The tale of the sleepless developer

It wasn’t too long ago that I used to have a lot of trouble sleeping. Once I was asleep I was OK, but getting there was troublesome. As my head hit the pillow, I’d start trying to solve all the development and design problems that I encountered that day. The impact hit me the next day like a tonne of bricks; I could feel myself battling to stay awake on the commute. Every night the plan was simple: Go to bed, clear the mind and sleep. Unfortunately, once clear, my mind would jump on the opportunity for undisrupted thought and start re-factoring code and schema designs. I even started to take sleeping pills to try and get my brain to co-operate at bed time.

Sky is blue – more on this at 11

I knew that caffeine was bad for sleep, so that’s why I never drank any tea or coffee after 6pm. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the villain in this story is caffeine and the “don’t drink coffee before bed”  mantra is nothing new. However, I didn’t realise that having 7 cups of coffee during the working day created a slow release insomnia bomb in my brain. I will admit that I got the shakes now and then during the day, at which point I’d lay off the coffee for a while. However, my assumption was that because the shakes went, the caffeine had worn off. Time to head back to the coffee machine!

At that time of my life, I would not have classed myself as someone sensitive to caffeine. I just connected the insomnia to my job and thought that the culture around software development was to blame (skills development, personal projects, late nights, etc).

Gut feeling

To make matters worse, a new symptom developed – indigestion. Frustratingly, it also made its appearance at bed time. I couldn’t sleep on my side because as soon as I did, I’d feel the acid in my chest. I started to sleep on my back to ease the symptoms, but then the acid pains started during the day. I started to buy in all sorts of indigestion remedies and kept myself fully stocked both at work and at home. I actually thought to myself that this was just a fact of life. I’d hit 30 and I was falling apart. Complaining of indigestion is such an archetypal old-man thing to do I just thought I should suck it up and live with it.

The simple one-step programme

I think it was @oatie who, when I complained of indigestion, suggested that caffeine can be a stomach irritant. Fortunately for me, both directors at Magma Digital have been caffeine-free coffee drinkers for years and so decaf is readily available in the office. I made the switch that day and that very night I noticed that my symptoms had eased. There was no acidic pain when lying down and over the next few days, I fell asleep with much less fuss.

I can’t be the only developer who’s been kept awake by a recalcitrant bug. But if that’s happening too frequently for you, then please consider reducing your caffeine intake. I’m not advocating complete removal from everyone’s diet. I still drink regular tea, coffee and coke but at least now I’m aware of how it might affect me. And so are you :)


Posted in Ramblings

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