- Date: January 30, 2017
- By: Lindsey Dix
Dimly-lit rooms with glowing screens. Empty energy drink cans laying sideways in empty pizza boxes. The last rays of a sunset just visible out the window. Tapping keys and just-audible music highlights coming from headphones. The clock ticks well into television prime time yet no one is reaching for a coat and heading for the door.
The pop culture of programming often talks about hackathons, overnighters and crazy-long work weeks. Getting little to no sleep often becomes a developer badge of honor.
For example - Google recently offered t-shirts at its Google I/O 2016 event that had four words on the front of them:
It didn't take long for variations to appear on the market with the word sleep crossed out.
Are developers and programmers somehow immune to the need for sleep to work effectively?
In fact lack of sleep in high-tech roles has had disastrous effects:
Lack of Sleep Leads to Disaster
In 1988 The National Center for Biotechnology Information published a report concerning the "role of human sleep and brain clocks in the occurrence of medical and human error catastrophes".
They found that sleep deprivation played a key role in the Challenger Accident by influencing the decision-making during a teleconference:
The effect on managers of irregular working hours and insufficient sleep “may have contributed significantly to the atmosphere of the teleconference at Marshall”The National Center for Biotechnology Information
The same report also cites lack of sleep as a probable cause in the nearly catastrophic launch of the shuttle Columbia:
Operator fatigue was reported “as one of the major factors contributing to this incident”. The operators had been on duty for 11 h. It was their 3rd day of working on a 12-h night shift.The National Center for Biotechnology Information
Why do developers end up working long and odd hours?
Maker or Manager
Long-time developer and investor Paul Graham made the case for the Maker Schedule vs the Manager Schedule.
According to Graham, the Manager Schedule is:
..for bosses. It's embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you're doing every hour.PaulGraham.com
But the Makers Schedule doesn't run in one hour chunks:
But there's another way of using time that's common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can't write or program well in units of an hour. That's barely enough time to get started.PaulGraham.com
Developers end up working long, odd hours because they are looking for uninterrupted blocks of time where they can focus.
Those hours can normally be found in the early morning or late night.
The allnighters can only go on so long. Hackathons are fun once a year but can't become business as usual.
Developers will burnout.
Employers and developers can each take steps to avoid burnout due to lack of sleep.
If you have a team of developers working for you, talk to them about their week to week schedules. Are they coming in early or working late? Why? How much and how often?
You need to understand the Maker Schedule, and how a single 1-hour "status update meeting" can throw off the productivity for an entire day.
Work together to establish large chunks of "meeting free zones" on the weekly calendar.
Take a fresh look at your work environment. Did you install an open floor plan to "increase communication"? Open offices can also be productivity-killers for developers who need to think deeply about their work. Many high-tech firms are going back to private offices to give their developers an environment they can do their best work in.
If a total office redesign isn't in the cards, consider creating library rules for your current setup.
Making stuff can be exhilarating:
- Your code on a web page loaded by users all over the world
- Your app in the hands of thousands of mobile users
- Your database making the lives of hundreds of users easier every day
But let's face it - it can be hard to stay healthy as a developer:
- Lots of sitting
- Long hours in front of a screen
- Late nights
- Early mornings
- Weekend work to make a launch date
Employers can offer health plans and perks, but ultimately it's your body. It's your responsibility to find a way to do the work you love while also staying healthy.
Developers can improve their sleep habits by:
- Turn Off Screens
Powering devices down 30 minutes before bed helps prepare your body for sleep.
- One Room, One Purpose
Keep office setups out of your bedroom.
- Keep it Dark
Use heavy window coverings to keep outside light from creeping in. Cover clocks or other electronics that glow. Use duct tape over unneeded LED indicators on routers, etc.
- Keep it Cool
Use your Nest to keep your house cool for sleeping.
- Cover Up Sounds
Use a white noise app or device to cover other sounds and create a consistent audio environment for sleeping.
- Audio Books
If your eyes are are too tired from screen time to read, consider listening to audio books to help you disengage your brain and fall asleep. Libravox.org has hundreds of free books and a smartphone app to play them from.
Can We Help?
Have a project keeping you up? Maybe we can help you sleep better by pitching in on it. Contact us and we'll talk about it over some warm milk.