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Software Developer Stereotypes - Sleep

First up, a little about me and my mission. I'm Rich, and I've had a career in software development spanning 20 years. I started my career conforming to the traditional software developer stereotype, but I soon realised that it wasn't helpful to me or those I worked with.


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Richard Donovan

3 years ago | 4 min read

First up, a little about me and my mission. I'm Rich, and I've had a career in software development spanning 20 years. I started my career conforming to the traditional software developer stereotype, but I soon realised that it wasn't helpful to me or those I worked with.

This article is the first in my Software Developer Stereotypes series and will focus on sleep.

Software developers and sleep

If you spend any amount of time in the company of software developers, you'll quickly discover that sleep is not high on the agenda.

In my experience, the culprits are gaming or coding into the early hours.

Many see this as a badge of honour.

Working on side hustles, learning the latest technology, trying to break into the industry, or just trying to be the best software developers they can be, are all justifications for burning the midnight oil. Throw gaming into the mix, and there is a bucket load of sleep lost, never to be recovered.

Putting gaming to one side for the moment, the above sound like admirable ways for a software developer to be spending their time. In some cases, it's even expected.

Now if this was utilising their "Spare" time, then I totally get it. But sleep time is not spare time. 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:

๐Ÿ‘‰ Help you live longer

๐Ÿ‘‰ Enhance your memory

๐Ÿ‘‰ Make you more creative

๐Ÿ‘‰ Look more attractive

๐Ÿ‘‰ Keep you slim and lowers food cravings

๐Ÿ‘‰ Ward off colds and flu

๐Ÿ‘‰ Lower your risk of heart attacks, strokes and diabetes

๐Ÿ‘‰ Help you feel happier, less depressed and less anxious

I'm guessing that many would pay a significant price to get their hands on it and I would be a wealthy man!

Yet, the effects of 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

A major effect of sleep, particularly of interest to software developers who are trying to learn new skills and retain new information, is the effects 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.

This reason alone seems like an excellent reason 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."

How do you get consistently better sleep? 

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 a warmer one - think trying to get to sleep when on holiday in a hot country.

18 degrees celsius will be optimal for most people.

Time your 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 lunch.

I'll include caffeine in my "Software Developer Stereotypes" series.

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 (Pretty sure no one knows this about me...). 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.

Conclusion

We often find ourselves conforming to stereotypes due to family, friends, our occupation and society as a whole. What's important is that we become aware of such stereotypes so that if we deem them unhelpful, we can make a change for the better.

Sleep is not a popular topic amongst software developers for sure. Boasting about the lack of it is far more likely to feature in conversation. But you don't have to slip into that stereotype. When you weigh up the potential impact a lack of sleep can have over time; you'll find it's probably not as productive as you might think.

Sleep is quite possibly the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to your health and performance. Best of all, it's largely within your control and requires minimal effort.

It could have a profound impact on your career and wellbeing. So please make the most of it and don't neglect it.

Thanks for reading.

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Richard Donovan

Hi there! Iโ€™m Richard Donovan and Iโ€™ve been a Software Developer for over two decades. I started at the bottom and worked my way up, eventually becoming a Software Architect for a global FTSE 100 company. Iโ€™m self-taught and I believe in the power of hard work and determination. In addition to my software development career, Iโ€™m also a licensed Mindspan Peak Performance Trainer and Coach, as well as a Personal Trainer and online fitness coach. I love staying active and playing sports like squash and golf. What is my why? As a Software Developer, Iโ€™ve learned that taking care of your mental and physical health is key to performing at your best. Iโ€™ve struggled with self-doubt and lack of confidence, but by focusing on my wellbeing, Iโ€™ve seen significant improvements in my work and overall confidence. Iโ€™m passionate about helping others who may be struggling and believe that by working together, we can create a supportive and healthy environment in our industry. I would love the oppo


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