Working at Night - What You Need to Know

  • Posted on: 16 December 2014
  • By: interactive

Over the past couple of decades the UK has become a 24 hour society, with the transition being felt in many sectors.  With more of us working full time, we need shops and facilities to open later so that we can organise our busy lives in the time we have off work.  With so many of us needing services to be available 24/7, this means that many more of us these days are working nights.  It used to be that night work was the preserve of a limited section of society, emergency services, public transportation and shift workers in the manufacturing industries. 

At one time if you ran out of anything after 6 o clock in the evening, you would have to wait until the next day for the shops to open, unless you lived in the city and could find a corner shop that opened late.  Nowadays, however, many of our supermarkets are open on a round the clock basis as are petrol stations and some corner shops.  This means that more of us in the UK are working nights and it’s not considered to be unusual any more. 

There are regulations that apply to employees who work at night and these apply to all workers, whether they are permanent members of staff or casual/temporary workers.   As far as working is concerned, the regulations define night time as the period between 23:00 and 06:00, though this can vary with an agreement between employers and employees. 

It is the duty of all employers to comply with night work regulations and to keep records to ensure that staff do not exceed the night working limit.  In general night workers:

  • Must be offered a free health assessment before they begin night working duties and then on a regular basis thereafter.
  • Should not work more than 8 hours in any 24 hour period, averaged over 17 weeks.
  • Cannot opt out from this limit unless it is allowed by a collective workforce agreement.
  • Should not be under the age of 18, although there are exceptions to this rule which can be found at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

It can be challenging for employees to switch to a night shift, especially if they work day shifts too and have to switch between the two on a rota.  This switch can have a physical and emotional impact on your health, so adopting a routine that means you still get enough sleep, eat the right foods, maintain social contacts and keep physically active is essential.  Here are some tips that will help you survive working nights:

  • It will be easier to adapt to the new time frame if you can time meals and other activities to match your new “day”.
  • If possible, use one of your rest breaks to take a short nap which will help maintain and improve performance later in the shift.
  • Exercise is an effective way of maintaining body rhythms so try to start your new “day” with some exercise – jogging, cycling, a yoga workout, etc.
  • When eating on the night shift, opt for smaller portions rather than a heavy meal which may lead to you feeling tired and sluggish or even cause indigestion. Try to avoid caffeine, especially towards the end of the shift as it could stop you from sleeping when you get home.
  • If you’re having trouble sleeping during the daytime, make sure you room is well ventilated. If the noise and the light disturb you, then why not get some black out window blinds and ear plugs?