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I can be described as a morning person, where waking up at 4:20 AM to catch a flight is no problem. My colleague on the other hand go to bed no earlier than midnight and often later than that.

We're both programmers, and if we're in a critical phase of a project, my colleague works until 3AM, and I start at 4AM. Still both times are in the middle of the night and we tend to get most work done at off working hours.

Question is why that is?

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You're not alone. –  whatever Dec 29 '13 at 21:16
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Interesting question. This could depend on outer circumstances instead of being a biological phenomena though. For example, night is is much more distraction free from a sociological perspective. –  danijar Dec 30 '13 at 0:09

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

Probably both a combination of being more tired and fewer distractions. Most other people will be asleep during the night. Programming is adversely affected by context-switching, thus night-time with stimulant-enhanced soda is more likely to provide you with long periods of interruption free coding.

Update: The above situation creates the conditions where Csíkszentmihályi's Flow is most likely to take place.

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I answered a similar question some time ago on Programmers SE: Are developers more productive at night?

One interesting paper I ran into with a different perspective than the one provided in Justas's answer is "The Programmer Life-Cycle" by Russell Ovans (2004). It discusses 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.

An important disclaimer to add: his perspective is based on his own observations and experiences over the course of six years while working as a senior software engineer.

Although perhaps not as relevant to you since you state you mainly work at night due to critical phases of a project, other programmers generally prefer working late at night. Taking Ovan's report into account, and considering that programmers usually work 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.

Ovans, Russell. "The programmer life-cycle." ACM SIGSOFT Software Engineering Notes 29.3 (2004): 25-26.

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