • Whether it was a weeknight or weekend night.
  • Whether I had gone drinking.
  • Whether I had attended a social event.
  • Whether I had been feeling ill the previous day.
  • Whether I had an academic deadline.
  • Whether I was returning a graded homework assignment in the class I TA the next day.
  • How late in the day my first meeting or class was.
  • How much sleep I had gotten the night before.
  • How much sleep I had gotten the previous two nights.
  • Whether or not I had slept at Hermina's apartment or my own.

I used these variables in order to develop a regression model to explain the amount I slept. The final regression model was S= -2.018 H + 7.47

In essence, what this model means is that I got an average of two hours and one minute less sleep when I slept at Hermina's apartment rather than my own. This is clear evidence for Hermina's sleep-retardant properties.

After obtaining these results, the appropriate course of action became clear. I spoke to Hermina and explained my study and its results, as well as the importance of getting sufficient sleep.

I concluded by explaining that, due to her sleep-retardant properties, I could not continue to sleep with her, an act she termed "breaking up."

I should mention that Hermina suggested that my data, being from an observational study rather than an experimental study, only shows correlations rather than causation, and that it was quite possible that I had only chosen to sleep at her apartment on nights when I was less tired, or that I had actually chosen to get less sleep on nights when I had come to her apartment.

She proposed that, instead of taking hasty action, we conduct an experimental study where we flip a coin each night to determine whether I would sleep at her apartment or my own, in order to prove a causative effect.

Obviously, I rejected this suggestion. Although this study is insufficient to conclusively prove Hermina's causative role, this strong a correlation, and the importance of getting enough sleep, are sufficient together to suggest that action needs to be taken expeditiously.

I would like to conclude by encouraging others to embark on this sort of data-collection activity in their own lives. By helping me identify and eliminate the foremost factor reducing the amount of sleep I get, it has enriched my life. I believe it will enrich your life as well.

Ryan Shaun Baker is with the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University.


1. Are You Getting Enough Sleep? [pamphlet], University of Iowa Student Health, 2001.
2. Wellness: A Lifetime Commitment, Patricia A. Floyd, et al., Hunter Textbooks, 1991.
3. Uncoupling: Turning Points in Intimate Relationships, Diane Vaughan, Vintage Books, 1990.

©Copyright 2002 Annals of Improbable Research (AIR). Reprinted (in shortened form) with permission.

Seeking the Right Balance

Lately our Zero Gravity columns have been overwhelmingly male-oriented. The current one is an example, as was last month's which had 3 physicists talking baseball. In November we reprinted a New Yorker column by Woody Allen so stereotypically male that we received a number of letters in protest.

We need help. We'd love to print humor about science written from a female point of view. But we've had a hard time finding any. Readers with examples they'd be willing to share can simply send them to letters@aps.org. We will be very grateful.

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