As final’s week approaches I find myself coding through the night more and more accompanied by my two best friends, my IDE, and the lo-fi girl(if you know you know). Late-night coding sessions are practically a rite of passage in the computer science world as the thrill of solving problems and watching your code come to life is extremely rewarding. However, the toll it takes on your physical and mental health is also extremely undeniable. This semester I have had the privilege of sleeping most mornings as my classes and part-time jobs are in the afternoon or past that, so sleeping late at night has not bothered me as much as it would have if I had early-morning obligations. Even though I’m getting around 5-7 hours of sleep, the irregular sleep patterns and long hours in front of my computer bring challenges that are worthy of discussion.
- Irregular Sleep Patterns:
Late-night coding more than often leads to irregular sleep patterns which disrupt the circadian rhythm, this results in fatigue and creates difficulties in concentrating let alone long-term health issues.
- Sedentary Lifestyle:
Long periods of coding mean long periods of sitting. The sedentary lifestyle created as a result can contribute to health problems like obesity(my excuse for getting a beer belly at 20), back pain, and even cardiovascular issues. This can also decrease your stamina to the point that even going through 2 flights of stairs can cause you to have short breath.
- Mental Burnout:
When you keep pushing yourself too hard for extended periods of time the only thing you’re gonna end up with is having mental burnout. Have you ever gone to class and could not remember how to write a for loop? That’s exactly what mental burnout is. The lack of motivation, increased stress, and plunged creativity are just a couple of the symptoms that can throw all your hours of coding into the trash bin.
Even though these challenges might seem harsh at first, there are some practices you could follow that ease the strain on your body during this hard work.
Creating a consistent sleep routine will lead to better health. You can sleep even during “unconventional” hours, it just matters that it remains consistent and your body will thank you for the predictability.
Taking regular breaks can combat the negative effects of prolonged work sessions. The most popular practice is the 20-20-20 rule in which every 20 minutes you look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds to reduce eye strain. Personally, I have never liked this rule as getting away from work every 20 minutes really disrupts my workflow and most of the time it distracts me from solving particular problems that I may have been working on, so I came up with my own method. Every 50 minutes, I give myself 20 minutes of break time dedicated to anything else besides sitting in front of the computer. Stand up, do some stretching, grab a bottle of water, grab a snack, open up a window, and just stare outside. If you’re at the 50-minute mark but don’t feel like disrupting your workflow? Continue working but when the time to take the breaks comes again give yourself 5 extra minutes for every 10 minutes you kept working.
Doing something physical during the break time is even better. You can do simple exercises that do not require much room or any equipment. My personal favorites:Toe touches, that thing you do where you pretend you’re a sea lion(I forget the name of the stretch), and push-ups.
In one of my previous blog entries “Scruming through the semester”, I mentioned that breaking the work into smaller more manageable tasks helps in productivity, that advice is valuable here again as this not only makes your work more achievable but it also prevents burnouts.
What’s more important is to know when to stop. Start recognizing the burnout signs and know when to step away. Good work comes from a healthy mind and more than often the best solution to a hard problem is some good quality sleep. It’s easy to prioritize code over your well-being in the fast-paced world of computer science. However, keeping your mental well-being and physical health is a crucial step to sustain success in this field. Incorporating good and healthy habits into your coding routines can ensure that your overnight sessions are productive and sustainable in the long run. As one of my good professors has said: “You can save your code and work on it later, you can’t save your health and load it when you get sick.”.
From the blog CS@Worcester – Anairdo's WSU Computer Science Blog by anairdoduri and used with permission of the author. All other rights reserved by the author.