Eating on shifts – 10 tips to maintain healthier habits

Working shifts can put a real strain on your body. Not only can shift work disrupt your sleeping pattern but it can also wreak havoc with your diet. Shift workers are more likely to gain weight, develop diabetes and heart disease so it’s important to pick the right fuel and take care of 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 digestive problems such as stomach ache, bloating, wind, nausea and heartburn. Poor eating habits often only make these worse.

10 tips for eating well for shift work: 

1.      Include some protein (lean meat, beans and lentils, or dairy foods) before you begin or at the start of your shift. These foods give a slower release of energy, helping to stabilise blood sugar levels and keep you feeling fuller 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, wraps, scrambled eggs, yoghurt or porridge.

3.      Have a small meal or snack before bedtime – it’s hard to sleep when you’re 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 sugary drink will give you a quick burst of energy but will soon be followed by an energy slump. Sugary foods can also worsen menopause symptoms such as hot flushes and also affect your sleep. Snack on skyr yoghurt, a handful of nuts, popcorn, some wholegrain crackers or pitta bread with a dip like hummus or a piece of fruit.

5.      Watch out for fried, fatty and spicy foods. These can make you feel worse because they can be hard to digest and are linked to heartburn and bloating. You may find they make you run to the loo too.

6.      Take time to enjoy your meals. Pausing work to eat your food more slowly will definitely help with digestion. You are also more likely to remember what you ate, which also adds to sensations of fullness as you take note of the food flavours, textures and smells. 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 7 hours after your last coffee. Sugar free squash, milk, herbal teas and decaffeinated coffee are ideal alternatives if you are not a fan of plain water.

8.      Keep up your fluids Dehydration can make your feel drowsier as well as contribute to constipation and poor digestion. Keep a funky water bottle with you so you can remind yourself to take regular sips. Try setting reminders or leaving post-it notes on your desk or in the car if you know you need to work on this

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. Although alcohol has a sedative effect, you do not get the same amount of deep, restorative sleep with alcohol.

10.  Try to get some exercise – not diet related, but important all the same! Regular exercise helps to maintain a healthy weight, keep your bowel movements regular and improve mood. During work take the stairs or go for a quick walk if you can; a bit of fresh air can be really refreshing. Getting outside during daylight hours is even better to soak up some Vitamin D!

Sarah Davies