The government has been urged to limit the length of night shifts to eight hours after a study warned that the growing number of people working through the night face health risks.

Working at night exposes staff to cancer, pregnancy problems and poor mental health linked to social and family life being disrupted, said the Young Foundation.

Night workers are also three times more likely to have an accident, it is claimed.

Changing lifestyles have led to a growth in the 24-hour service economy, with shops, services and leisure activities open later and later in the evening, if not throughout the night, the study found.

“We observed that many night workers had poor diets due to lack of facilities open at night and had a propensity to smoke and drink more,” said the report.

One of the 50 workers interviewed said he and his colleagues ate junk food and did not exercise or sleep much, leading to tiredness and fatigue.

Around 1.3 million people work at night and the number is likely to grow, the report predicted.