Compared to individuals who work during the day, shift workers are at higher risk of a range of metabolic disorders and diseases (e.g. obesity, cardiovascular disease, peptic ulcers, gastrointestinal problems, and poor blood sugar control). At least some of these complaints may be linked to diet quality and irregular timing of eating. However, with a little more planning and effort you can lower your risk of health problems…following are our best tips that will see you attain a more healthy & regular nutrition pattern.
- PLAN FOR REGULAR MEALS: Eat 3 healthy & satisfying meals in each 24-hour period. It’s a good idea to eat a lunch/dinner-style meal to break up the shift. It will improve your appetite and keep your bowels regular. Packing a healthy meal from home will reduce reliance on junk food/2am pizza deliveries!
- EAT WELL: Avoid relying on high-sugar and high-calorie convenience foods during the shift. You know the things on this list…energy drinks, soft drinks, Arnott’s crème’s biscuits, chocolate bars, chips and greasy fast food! Instead choose vegetable soups, salads, wholegrain sandwiches with salad & cottage cheese/tin-fish/boiled Snack on fresh fruit/salad, yoghurt, milk, nuts and green/black/herbal teas
- EATING BEFORE BED – A GOOD IDEA! You can improve the quality of your sleep by not going to bed too full or too hungry. Eating a light snack/breakfast-style meal is ideal (see examples below). Avoid “large meals” 1–2 hours prior to your main daily sleep, as large meals negatively affect sleep quality. Also avoid highly spicy, cheesy, fatty or fried foods here as these increase your risk or heartburn – especially when lying down!
- CAFFEINE: Having a coffee upon waking is a great idea to increase concentration and wakefulness. However, caffeine remains in your blood stream at PEAK concentration for 3 hrs after you drink it, and will take at least 6hrs to clear out all together. Most people would do well to avoid caffeine for the 5hrs before bed. Do not exceed 3 shots of espresso or 5 tsp of instant coffee in a 24 hr period. Energy drinks are not recommended. Tea is a good substitute which has less of a stimulatory effect on our nervous system than does coffee. Herbal teas are a non-caffeinated alternative which may aid sleep quality. The old wives tale of having a mug of warm milk before bed to promote drowsiness, is actually true!
- HYDRATION: Drink plenty of water and other fluids to prevent dehydration, as being dehydrated makes you feel tired! By the time you feel thirsty you are likely already dehydrated, so drink enough to AVOID the feeling of thirst. Drink a glass of water with each meal and snack, and tho thirst between this at the beginning & middle of your shift. Drink less at the end of a shift so you don’t interrupt your sleep with too many toilet stops.
Ref: Lowden et al (2010) Eating and shift work – effects on habits, metabolism, and performance, Scand J Work Environ Health;36(2):150–162