Sleep homeostasis manifests as a relative constancy of its daily amount and intensity. Theoretical descriptions define ‘Process S’, a variable with dynamics dependent on global sleep-wake history, and reflected in electroencephalogram (EEG) slow wave activity (SWA, 0.5–4 Hz) during sleep. The notion of sleep as a local, activity-dependent process suggests that activity history must be integrated to determine the dynamics of global Process S. Here, we developed novel mathematical models of Process S based on cortical activity recorded in freely behaving mice, describing local Process S as a function of the deviation of neuronal firing rates from a locally defined set-point, independent of global sleep-wake state. Averaging locally derived Processes S and their rate parameters yielded values resembling those obtained from EEG SWA and global vigilance states. We conclude that local Process S dynamics reflects neuronal activity integrated over time, and global Process S reflects local processes integrated over space.