2 June 2022

Everything you need to know about night duties

Everything you need to know about night duties

Compared to the rest of Europe, in the Netherlands many people are on night duty. During the nightly hours, the people in health care, security, transport and production are the most active. Nevertheless, not only in these sectors people are on night duty. Self-employed workers without employees also often work irregular shifts and often work more hours than is good for them. This article discusses how unhealthy working at night is, what one can do to minimalise the effects of night duties and what will make working at night more pleasant

How unhealthy is working at night?

Working at night has advantages and disadvantages. The advantages mainly regard your personal preferences and situation. The disadvantages regard the effects of night duties on your health. How unhealthy is working at night? Research from various universities shows that doing regular night duties has a negative effect on some specific processes in your body.

‘Did you know….that everyone has a biological clock? This clock gives one a day-and-night rhythm, also sometimes referred to as the circadian rhythm.’

The circadian rhythm influences the pattern of sleep and being awake, the hormone emission and the glucose level in the body. If you regularly work at night, especially the production of melatonin and cortisol becomes disrupted. Apart from this, the biological clock takes care of various other functions in your body. Functions that, for example, make sure that your body temperature is well arranged, that you get hungry at certain moments and that you get sleepy in time. Basically, the biological clock makes sure that your body does what it needs to do on specific moments. When this rhythm is disrupted, for example because of a jetlag or being on night duty, then this may have consequences for your health. Because of a disturbance in the biorhythm, some people, who are often on night duty, are still at a higher risk for serious conditions, even 24 hours later. These conditions are stomach and bowel problems, stress, high blood pressure and depression. Some research even says that it may cause cancer.

What are nightly hours?

According to the government, you are on night duty, when you work between 12:00 a.m. and 06:00 a.m. for at least one hour. Most night duties in the Netherlands are between 10:00 p.m. and 06:00 or between 12:00 a.m. and 08:00 a.m. The number of night duties you are on per 16 weeks determines how many hours per week you are allowed to work in those same 16 weeks. Are you on less than 16 night duties in 16 weeks, then you are not allowed to work more than an average of 48 hours per week. Are you on more than 16 night duties, then you are allowed to work an average of 40 hours per week. After having been on night duty, you are entitled to a period of rest.

Ways to diminish the effects of night duties

To minimise the effects of night duties, there are few tips you can take to heart. First of all, make sure you prepare yourself well for night duty. Prepare yourself by sleeping before you are on night duty, prepare meals in advance and make sure you get enough exercise. For example, make sure you get at least 1.5 hours of sleep before you start your night duty.

Meals before, during and after your night duty

Before you start working, it is wise to eat and to gain enough energy to get you through the first working hours. Make sure that you have meals with enough proteins and preferably with low fat and low sugar, during your night duty. A salad with eggs would be a good choice. Proteins will keep you focused during the night, while fat and sugar is not properly decomposed during the night. Regarding your choice of snacks, or meal before you go to bed after your night duty, it is wise to choose a banana, or some yogurt, nuts or milk. This contains tryptophan which stimulates the production of melatonin, the sleeping hormone. This is why it is advised to have some hot milk before you go to sleep.

Exercising and relaxing during night duties

You might not consider going for a stroll during your break, but it is important to exercise during your night duty. It does not matter how you exercise, but exercise keeps you focused. This is therefore the reason why it’s not a good idea to exercise after your night duty, for it will not help you sleep. Apart from this, it is important to relax, to diminish the effects of night duties. Therefore, it is wise – if the work permits this – to have a powernap of a maximum of 20 minutes. When you take a powernap during your break, do make sure to set your alarm to wake up in time.

What is the maximum period of time allowed for night duties?

Night duties can last 10 up to 12 hours. Do you work for a maximum of 5 times every 2 weeks and are you on 22 night duties per year? In that case, your night duties may last 12 hours. However, if you are on regular night duties, the night duties may last for a maximum of 10 hours. After every night duty, you are entitled to a period of rest. If the night duty ends after 02:00 a.m., you are basically entitled to at least 14 hours of rest. However, it is allowed to take 8 hours of rest between 2 night duties, for once a week. Does your night duty end before 02:00 a.m. then you are entitled to 11 hours of rest and after 3 or more night duties in a row, you are entitled to 46 hours of rest.

What is the maximum age of an employee to be allowed to be on night duty?

Basically, there are no legal stipulations regarding the maximum age at which one has to stop working night duties. Nevertheless, in the collective bargaining agreement, often regulations are laid down regarding the maximum age of employees being on night duty. The collective bargaining agreement of health care, for example, stipulates that employees older than 55 years old are no longer obliged to be on night duty, but if the employee does not mind being on night duty, then he or she is not necessarily prohibited to work at night.

How much allowance do I get when I am on night duty?

The law says nothing about the amount of the minimal allowance for night duties. Nevertheless, you basically always get an allowance for night duties. The amount of the allowance usually depends on the risk that you run as employer. One can usually find agreements with respect to the amount of the allowance in the collective bargaining agreement of the sector, your employment contract or the rules of the company you work for.

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