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Health dangers of prolonged night shifts revealed

The government has been urged to limit the length of night shifts to eight hours after a study warned that the growing number of people working through the night face health risks.

Working at night exposes staff to cancer, pregnancy problems and poor mental health linked to social and family life being disrupted, said the Young Foundation.

Night workers are also three times more likely to have an accident, it is claimed.

Changing lifestyles have led to a growth in the 24-hour service economy, with shops, services and leisure activities open later and later in the evening, if not throughout the night, the study found.

“We observed that many night workers had poor diets due to lack of facilities open at night and had a propensity to smoke and drink more,” said the report.

One of the 50 workers interviewed said he and his colleagues ate junk food and did not exercise or sleep much, leading to tiredness and fatigue.

Around 1.3 million people work at night and the number is likely to grow, the report predicted.

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Readers' comments (10)

  • Natalie Jewell

    I'm surprised nothing has been done about this sooner. I remember reading research on this over a decade ago.

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  • I have felt so much better since I gave up doing nightshifts due to a change in jobs. Now I see my family and certainly my health has improved but is not what it once was. I suspect the damage of over 20 years of night shifts has been dione and cannot be undone now.

    I have always been a strong advocate for shorter shifts.

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  • Exactly Natalie, I totally agree. It isn't just the length of night shifts either (or any shift really), it is the fact that many of us do so many different shifts in such a short stretch of time. (It is not unusual for example for a Nurse to do an early, late, early, late, early, a couple of days off then nights, or a night on, night off, then back in again). It just isn't right. We need proper turnaround between shift changes, and real rest (3 or 4 days) after a block of nights. We are not robots. BUT we do only have ourselves to blame, it is perhaps many Nurses attitude of martyrdom, wearing their exhaustion like some sort of ridiculous badge of honour, that is to blame.

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  • We've known this for years! My partner and I have been nurses since 1982, and have worked god knows how many nights in that time. Now we both find it harder to recover in that the tiredness lasts a lot longer, and our sleep patterns are disrupted for longer. Sometimes we don't even get back to being awake during the day if one set of nights is hot on the heels of the previous set. I would love a nursing job that is days only, but since internal rotation was made mandatory on all wards, this is virtually impossible to get. Time to retire; oops sorry forgot that we can't retire until we are ready to drop!!!

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  • i was told by a manager that its because they want the nurses on night only contracts to get day experience.
    but if they are retiring soon what do they care about study days and ward rounds?
    the worst bit is doing the school run knowing after a night shift that you feel incapable of driving.

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  • Anonymous | 7-Apr-2011 8:15 am, when I did a stint of working nights only for a period, I had the same thing said to me by the managers, 'they want the nurses on night only contracts to get day experience'. I said that was fair enough and I was absolutely fine with that and would do some days, so you know what they did? They put me on two long day shifts in the same week as nights on top of my contracted hours, with only a days turnaround! I told them point blank I wasn't doing it, and if they wanted me to do days, then they could take me off nights for that week, whatever shifts I worked I would stick within my contracted hours, and I wanted at least 3 days turnaround between nights and days. They got really snotty with me but I held firm. I was the one with the power after all, they need staff Nurses, we can always find other wards. I won in the end. I know many others who simply did it just because they didn't want to rock the boat! I wish more Nurses would speak up for themselves.

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  • I prefer nights, always have, some people are owls some are larks - re: diet, exercise & sleep - take responsibility for yourself. Nights allow more time for 1:1 work and you don't have the hassle or distractions you get during day shifts. I do a mix of days and nights so that I get the best of both. It's a simple matter of planning and time management. Stop moaning.

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  • I agree that nights are bad for health, but who did this study??

    C'mon NT, think about what you are publishing before trying to get 'sensational' headlines.

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  • 1.3 million night workers, and they interview 50.

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  • shorter shifts maybe problematic, and could be highly anxiety provoking which is also a serious health hazard for those relying on the safety of public transport and walking home at certain hours of the night.

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