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Researchers at the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute (SCNi) have been working with visual artist Martin Kohout to reveal the stories of the night-shift workers who keep London running.

Night shift

Recent figures from the Trade Union Council shows that the number of people in the UK who work night shifts increased by 9% between 2011 and 2016 to 3,135,000. These people work mostly in healthcare, personal protection, transport and communications.

‘The Night Shift project provided a valuable insight from the workers’ perspective, and opened up the door to industry partnerships that will help us develop and deliver research protocols and policy positions that are based on workers’ experiences as well as research outcomes.
- Christopher-James Harvey, Education and Outreach Officer at the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute

Professor Russell Foster, Director of the SCNi in the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, has carried out detailed research into the systems that control the timing of behaviour and physiology, and which are directly impacted by shift work. This circadian system does not usually adjust to night work, no matter how long you have been doing it. This disruption to the timetable has been associated with cancer, cardiovascular disease, weight gain, diabetes and depression.

Professor Foster and colleagues jumped at the chance to raise awareness of the role of sleep in overall health and well-being through this innovative collaboration. Funded by the Wellcome Trust and managed by production company AQNB, the year-long project has resulted in a film, exhibition and book exploring the growing phenomenon of night-time work, and sleep more broadly. The content for these outputs was gathered by the scientists and artists during discussions and interviews with shift workers in London.

The film, ‘Slides’, is a fictional representation of the social impact of staying connected to friends and loved ones who exist at opposite ends of the day. The exhibition, ‘Daylight Management’ features some of the video gained during the interview process.  The book ‘Night Shifter’ will be launched at Auto Italia East (near Bethnal Green, London) on Friday 16 March.

Another outcome of the project was a roundtable discussion hosted by the Southern and Eastern Trade Union Congress bringing together other unions, scientists and industry representatives to discuss current workplace policies around shift work.

This work led to the SCNi starting a project with Liminal Space, a consultancy that engages people on important strategic and social issues using art and design. The team is running focus groups with shift workers to get an idea of what type of intervention would matter to them. The networks established between scientists, artists and industry will help shape an exciting research agenda over the next few years.

'Slides' will stay at Auto Italia East until 18 March- see it while you can!