Shift work means working outside of the usual 7am – 6pm time period. Shift work can upset your body’s “internal clock”. Your internal clock is what tells your body to be awake during the day and to be asleep at night.
It is common for shift workers to find it hard to know when and what to eat. It may also be hard to find enough time to exercise regularly.
It is common for shift workers to notice the following :
- A change in appetite
- Trouble falling asleep or getting enough sleep at night
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Changes in your bowels habits, including constipation, diarrhea or increased gas
- Indigestion, heartburn or stomach ulcers
- High blood pressure.
By eating well and keeping active, shift workers can avoid some of the problems listed above.
Below we have listed our top nutrition tips to stay healthy, alert and to help you feel your best at both work and home.
Our Dietitians 10 top tips for shift workers:
Eat your main meal before going to work:
if you are working an afternoon shift try to have your main meal at midday, if you are working the evening shift, aim to eat your main meal around 6pm before you go to work. During your shift try to have a small meal and healthy snacks. Try to avoid eating large meals during the night as this can cause heartburn, gas or constipation, as well as causing you to feel tired and sluggish. Also, try to avoid overeating when working.
Pack your own healthy snacks:
It can be hard to find healthy snacks when working afternoon and night shifts, as many cafes may be closed. Generally, vending machines offer energy-dense options that tend to be high in salt, sugar and/ or fat. Good snacks to bring to your shift may include a piece of fruit with some low-fat cheese, nuts or low-fat yoghurt. More snack ideas can be found in our recent blog post.
Try to avoid fatty, fried or spicy foods:
These foods may lead to heartburn or indigestion. Filling your diet with high-fat foods can also increase your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Try to avoid sugary foods and drinks:
After eating some lollies, chocolate or drinking a surgery drink you may notice a quick burst of energy, however, this doesn’t last long and may cause you to experience an energy drop and lower energy later on in your shift. Try to opt for more nutritious snacks and drinks to keep you alert and provide you with sustained energy over your shift.
Take your time with eating:
Try not to rush your meal. Try to eat mindfully, enjoy your meal break and enjoy every bite of your snack/ meal. It can also help to eat with your co-workers for some company.
Try to stay hydrated:
Ensure you are drinking plenty of water to prevent dehydration. This may assist you in staying alert and not tired during your shift. Try to keep a water bottle with you and take sips regularly during your shift. Low-fat milk, tea, unsweetened herbal tea and other nutritious drinks can be other ways to keep your hydration up. Just be aware of how much milk or other calorie-containing drinks you are consuming as these calories can add up quickly.
Watch how much caffeine you are consuming:
Drinking coffee, tea and other caffeinated beverages can keep you alert and provide you with energy, however try not to consume over 400 mg of caffeine a day. This works out to be the amount of caffeine found in around 2-3 small cups of regular coffee. Caffeine can stay in our system for up to 8 hours and can therefore affect your sleep. Try to switch to decaffeinated drinks, unsweetened herbal tea or water around 4 hours before you plan on going to sleep.
Try to avoid drinking alcohol when you get home from work. It may help you feel more relaxed, but alcohol can actually disturb your sleep.
Have a light snack before bed:
It is hard to fall asleep when you are too hungry or too full. If you get home from work and are still hungry opt to have a small healthy snack before bed. For example a bowl of wholegrain cereal (e.g. weetbix or oats) with milk or a piece of wholegrain toast with jam. If you are too full before bed, try to cut out a snack during your shift to help prevent this.
Aim to stay at a healthy body weight:
Eating well and staying active plays a big role in helping us to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. When we are at a healthy body weight, we lower our risk of heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer.
Some other considerations include:
- Stick to your routine: On your days off try to eat and sleep around the same times you would if you were working your shift, This will help your “internal clock” to stay on schedule. Your companies occupational health nurse can also provide some insight around the best sleeping schedule for you.
- Eat together: Where possible, try to eat at least one meal a day with your family/ friends/ loved ones/ housemates. It has been found that families that eat together actually eat healthier and more balanced meals.
Eating with others can also help to:
- Improve your mood
- Stay fit and active
- Manage your stress
- Improve your sleep
- Re-energize yourself at work
- When at work it can also help to take a stretch break, walk up the stairs or go for a walk to keep you fit and active.
- It can also be important to stay in touch with your loved ones as working shifts can be stressful on both your family and social life. Plan your leave in advance to help you to attend family/ social events and activities so you don’t have to miss out.
I hope this provides some insight around how to stay healthy when undertaking shift work!
This blog post is an educational tool only. It is not a replacement for medical advice from a registered and qualified doctor or health professional.
Any other questions not answered here? Get in touch with us!
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