3 min read

In recent years, the software engineering community has been interested in factors related to human habits that can play a role in increasing developers’ productivity. The researchers- D. Fucci from HITeC and the University of Hamburg, G. Scanniello and S. Romano from DiMIE – University and N. Juristo from Technical University of Madrid have published a paper “Need for Sleep: the Impact of a Night of Sleep Deprivation on Novice Developers’ Performance” that investigates how sleep deprivation can impact developers’ productivity.

What was the experiment?

The researchers performed a quasi experiment with 45 undergraduate students in Computer Science at the University of Basilicata in Italy. The participants were asked to work on a programming task which required them to use the popular agile practice of test-first development (TFD). The students were divided into two groups – The treatment group where 23 students were asked to skip their sleep the night before the experiment and the control group where the remaining students slept the night before the experiment. The conceptual model and the operationalization of the constructs investigated is as shown below.

Conceptual Model of the experiment

Image source: Research paper


Outcome of the Experiment

The result of the experiment indicated that sleep deprivation has a negative effect on the capacity of software developers to produce a software solution that meets given requirements. In particular, novice developers who forewent one night of sleep, wrote code which was approximately 50% more likely not to fulfill the functional requirements with respect to the code produced by developers under normal sleep condition. Another observation was that sleep deprivation decreased developers’ productivity with the development task and hindered their ability to apply the test-first development (TFD) practice. The researchers also found that sleep-deprived novice developers had to make more fixes to syntactic mistakes in the source code.

As an aftereffect of this result paper, experienced developers are recollecting their earlier sleep deprived programming days. Some are even regretting them.

Recently the Chinese ‘996’ work routine has come into picture, wherein tech companies are expecting their employees to work from 9 am to 9 pm, 6 days a week, leading to 60+ hours of work per week. This kind of work culture will devoid these developers of any work-life balance. This will also encourage the habit of skipping sleep. Thus decreasing developers productivity.

A user on Reddit declares sleep as the key to being a productive coder and not burning out. Another user added, “There’s a culture in university computer science around programming for 30+ hours straight (hackathons). I’ve participated and pulled off some pretty cool things in 48 hours of feverish keyboard whacking and near-constant swearing, but I’d rather stab myself repeatedly with a thumbtack than repeat that experience.”

It’s high time that companies focus more on the ‘quality’ of work than insisting developers to work for long hours, which will in turn reduce their productivity. It is clear from the result of this research paper that no sleep in a night, can certainly affect one’s quality of work.

To know more about the experiment, head over to the research paper.

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