How Long is the Night?

How long is the night? Anyone who has done shift work will know the night is very long when you are night duty and very short when you have to get up for early shift. Depending on your circumstances, late shift may provide a blissful interlude. In a previous incarnation, when we lived by Heathrow Airport, I would wake up after a late shift when Concorde took off at 11 am. I did not always get a lie in; in a house of several shift workers a shrill alarm would go off at the other end of the house, waking us up, but not our son. Cyberspouse would say ‘Just leave him, it’s up to him to get up.’ He never did, the alarm would penetrate our brains and one of us would always end up going to rouse him, perhaps a common scene in lots of homes. One morning my friend wondered why she couldn’t wake her son up, until her daughter reported that he had only arrived home ten minutes before.

Whether you have a clock radio that wakes you up for work with Farming Today or you are an insomniac trying to get back to sleep by listening to Farming Today at 5.45am, the radio is there to see many of us through the night. I have never had a television in the bedroom, but as television is renowned for sending people to sleep, I can understand why insomniacs find themselves keeping up with the adventures of an Australian vet in the middle of the night. Or perhaps you prefer Escape to the Chateau or Britain’s Fattest People when you can’t get back to sleep.

But it’s radio that does its best to soothe us to sleep. On BBC Radio 3 you can listen to Night Tracks, usually relaxing, followed by Through the Night, basically back to back concerts till 6.30 am when a new day starts. Let’s tune in to another station. BBC Radio 4 knows exactly how long the night is – four and a half hours. Today in Parliament at 11.30pm should surely send you to sleep. Midnight, more news, perhaps not, but at 12.30 am it’s Book of the Week, a nice bedtime story. In my recent blog ‘On The Radio’, Ellen commented that she would like to know the fascination with the shipping forecast.


At 12.48am the shipping forecast comes on, preceded by the soothing / dreary tune Sailing By, which is not to send those of us tucked up in bed to sleep, but to alert mariners to be tuned in. The shipping forecast is produced by the Met Office and broadcast four times a day on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. The waters around the British Isles are divided into 31 sea areas. Of interest to writers – the forecast has a limit of 350 words, except for the 0048 broadcast, which has a 380 word limit. The unique style attracts many who have no intention of putting even a foot in the sea. It is just fascinating to listen to, even though, or perhaps because we have no idea what most of it means. We like to imagine far flung mysterious islands and wave swept rocky headlands.

For the 2008 Beijing Olympics, BBC’s Zeb Soames was asked to read the shipping forecast to a worldwide audience of over a billion. Soanes says: “To the non-nautical, it is a nightly litany of the sea… It reinforces a sense of being islanders with a proud seafaring past. Whilst the listener is safely tucked-up in their bed, they can imagine small fishing-boats bobbing about at Plymouth or 170ft waves crashing against Rockall.”

There are warnings of gales in Rockall, Malin, Hebrides, Bailey, and Fair Isle …   Humber, Thames. Southeast veering southwest 4 or 5, occasionally 6 later. Thundery showers. Moderate or good, occasionally poor.

There are weather reports from automatic weather logging stations, such as “Channel Light Vessel Automatic”; these are the coastal weather stations. More familiar sounding to those on land is the inshore waters forecast that rounds off the broadcast. The inshore coastal areas of the United Kingdom are 15 fixed stretches of coastline used in weather forecasting especially for wind-powered or small coastal craft. Each area is mentioned in the same order, clockwise round the mainland starting and finishing in the north west of Britain. You can follow places you have been on holiday or that lighthouse you visited.   North Foreland to Selsey Bill, Selsey Bill to Lyme Regis. When you hear  Adnamurchan Point to Cape Wrath including the Outer Hebrides, you know you’re back  to the beginning,  with a quick trip further north to the Shetland Isles…

If you are still awake the National Anthem is now played and BBC Radio 4 closes down for the night, but you will not be left alone, BBC World Service takes over, with all sorts of interesting programmes until 5.20 am when it’s the shipping forecast again. At 5.30 am Radio 4 is back with News Briefing and Prayer for the Day.

Many radio stations all over the world broadcast through the night; if you tune in what are your favourite stations?

29 thoughts on “How Long is the Night?

  1. I don’t listen to radio much any more but funnily enough, over Christmas I was listening to some Irish stations I used to know. They were only commercial, local stations but I closed my eyes and was back there.

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  2. I’m like you – I don’t have a TV in the bedroom, either, but I do have an Internet Radio, which I love! I keep soft, relaxing music playing on it all day and night, and find it creates a peaceful environment for sleeping when I am ready to go to bed. Also, the wonderful thing about internet radio, if you’re in the mood for it, is that you can listen to any type of music, news or entertainment you want, from anywhere around the world. So it’s great for imagining you are somewhere else that you can’t travel to during Covid! 🙂

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  3. Not being an overnight radio listener neither do I have a television in bedrooms I find night sounds lull me to sleep…I could sleep on a clothesline it has been said…lol…But I find it fascinating just what you can listen to overnight if needs must. Be well, stay safe and sleep tight 🙂 x

    Liked by 1 person

      1. So far so good Janet…I go head, pillow ,die…nothing stops me sleeping sometimes we get loud. very loud music which drifts over from a local park but I have the capacity to switch off…I just get comfy …I would say maybe once or twice a year that doesn’t work but that is generally if I am really, really stressed apart from that…The only downside is it doesn’t matter when I go to sleep once my body decides it has had enough sleep I wake up …as they say early to bed early to rise…xxx

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  4. When struggling to fall asleep, my two go-to moves are to read until my eyes get heavy or to turn on the radio to a low volume and fall asleep to it.

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  5. I have never had a TV or radio in the bedroom, though I did work shifts for 33 years. I know what you mean about long nights, though I was generally too busy to realise a night shift was dragging. But when it was quiet, that hours between 04:00 and 05:00 seemed to be tiwce as long as any other hour.
    The Shipping Forecast is very much in the DNA of us, as islanders. But my 30-something step-children have never listened to it, or even heard of it.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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  6. I’ve never listened to BBC World Service before. I used to listen to the radio, when I was in my late teens and early 20s, before bed to help me relax, then it was the first thing that got me up and out in the morning for work. I’ve never done shift work but I’ve dealt with insomnia for several years, so from that perspective I empathise. Leaving near Heathrow must be quite an experience! We used to live by a railway line. At first it was all we ever heard with trains going by, but then you get oddly used to it.xx

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  7. I love the sound of trains and wouldn’t mind a railway at the bottom of the garden like my dad grew up with. The last home we had by Heathrow we kept the bedroom curtains open and I could actually see Concorde taking off when I woke up. On winter evenings you could go out the front door and see her afterburners. So sad when she stopped flying, though happy news for the environment.

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  8. When I was a wee thing we’d listen to the ABC (Australia’s version of the BBC) because that’s all the ‘entertainment’ there was in the bush, and now I listen to the world at the touch of a keyboard. 🙂 I don’t miss those childhood days though, they were hard.

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    1. After my teen years in Perth I can still recall snatches of the WA shipping forecast – Mandurah to Jurien Bay . Also permanently planted in my brain is the fanfare before the ABC news. Do they still play that?

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  9. I live roughly mid way between Gatwick and Heathrow, and the sound of the first planes flying over around 5 a.m. was my signal it was bedtime. As you say better for the environment but strangely I miss them. 😀

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