Sarah Montague’s alarm goes off at the unearthly time of 3.25am on working days. Why? Because she’s one of the presenters of BBC Radio 4’s flagship current affairs programme, Today. She arrives at the studio at 4am, spends the next two hours preparing for the show and the programme starts at 6am on the dot.
The radio journalist is just one of 3.5 million people in the UK who are at work while the rest of us slumber peacefully.
Her experience has now prompted her to investigate the impact of working the night shift.
“Could my early rising, when my body is screaming at me to go back to sleep, be doing more serious and permanent damage than can be reversed by a good night’s sleep?” she asks in an article for the BBC website.
Her report, The Night Shift, will be aired on BBC Radio 4 tonight (it will be available on BBC iPlayer after that) and I’ll be listening avidly.
I regularly worked nights as a news reporter and never got used to it.
Journalists took turns to man the night news desk for a week at a time, working solo from midnight till 8am. The job involved talking to foreign correspondents around the world, scouring the first editions for possible follow-ups and, if and when a massive story broke, dispatching reporters to all four corners of the earth. My favourite story from those days was when a respected senior hack rang the desk in the middle of the night, slightly the worst for wear (I mean drunk as a skunk). He needed help in working out where in hell he actually was. I seem to recall it was Paris.
There’s no doubt about it – night shifts are the pits. They wreck your social life and screw up your sleeping pattern. The only thing I could face eating when I was on nights was porridge and my face pretty much matched a bowl of porridge – in other words, pale and rather pasty. Even now, all these years later, I only have to unscrew the top of a Thermos flask and smell the stench of stale coffee to be transported back to my old news room in Fleet Street, tin desks, bashed up typewriters and all.