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Was the BOFH sleep deprived?

Is your systems admin irritable? Could it be sleep deprivation? The BOFH (Bastard Operator from Hell) is a classic figure from computer science fiction (http://bofh.ntk.net/BOFH/) famed for his low tolerance for users disturbing his ‘work’ schedule and doing exactly what they asked but rarely what they wanted. His quick wit probably means that he wasn’t sleep deprived but I am starting to ask how prevalent are the effects of sleep deprivation and what we need to do about them.
Sooner or later most sysadmins work all night to fix an outage and then drag themselves back in to the office the next morning. You may have noticed that they have poor concentration and are more irritable1.

Unfortunately, the systems administration profession is likely to run in to sleep issues: Faults can arise at any time and have to be fixed in a timely manner. As early adopters of ubiquitous communication technologies like e-mail, SMS and mobile internet we ensure that we are in 24 hour contact with the world. We receive notifications of failures at all hours, worry about interruptions when we should be resting, and have erratic working hours. A recipe for sleep deprivation.

The first element to fixing the problem is to recognise that there is a problem.

This problem needs to be addressed both at a personal level and an organisational level:
• At an individual level it is important to recognise the symptoms and not make the situation worse through personal choices.
• At an organisational level it is important that management ensure that there are periods when admins can get undisturbed rest - this means turning off the distractions of 24 hour contact at least some of the time
Because there is an element of personal choice and lifestyle factors in the creation of sleep deprivation, organisations may be reluctant to change policy or provide a better environment. However, only with the co-operation of the organisation is it possible for the individual to resolve the problem - constant worry about having your sleep interrupted results in a self fulfilling prophecy of a disturbed sleep.

Sleep deprivation comes at both a personal and an organisational cost - it deserves that attention of both the individual and the organisation to resolve it.




1. According to a Victorian Government web site:

Symptoms of sleep deprivation in adults include:
• Constant yawning
• The tendency to doze off when not active for a while; for example, when watching television
• Grogginess when waking in the morning
• Sleepy grogginess experienced all day long (sleep inertia)
• Poor concentration and mood changes (more irritable).

Sleep deprivation - Better Health Channel
Sleep deprivation can lead to fatigue, learning and concentration difficulties and accidents. Children who do not get enough sleep may display symptoms including moodiness, tantrums and hyperactive behaviour. Medication, illness, work or stress and personal choice can all lead to sleep deprivation.