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Riding the night-shift train

By CNN's Diana Muriel

About half of Eurostar's 1,300 employees work shifts.
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Working shifts -- a reality for 30 percent of the workforce -- can mean greater flexibility for people to organize their personal lives.

But it also means exposure to a host of health risks associated with working odd hours.

Sleep expert Leon Kreitzman, who co-wrote "Rhythms of Life," says health can be a serious casualty of working shifts.

"Working the night shift, say for quite a few years, is extremely damaging to health. (Research shows) that the risk is about the same as if you smoked a packet of cigarettes a day," he says.

"It's bad for your heart, it's bad for your digestive system, stress levels seem to be higher, depression seems to be higher, (there is) a whole range of factors."

About half of the 1,300 people who work for Eurostar, the cross-channel train service that operates out of London's Waterloo Station, work shifts.

Company director Paul Charles says staff members like it that way.

"The majority of our staff, especially as we are a travel business, say they like the shift working because it gives them much more flexibility," he says.

"They're not working a five-day week; they're often working a three- or four-day week within their 35 hours (a week) time band."

Eurostar train manager Andrew Ditton, 34, has been working the night shift for 10 years, traveling from London to Paris and back again every shift, with only one 45-minute break each shift.

His job includes keeping an eye on the 600-plus passengers on the £25 million supertrain, which reaches speeds of 186 mph and travels under the English Channel through tunnels 45 meters below sea level If anything goes wrong, he is accountable.

He says the down time his director talks about is an extremely important part of working odd hours.

"Because you feel so shattered, you can't do anything. You just want to sit there and blob and veg because you just haven't got the will to do anything. You feel like rubbish, so you have to have extra time to get over that."

Ditton says his family life suffers as a result of working strange hours, and that as a vegetarian he is extra vigilant about taking care of his health.

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