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Health Promotion Specialist

October 1, 2017

Eating for shift work – 10 tips for maintaining good eating habits

Working outside of normal working hours can put a real strain on your body. Not only can shift work disrupt your sleeping pattern but it can also wreak havoc on your diet. Shift workers are at higher risk of becoming overweight and developing diabetes and heart disease, so it’s important to stay healthy and pick the right fuel for your body.

Working at odd hours disturbs our internal “body clock”, which helps to regulate a number of bodily functions such as sleeping and waking, body temperature, blood pressure and digestion. As a result, shift workers often experience digestion problems such as stomach pain, gas, nausea and heartburn. Poor eating habits only make this worse.

Here are our 10 tips for eating well for shift work: 

  1. Find a new routine – your meal times are likely to be different when you’re working shifts, so find what works for you. It can help to have your “main meal” before your shift starts, so that might be midday if you have an afternoon shift, or later in the evening if you have a night shift. Include some protein (lean meat, beans and lentils, or dairy foods) at the start of your shift. These foods give a slower release of energy from food and help you to stay full for longer.
  2. Lighter meals and snacks during your shift are easier to digest and might help to prevent problems like heartburn or gas. Try foods like soups, salads or sandwiches.
  3. Have a small meal or snack before bedtime – it’s hard to sleep when you’re really hungry (or really full). Including some wholegrain carbohydrates like brown bread, sweet potato or cereal, may help you to sleep better. Try a bowl of wholegrain cereal with milk or toast with peanut butter.
  4. Pick the right snacks – a chocolate bar or fizzy juice will give you a quick burst of energy, but will be followed by an energy slump. Snack on low-fat yoghurt or cheese, and a handful of nuts or a piece of fruit. For more snack ideas click here.
  5. Because of the extra strain on your body, fried, fatty and spicy foods can make you feel worse. These foods can be hard to digest and are best avoided.
  6. Take time to enjoy your meals. Taking time to eat your food slowly helps with digestion too. If you can, sit with colleagues to enjoy a meal together.
  7. Monitor your caffeine intake and try not to overdo it! Caffeine found in coffee, tea, cola and energy drinks can help you to stay alert but the effects of caffeine can last for hours after your last coffee. Avoid caffeine for about four hours before bed time.  
  8. Keep up your fluids (find out how much you should be drinking here) – dehydration can make your feel more drowsy so keep a water bottle handy. Low-fat milk, unsweetened teas and herbal drinks are other good options. 
  9. Avoid alcohol after a night shift – a wee drink when you get home might help you feel more relaxed, but alcohol can affect your sleep.
  10. Try to get some exercise – not diet related, but important all the same! Regular exercise helps to maintain a healthy weight and keep your bowel movements regular. During work take the stairs or go for a quick walk if you can. Getting outside during daylight hours is even better to soak up some Vitamin D!

Tip: For information on good sleeping patterns, read our blog on sleep: ‘Are you getting enough ZZZ?’.

Does workplace wellness matter to you? Subscribe to our Live Better Blog newsletter here. 

*Image credit: BrianAJackson

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***Disclaimer: always seek medical advice before starting a new diet, exercise regime or medication. The information in these articles is not a substitute for professional advice from a GP, registered dietitian or other health practitioner.

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