Graveyard Shift II: What’s it Like Working Nights?

Second in a series of interviews with people working the so-called graveyard shift, Cordelia Fellowes speaks to Ben, who was a radio presenter for 10 years and has been a light sleeper ever since… 

Ben, 42, worked nights at an international broadcasting company for ten years. This is his story:

“I was young when I started working nights and I wasn’t in a relationship. I was clubbing a lot and in fact I didn’t find the shift pattern of nights, earlies and normal hours too bad. I struggled to get to sleep during the day and looking back I was surviving on very little rest but somehow I kept going.

My diet definitely suffered. I ate a lot more sugar and snack type food and drank more coffee than I do now and I smoked constantly. I gained weight and developed IBS, though this isn’t something I attributed to working nights until this interview*. My sleep patterns have definitely never recovered, I am now an incredibly light sleeper, something that developed early on in my career working nights.

Why work the graveyard shift?

I wasn’t given the option of any other kind of work at the time, but never-the-less it was presented as very prestigious and respectful to be taking on the nightly broadcasts. To be honest I believed the hype, as I was now one of the voices that I remember hearing when I was growing up. That distant monologue on the radio late at night… I was proud to be that voice and I still feel that way. I enjoyed the job and the extra money (which came in at around £250 a month) was enormously helpful in paying off my mortgage.

I met my current partner whilst working nights, so he was well aware of what he was getting himself in to when we got together! He worked similarly interchangeable times and to my memory we never had any problems that arose as a result of my working pattern.

There was definitely a sense of camaraderie amongst those of us working nights, I have some very fond memories of those times. There’s rarely a manager around so you’re pretty much free to do your own thing, as long as you’re on time for your broadcasts and you get your work done of course! We’d play pranks on each other and wind each other up, it was light-hearted. I don’t remember many people complaining… For all I know my colleagues were suffering from lack of sleep and maybe IBS too, but it wasn’t discussed. You were generally encouraged to not complain – it was seen as a sign of weakness and I for one didn’t want to come across as ungrateful or unsuitable for my job.

Five years in to my job I was aggressively mugged while on holiday and the experience traumatised me so badly, I began to have extreme feelings of disassociation, almost ‘out of body’ experiences. These definitely began as a result of what happened, but whether my trauma was prolonged or exacerbated by me working nights (and therefore not getting enough rest or sunlight) I’ll never know. To be perfectly honest I didn’t blame many things on work, it just wasn’t my nature to. This was however, an incredibly difficult time for me and I saw a lot of therapists during this period. I don’t recall ever discussing my problems with my manager.

I may have continued working nights for longer but fortunately I was offered a different job and I took it. I don’t think I would enjoy working unsociable hours now that I’m older. My IBS would undoubtably trouble me and also the fact that I don’t have a great night’s sleep most nights, would inevitably make any sort of night work that much harder.

All in all I don’t regret those ten years, even though they may have left me with the bane of being a light sleeper, possibly for the rest of my life… I enjoyed the challenges those years presented and where they took me in my career. I feel lucky to have been given the opportunity.”

*I disclosed to Ben what Juliette – from my first interview – had told me about the surgery where multiple night workers from their company went complaining of IBS and lower intestine problems.

Names have been changed