Shiftwork is associated with sleep disturbances, gastrointestinal disorders, psychological stress, substance use, and changes in eating behavior. One study shows night shift workers tend to eat higher amounts of fat and consume significantly greater amounts of energy from alcohol than their day and evening shift counterparts, which may put these people at risk for poor nutritional status. Another study among shiftwork nurses reveals that shiftwork negatively affects health satisfaction, maintenance of health and possibly the participation in activities that impact behaviors supporting good health.  

As you can see, there are some reasons for concern. Some of these concerns can be addressed with your diet, exercise and lifestyle. Here are some ways to protect your health if you are a shiftworker.

Consume smaller meals spaced throughout your shift. Having a balanced meal or snack every 3-4 hours may be beneficial. This will help you to keep your energy levels constant and prevent you from feeling too tired. Try pairing a lean protein source with a small portion of a carbohydrate such as:

  • low fat cheese and grapes
  • plain instant oatmeal topped with walnuts and dried fruit
  • greek yogurt or cottage cheese with chopped fruit
  • tuna with whole wheat crackers
  • turkey and low fat cheese on 100% whole grain bread
  • raw vegetables with hummus
  • peanut butter and apple
  • chicken and vegetable stir fry

Choose your carbohydrates carefully. Avoid consuming too many refined carbohydrates during your shift, especially in the form of processed foods and added sugars such as pretzels, white breads, snack chips, sodas and energy drinks. These foods can make you feel more tired and may even contribute to adverse health effects such as high cholesterol and diabetes.

Stock up. Be sure to bring food from home in order to keep your meals and snacks healthy and also to save some money! Keep some “go to” snacks on hand at work such as a bag of low fat string cheese sticks, a large container of yogurt, a few cans of tuna, a box of instant plain oatmeal packets, a container of all natural peanut butter and unsalted mixed nuts.

Be mindful of caffeine intake. Though caffeine can give you a boost, your body does build up a tolerance to it. Try limiting yourself to just a cup or two of coffee in the beginning of the shift and saving an additional cup for times when you really need the extra kick. Avoid caffeinated beverages before going to sleep. Limit your use of energy drinks as these contain very high amounts of added sugars and caffeine which may perk you up for a bit, but cause you to crash hard afterwards.

Make time for exercise. Try working out before your shift in order to give yourself a natural energy boost. Take a short break at work and go for a 15 minute brisk walk or do little things such as walking the stairs in place of taking the elevator, printing documents out at a printer on another floor or relaying a message in person rather than sending an email.

Sources:

Differences in dietary intake and health perspective among nurses on shiftwork

V.J Wall, M.H Gravely 

Journal of the American Dietetic Association – September 1994 (Vol. 94, Issue 9, Supplement, Page A13)

Relationships Among Meal Patterns, Dietary Intake, and Work Schedule in Women.

J. Benedict, M. Harrington, M. Dodds, C. Leontos, K. Lewis, G. Charles 

Journal of the American Dietetic Association – September 1996 (Vol. 96, Issue 9, Supplement, Page A58, DOI: 10.1016/S0002-8223(96)00507-X)

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