This is my habit issue, which a lot of my technology friends say is a bad idea:

For me to finish a small project, that takes me about a week, I do not sleep for up to three days to get it done as fast as possible, then I go to sleep for almost 24 hours after it is completed. Then I use the rest of the time to fix mistakes, errors, and complete the small tidbits of code required.

Is this normal to do as a freelancer, sacrifice a few days of sleep to get your projects done and keep the clients happy?

My concern that is is not bad on my health, because I already know it is. My concern is, along with my question, is if it is the right thing to do in the development cycle? My lack of sleep allows it to get done faster, but I feel I will get tired of doing web development freelancing with this cycle.

  • 1
    Any code written after 24 hours of no sleep is likely bug ridden and of lower quality, do you also work while drunk?
    – daaxix
    Apr 24, 2014 at 3:23

8 Answers 8


You should never neglect your health. You should sleep for about 6-8 hours a day to be healthy. You can end up in trouble at a later age.

Plan out in such a way that you don't overwork and you need to skip your sleep. You can work for 8 - 10 hours a day and still end up finishing the project. If you end up with minor bugs you can speak to the client and ask for a few more days to fix the same.

Clients do expect delivery on time and they are happy if you deliver a quality project in time. So if the work takes one week, depending on the project, take a few extras days, inform the client the project will be completed in one and half weeks. Don't fix on exactly one week, because there might be days when you will be ill and you can't take up work on that day. Always better to quote a few days extra.

Definitely in the long run working continuously without sleep affects health. If it is absolutely urgent, and you need to deliver the project the next day, you can skip sleep for a day. I encountered a situation where I had to deliver an update (not a final delivery) to the client, and I got stuck on some issue. I didn't sleep that night, fixed the issue, and delivered the update. But if it is likely to repeat (skipping sleep) for a few day's, I would certainly not think of skipping sleep.

  • 4
    There was also an advice on the internet for developers. It said: if you think you can do a project in 1 hour, ask for 3, because you never know what comes up in the process. Apr 23, 2014 at 14:10

In the past I myself did the same. And with time I became concerned by the rightness of this (what I now call) bat habit of mine.

Unfortunately, I still do it. Not as intense as in the past but sometimes, without intent I wake-up at four in the morning still coding. Maybe a new feature (which I start at midnight after I end a project for some client) or maybe a small project about which I think is best if I get it done fast and by doing this, it will give me time to focus on the big projects.

What I saw along the path is that this disrupts my work-flow which is, at the end I find myself tiered and unable to focus as when I work with self-discipline.

My fix about this is not full proof but this is what I recommend you do:

  • Dedicate time for work from early in the morning (five or six o'clock) until mid day. Take a break of two or more hours and start again. At six or seven o'clock in the afternoon stop and use the time for leisure, learning, family, personal time.
  • Be patient. If you think the project can be ready in five days, inform your client that the best you can do are seven days.
  • Start working at two features (if is feasible) at a time. At one of them in the morning, at the other in the afternoon. Even if you don't finish the first one in the morning, leave it for the next day.

Why I think working three days in a row is bad?

After making some adjustments (I still work on my self-discipline from this point of view) I got more time to spend with the loved one and this gave me more quality time dedicated to my work. Moreover, I start seeing things from another perspective and with time, from three skills I arrived to six and I also am on the road of getting a degree. What else changed was the number of clients. With time and experience I saw they expect me to deliver not sooner than a week or so and this allowed me to dedicate time thinking at other things (one of them: "to search after another clients while I work for the others")

For now, it can be OK what you do but on the long run I know is a very bad habit (with negative effects on you, your work and personal life) which I think you need replace with self-discipline and of course, with some good habits starting as right from this moment.


If you insist on sprinting to complete the project at the beginning, I would suggest looking into polyphasic sleep as a possibly healthier alternative. Basically, instead of sleeping once per day for 6 to 8 hours straight, you spread your sleep time across each 24-hour period and require less total sleep-time in the process. It might give you a head start on those huge projects. However, in my opinion, this should not be a long-term lifestyle.

On your profile you mention that you're studying psychology. You might then know that prolonged exertion of the mind doesn't promote mental hygiene. You'll get physically and mentally exhausted in the long run, which in turn will negatively affect your performance.

You're still young and you probably don't grasp all the consequences of this on your health and psyche on the long term. It's always relevant to maintain a healthy lifestyle and balance all aspects of your life. Otherwise, in the long run it'll probably end up costing you more (on many aspects) than what you hope to gain right now.

If your main concern is a lack of time, you should investigate more effective productivity habits. In between projects, go hang around Personal Productivity SE. Remove distractions, work in a quiet environment. Learn to work smarter, not harder.

  • Prior to the 20th century it was common-place for people to sleep at most 4 hours in a row, waking for 1 to 2 hours in between, then sleeping another several hours before waking for the day. +1 for the polyphasic sleep link. Apr 25, 2014 at 4:37

Most of the time when I am late on something it is because I didn't focus 100% on the task to be executed. Your method to work 3 days in a row is not normal for the average human being.
We need to sleep :

  • to give a break to our body (p/pc balance read below).
  • to think to what we have made (produced) during the day and take corrective actions the day after.
  • to find a solution to the problems we didn't solve during the day.
  • to (find a good reason).

I come back on focusing. Did you read the books of Uncle Bob ? He wrote. I pay you for 8 hours of good work. Not less. But not more. 8 hours is a lot of time! If you focus on the project, the task that has to be executed. No web browsing for the fun. You turn your phone off. You do not waste your time with the non urgent emails. You do not let the people distract you. Believe me you'll see that so much things can be done in 8 hours of quality work!

I quote Uncle Bob:

But effort and speed are not related. It is easy to expend a tremendous amount of effort and make no progress at all. Hell, it's easy to expend gargantuan effort and make negative progress. Effort equates neither to speed nor direction.

Read on The Start Up Trap

What you have written reminds me of what was also written by Steven Covey. When you work 3 days in a row you neglect the P/PC balance (principle). You produce a lot but to the detriment of your health and believe me that will not last forever!
Read on The Goose and the Golden Egg

Summary. Produce 8 hours of quality work! Sleep what is necessary. This is the way to go.

  • +1 for focused work and references
    – Daze
    Apr 24, 2014 at 9:10

Doing the impossible and making it look easy can be fun, but like many have said, it's a bad idea to make a practice of doing.

Besides the health and safety problems, which are fairly obvious, you're also setting an expectation that you are their slave and are willing to do inhuman things to accomplish what their lack of planning and unrealistic timeline goals can not. Driving while sleep deprived is on par with drunk driving by the way.

In my experience, this type of practice tends to make clients and partners undervalue you.

It's a very rare occurrence, usually mandated by client contracts to others or outages, that would require this kind of effort. I only do this kind of thing when things are on fire and I'm the only metaphorical fireman on site.

Normally I would advise taking an appropriate amount of padding in the assignment/project to allow for it to be done professionally instead of a madcap nosleep endurance dash that could have embarrassing artifacts produced in the midst of a sleep-dep walking zombie state.

So yes. This is not normal, nor should it be considered normal. Even if you don't realize it, you'll be hitting diminishing returns after about a day. You will achieve more with a properly focused and regimented schedule.


The only thing I can add to all this is: "You cannot finish the project faster than it really takes it to finish it". Any such efforts like yours, will not only destroy your health and keep you unproductive for weeks, months or years, but it will bring question to quality of such project.

If you REALLY want to finish projects so fast and you REALLY cannot make client get more realistic deadline, then I'd suggest you go to increase your rate and get help in the project. So you can work 10-12 hrs if you can on more complex things, and the rest of the work is done by junior/mid-senior who can cover you when you're resting.


You end your question with "I feel I will get tired of doing web development freelancing with this cycle."

The answer, I expect, is right there. If you love working for 3 days straight, then by all means, do that. If you don't love it, or feel it is negatively impacting your life, then don't do it.

Listen to your instincts and find a way that is both productive and compatible with your lifestyle and you will be successful.


The first answer telling you how much you should sleep are both wrong and condescending. Not only does each person require an individualized sleep plan, you should simply do what works for you. If you feel your method produces a better product in the end, stick with it. If not (or if you do feel less healthy), find a way to balance the two.

  • 2
    Just because you can go without sleep is never a good enough reason. If it's possible to sleep, e.g. no one's life is at stake, then sleep. Multiple sleepless nights can cause very serious problems: webmd.com/sleep-disorders/excessive-sleepiness-10/… huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/06/… Apr 21, 2014 at 16:01
  • Yep youre right but the question was has anyone else done that, not is it medically sound.
    – emaltman
    Apr 21, 2014 at 16:10
  • Asking if it's normal is to question the practice. To not inform about the multitude of negative effects would be dishonest. Apr 21, 2014 at 20:17
  • To lecture him is preachy...ultimately i believe he already knows what lack of sleep can do and will make his own right choice.
    – emaltman
    Apr 22, 2014 at 4:41
  • Call it preachy, that's fine. It doesn't change the truth of the statement. I get that he said he understands the risk, but we would be remiss to not bring it up regardless. Apr 22, 2014 at 14:15

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