The Modern Software Developer Newsletter

Wellbeing & Performance

Issue 4 – Developers: you might regret not getting enough Sleep

Software developers and sleep

In last month’s issue, we looked at our beliefs and how they can influence you as a developer and leader.

You can catch that issue here.

In this issue, I want to talk about sleep and how it might not be the best idea to go on coding into the night, even if it seems like the done thing.

In my experience, many software developers are prone to late nights. It might be late-night coding, catching up on the latest tech, or an escape into the gaming world.

Some even see it as a badge of honour.

It’s admirable to put in the extra hours to develop your skills outside of work, but you must ensure it’s not counter-productive for your wellbeing.

The fact is that consistently getting less than 7 hours of sleep is detrimental to your health, physical performance, mental performance and wellbeing.

If I was to tell you about a new drug I was selling that could:

👉 Help you live longer
👉 Enhance your memory
👉 Make you more creative
👉 Look more attractive
👉 Keep you slim and lowers food cravings
👉 Ward off colds and flu
👉 Lower your risk of heart attacks, strokes and diabetes
👉 Help you feel happier, less depressed and less anxious

I’m guessing you’d pay a pretty penny to get your hands on it, and I would be a wealthy man!

Yet, the effects of getting adequate amounts of sleep have been linked with all of the above. What’s more, it’s FREE and largely in your control.

Learning and memory

For software developers who are trying to learn new skills and retain new information, it is worth paying attention to the effect sleep can have on learning and memory.

One of the many operations performed during sleep is transferring your short-term memory to a long-term memory store. Failing to get adequate sleep can disrupt this process, leaving you struggling to hold on to all that learning you’ve been doing.

This is two-fold, not only are you storing short-term memory into long-term memory for later retrieval, but you’re also freeing up capacity in the short-term memory store for more learning.

For this reason alone, it seems like an excellent idea to get yourself between 7-9 hours of sleep, given that a large part of what most software developers are trying to do is learn new information and retain it.

On the flip side, a lack of sleep is linked to numerous health risks, many opposite to those listed above.

As Matt Walker says in his book – Why we sleep:

“Sleep, unfortunately, is not an optional lifestyle luxury. Sleep is a non-negotiable biological necessity. It is your life support system, and it is Mother Nature’s best effort yet at immortality.”
Matt Walker – Why we sleep
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How do you get consistently better sleep?

To ensure you’re getting great sleep, you should invest in a decent mattress and suitable pillows.

On top of this, there are a few other things you can do too:

Regularity is king

Regardless of whether it’s a weekday or weekend, go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time.

Regularity will also help you to feel tired at the right time and awake at the right time!

Regularity will anchor your sleep and improve its quantity and quality. Many of us set the alarm to wake us up; try setting the alarm to start your bedtime routine.

Keep it cool

Your body’s core temperature needs to drop to allow you to get to sleep and stay asleep, which is why it’s always easier to fall asleep in a cooler room than in a warmer one – think about trying to get to sleep when on holiday in a hot country.

18 degrees celsius will be optimal for most people.

Caffeine intake

Caffeine can be slower than you realise to leave your system and can vary considerably from person to person.

Drinking your caffeine late into the day can make it much harder to fall asleep and can even have you feeling more tired the next morning.

That is until you have your next coffee, of course!

But sooner or later, that stimulating effect starts to lessen, and you are stuck in a cycle of needing coffee yet, not necessarily getting the benefits you once were.

Consider limiting your caffeine intake to before lunchtime or setting yourself a cut-off time early in the afternoon.

Destress before bed

Switching off the TV, laptops, tablets and phones an hour before bed is a great way to relax and start to quiet your mind. Dim the lights if you can.

If you want to take it a little further, do some journaling or even create your to-do list for tomorrow. Getting that stuff down on paper can help you release it from your brain, so you don’t have to keep thinking about it.

Make sure your bedroom is dark

One of the biggest things that have kept me from excellent sleep over the years is not having a really dark bedroom – especially when visiting other people.

I now have great blackout blinds. On top of this, I also sleep with a sleep mask on.

A sleep mask isn’t for everyone, and it took me a few goes to get one I was comfortable with, but I believe it has made a huge difference to my sleep.

In Summary

Sleep deprivation can have negative effects on both your mental and physical wellbeing.

Effects on mental wellbeing include:

👉 Low mood
👉 Anxiety
👉 Irritability
👉 Erratic behaviour
👉 Poor cognitive functioning and performance (e.g. forgetfulness, making mistakes and slower thinking than normal)

Effects on physical wellbeing include:

👉 Physical symptoms of anxiety
👉 Tiredness
👉 Elevation in blood pressure and stress hormones
👉 Negative effects on cardiovascular health (increased risk of strokes and heart attacks)
👉 Immune damage – can lead to many physical problems

I’m sure you can see how detrimental to your performance these effects can be for you as a software developer – make sure you get enough sleep for you.

Remember

It’s not selfish to put yourself first; there’s nothing more important than your own wellbeing!

Please share with your network if you found this useful.

Until next time…

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If you think I can help you:

Join over 6000 other people following me on LinkedIn

Email me about Mindset coaching as a software developer or software development leader.

Email me about Mindset training for your software development team.



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