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I personally stay awake late at night, coding and enjoying working on personal projects. My other colleagues also feel the same and like coding at night. However, it's not about being passionate about personal hobbies, rather, I really feel that I'm more productive at night.

I think that there is something about night, maybe its darkness, maybe its silence, maybe another attribute that makes developers become more productive.

Is there some truth to this? Why do some developers believe that they are more productive at night? Is there any scientific proof to justify this proposition? Maybe something like "in night, monitor light is less harmful" or "the natural air in night has more oxygen, thus is more suitable for thinking process", or anything like that.

Moderator Note:

The question is asking for scientific proof and otherwise cited information on this subject. Answers that do not provide supporting references will be removed. This is not a poll where you should share when you wake up and what parts of the day you personally are productive.

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closed as not constructive by Joel Etherton, Walter, Eric Wilson, William Shakespeare, Michael K Sep 14 '11 at 15:53

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Excellent question! I would love to know the reason as to why we are (or we believe to be) more productive at night! –  Steven Jeuris Sep 14 '11 at 7:52
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I am completely the opposite, I get up early, shower, grab a cup of coffee and start coding before 7am before anybody else gets into the office. My productivity is highest as soon as I get in and steadily declines until late in the day when I find myself surfing and dozing off. Maybe its because it is so quiet in the office or maybe because I am just naturally a morning person? –  maple_shaft Sep 14 '11 at 11:13
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@bjarkef It didn't answer the question, which calls for specific proof and justification for why developers are more productive at night: "common sense" disputing the premise of the question is not a valid basis for an answer; at best it's a comment. The answer Steven Jeuris is referring to is here. –  user8 Sep 14 '11 at 12:22
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this one's a Skeptics site question. –  Pankaj Upadhyay Sep 14 '11 at 13:41

8 Answers 8

up vote 29 down vote accepted

As pointed out in a comment by SK-Logic, there is some scientific evidence to back this up.

From wikipedia's article on night owls:

Researchers have found that 'differences in a fundamental property of the circadian timing system, its intrinsic period, will determine whether someone is an early bird, who awakens before dawn or a night owl, who tends to stay up late at night but sleeps in late'.

This is an indication that some people would prefer to work at night.


This interesting paper studies the productivity of a programmer over time.

The sequence of phases is: euphoric, productive, irreplaceable, resentful, bored, and unproductive. Overall productivity is characterized by an initial six month period of intense interest, at which time productivity rates are often an order of magnitude higher than the oft-quoted 500 LOC/month average. After a short period of volatility, the programmer then enters a prolonged phase of steadily dwindling interest, resulting in productivity rates that mimic the average.

Taking this into account, and considering that a programmer usually works on individual projects at night, a simple reason could be that it's this 'euphoric' drive for short-term individual projects that makes them productive, causing the desire to stay awake and continue work.

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@Stevent, thanks for reference. Circadian is a good term to describe this. However, it's still subjective. I think there should be something objective about night. I'm searching for that. Anyway, +1 for the reference. –  Saeed Neamati Sep 14 '11 at 8:24
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@Steven Jeuris - that paper is not accessible without a login/password - maybe something like lionet.info/ljimg/programmer-lifecycle.pdf would be useful? –  Joris Timmermans Sep 14 '11 at 9:21
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@Steven, I wish I could vote 10 times. This is very good answer. Though, I still won't accept it, to see what others have in mind. –  Saeed Neamati Sep 14 '11 at 9:33
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"This conjecture is based purely on my experiences and observa-tions over the past six years". I'm not saying I disagree (it sounds spot on to me), but this paper is not scientific inquiry. –  user20134 Sep 14 '11 at 12:22
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@canisrufus: I agree, and thought of mentioning that as well, but his personal 6 year experience as a senior software engineer, and the fact that he got published is a stronger indicator than many of the subjective opinions formulated here. Unfortunately this is the most valid research that I found. –  Steven Jeuris Sep 14 '11 at 12:33

Be wary though. While working at night, you might get things done because of the calmness of mind and lack of interactions but even though I am a night owl myself, I find that my brain does not function as well at night. I am definitely not as quick and innovative.

Working at night also has the unfortunate side effects of not sleeping enough. Your brain needs its rest and if you do not rest when everything is quiet, you might not rest as much or the quality of your rest might suffer. The natural thing for many creatures is to sleep at night and that is the human default behavior as well.

In conclusion, I believe night hours are better for certain tasks. However, you should maintain a good balance between sleeping and working at night as well as during the day.

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I'm not talking about becoming sleep deprived. When I say that I'm more productive at night, I mean when I've slept enough. –  Saeed Neamati Sep 14 '11 at 8:19
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@Saeed: All I'm sayin' its a double edged sword... –  c_maker Sep 14 '11 at 8:24
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This is a good point - Bob Martin makes an important distinction between being in the zone and being in the flow. You can write a lot of code when you are in the zone, but it might not be your best code. The full story is in the book "The Clean Coder". –  Steve Fenton Sep 14 '11 at 8:35
    
The question has been edited to ask for references and citations. Please review the current version of the question and edit your answer to include supporting information for your personal experience and opinions. –  Anna Lear Sep 14 '11 at 16:10

Its not necessarily the time of night that makes the developers more productive...

The night time gives a calm and silent ambiance for the thoughts to get a free flow in the mind and which is very essential while programming.

Less distractions! Just not having the phone ring, solicitors selling cookies, the reduction of emails, and less chatter pays tremendous dividends to working at night. Your mind relaxes and opens up to a slew of creativity — it’s easy to get into the zone when you’re at ease.

It doesn't necessarily be the night time, an environment with lesser distractions and disturbance will always act as a catalyst for the Developers productivity

Also may be at the night the mind will have lesser thoughts about the outer world, so fewer thoughts revolving in the head helps the programmer to get free flow of programming thoughts and logic

Also the fact that the personal projects are done out passion for programming while the office projects are because you are bound to do that, so the former would interest you more than the later. So you tend to work with heart, which is what gives you a feeling that the night gives you a few more hours to work.

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Less distraction is the key. I usually come into the office about an hour earlier than my colleagues. In that single hour, I get about 3 times the amount of work I would get done than in the hour when the regular distractions are going on. –  Kibbee Sep 14 '11 at 14:22
    
The question has been edited to ask for references and citations. Please review the current version of the question and edit your answer to include supporting information for your personal experience and opinions. –  Anna Lear Sep 14 '11 at 16:10

I think this is a per-person trait. I've known many developers, especially those with families they spend time with at night, who deliberately come into the office early.

In the example you gave, though, I think it is generally true that people are able to maintain higher levels of productivity for personal projects compared to work projects. It makes sense, since in general there is a higher level of interest and passion in the project than a task you may be delegated in the office.

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I just brought my personal projects as an example. Generally, most of the developers I know are more productive on night, be it a personal project, or not. –  Saeed Neamati Sep 14 '11 at 7:57
    
The question has been edited to ask for references and citations. Please review the current version of the question and edit your answer to include supporting information for your personal experience and opinions. –  Anna Lear Sep 14 '11 at 16:10

As others have said I think it's a per-person trait. Speaking for myself I find that I'm usually productive in the morning and in the evening (or at night) - which probably boils down to being most productive when there's not too much hubbub or distrations of any kind going on around me.

It might also be that late at night you don't have any other appointments or other things that can take you out of the flow.

I don't know about any scientific reasons other than what has already been mentioned which is that apparently each person's inner clock just works a bit differently and some of us are more productive early in the day and others are more productive late at night.

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The question has been edited to ask for references and citations. Please review the current version of the question and edit your answer to include supporting information for your personal experience and opinions. –  Anna Lear Sep 14 '11 at 16:10

Personally I'm up at 6, out the house at 6:30, at work at 7 and away at just after 3. I am definitely not a night owl. All the bonuses of less distractions in the evening can equally be applied to the mornings.

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The question has been edited to ask for references and citations. Please review the current version of the question and edit your answer to include supporting information for your personal experience and opinions. –  Anna Lear Sep 14 '11 at 16:10

I too am way more productive at night. It varies from person to person but, if I could, my ideal working hours would be 3-11pm or 4-midnight. I find that during those hours I am able to do a lot more for a variety of reasons. Some of them are:

  • Most business is almost over with. There is a lot more peace and quiet at that time. No annoying sales calls and most of the customer issues are in for the day.
  • I have already been awake for a few hours. This is big for me. I am horrible with hopping out of bed and going directly to anything.
  • It's cooler...as in temperature. I loathe being hot when I'm working.
  • I just get an overall feeling of doing my work and not having to have the constant 9-5 with the boss peering over my shoulder nagging me for constant updates.

With all of that being said, I work at a place where I have to do the 8-5 thing...which kind of stinks because I feel like I beat my head off of a wall some days until noon.

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The question has been edited to ask for references and citations. Please review the current version of the question and edit your answer to include supporting information for your personal experience and opinions. –  Anna Lear Sep 14 '11 at 16:11

I used to think this about myself, but the cause and effect are mixed up. I find that I am more productive at night, but I now attribute this to the reasons I stay up late coding in the first place. I only stay up late when I am "in the zone" and am already being more productive than normal.

I do not deny that there are other factors involved, such as a lack of distractions and fatigue, but I haven't found these to be as significant as the original reason I'm up late.

That being said, I also have pretty serious ADHD, so my productivity has a higher day to day variance than most.

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The question has been edited to ask for references and citations. Please review the current version of the question and edit your answer to include supporting information for your personal experience and opinions. –  Anna Lear Sep 14 '11 at 16:12

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