A Guide to Night Shift Eating
How to eat healthy with shift work
I want to start this post off by giving a HUGE SHOUTOUT to all the nurses, physicians, respiratory therapists, clinical dietitians, pharmacists, social workers, counsellors, custodial team, and everyone else who is working day in and day out saving lives during a pandemic. The work you are doing is often thankless, yet you are showing up every day, working for the better good. Thank you!
I have worked with a number of different professionals who work 8-12 hour shifts in the middle of the night. The night shift comes with many challenges, including working against your body’s natural circadian rhythms. Unfortunately, every hour in a 24-hour day is not equal. Every system in our body does not function the same at night as it would in the day, despite being away. With this being said, the 3 important areas that are vital to health and wellness and being able to perform on demand do not change. These include:
The responses to shift work that may arise are:
- Change in appetite
- Change in sleep patterns, including challenges with quality sleep
- Weight loss or gain
- Digestive struggles: constipation, bloating, diarrhea, heart burn
- Difficulty regulating blood sugars if living with diabetes
Your circadian rhythm or internal body clock regulates the 24-hour cycles of the human body. When we work opposite to our internal clock, negative responses can arise. At night, digestive processes slow down including changes to insulin sensitivity and production. In other words, the key to opening up cells and using energy slows down. On top of this, studies suggest that when the body gets 5 hours of sleep or less, the ghrelin hormone can increase (the signal of when to start eating) and leptin level can decrease (signal to fullness or stop eating). This is a part of the why of when you are sleep deprived, your body wants to eat more.
So now what? Here are some easy guidelines to help you better manage night shift eating.
Tips to Manage Night Shift Eating
- Hydrate: This is number one on my list because it is something that can be brushed under the table very quickly but has a major impact on how you feel. The classic message preached is 8 cups a day or 2L of water a day. This is a great start but this often is not enough for individuals who are active in the day. 2L of fluid a day is a starting place, but it may not be enough.
Focus on water as your first choice of fluid. Other fluids that can also add to your hydration include decaf teas or coffee, diluted fruit juice, milk, broths, carbonated waters.
- Eat a main meal 2-3 hours before shift starts: This will act as your main energy source for your shift and will give you ample time to digest your food without feeling digestive upset. Aim for this meal to include protein, color and a grain. Take your time to sit and enjoy your meal before you head to work.
- Bring small snacks with a small amount of protein to eat every 3-4 hours. It is best to keep the food you’re eating in the night light as your digestive processes slow. The snacks will help keep you mentally alert. Examples: yogurt and fruit, cheese and a homemade muffin, vegetables and hummus.
- Have a light breakfast before bed. Focus of this meal should be a carbohydrate with a quality fat to help you sleep. Never forget to hydrate as well! A couple examples: Oatmeal with PB, fruit and glass of milk or toast with almond or PB with a glass of milk.
The night shift is a challenge, but it is possible to manage with these night shift eating strategies. Of course, it is not possible to be perfect as there will always be curve balls thrown at you that prevent you from following each tip every time, but this is life. Do your best and your body will help you against curveballs when they come.
Again, thank you to all of the professionals working tirelessly to fight this virus. Your selflessness is not left unseen!
Need some personalized help for an eating plan for shift work, a weight challenge or health issue? Book a free phone call to discuss your needs and which Calgary Dietitian or Online Nutritionist in our practice can help.
As Registered Dietitians that specialize in meal planning, weight concerns, emotional eating, eating disorders, digestive health, heart health, diabetes, pediatric nutrition and sports nutrition we can see you in our local Calgary Nutritionist office or as an Online Dietitian by phone or video conferencing for virtual nutrition counseling. Find out more about our Registered Dietitian Nutrition Counseling Programs here.
Don’t forget to check your health insurance! Many insurance plans cover Dietitian services.
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Disordered Eating, Emotional Eating, Sports Nutrition, Fertility/Women's Health
Empathy and kindness are two things you will notice about Alison, oh, and her love of good food and sport! Alison is known for her client-centered approach that looks at a person as a whole in all aspects of physical, mental and spiritual health. She specializes in eating disorders, emotional eating, sports nutrition, fertility and women's health.