4 Healthy eating tips for night-shift workers

  • 3 Minutes Read
Joanna Kriehn
Joanna Kriehn, MS, RDN, CDCES - Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES)

If you are a night-shift worker, you know healthy eating is challenging. Shift work can wreak havoc on your appetite and weight, not to mention your ability to sleep and feel rested. Try experimenting with these four healthy eating tips for night-shift workers to help you feel your best during and after your shift.

Healthy eating for night-shift workers

Top 4 tips for healthy eating for night-shift workers

If you work outside the hours of 7 am to 6 pm, then you are not alone. Statistics show that 20% of Americans do some shift work. Night, swing, and graveyard shift work creates a misalignment between your internal clock and the outside world. Here’s how to stay energized during your shift and unwind afterward.

1. Stay hydrated

Staying well-hydrated is vital for regulating body temperature, lubricating joints, flushing waste from the body, and preventing constipation. Staying adequately hydrated helps you stay awake during your shift. Did you know mild dehydration can negatively impact concentration, alertness, and short-term memory?

Unfortunately, many shift workers turn to caffeine for its stimulating effects to bypass drowsiness. Too much caffeine can disrupt hydration as well as impact sleep. Experts suggest avoiding caffeine four-to-eight hours before the end of your shift to prevent the caffeine from disrupting your sleep when you do get home. If you do decide to consume caffeinated drinks, make sure to drink plenty of water as well.

If you don't like plain water, try some other healthy drinks to stay on top of your hydration.

2. Night-shift meal ideas start with timing

When to eat may be one of the most perplexing dilemmas when doing shift work. Factors such as your home life right before work, on-the-job responsibilities, and hunger level all impact your eating choices.

Experts suggest eating a balanced meal before arriving at work or within 2-3 hours of starting your shift. It will provide a solid foundation to get you through the night. Make sure this meal includes some lean protein and dietary fiber. Protein and fiber help you stay full and prevent late-night visits to the vending machine. Here are some ideas for building a balanced meal.

Night-shift food ideas and meal plan

A water treatment plant operator (who works from 6 pm to 6 am) shared this typical 24-hour routine and meal plan.

Eating at regular intervals keeps his energy up while maximizing nutrient intake and maintaining weight. Walking his dogs in the middle of the day helps burn calories while the sunshine promotes healthy sleep.

Meal 1: 8 pm

Snack: 12 midnight

Snack: 2:30 am

Snack: 4:30 am

Sleep: 6:45 am

Meal 2 or “breakfast”: 2 pm

Walk dogs: 3 pm

Shower: 4 pm

Snack before work: 4:30 pm

The above meal plan contains 1800 calories, 40% carbs, 23% protein, 37% fat.

3. Avoid eating as an activity

Whether working nights or not, many of us turn to food out of boredom or hoping for quick energy. Depending on the tasks required during your shift, you may turn to food for these reasons. Pay attention to your habits and what prompts you to snack. Then track your findings using the MyNetDiary Notes feature. Easy access from your dashboard allows you to track hunger/fullness and triggers for eating.

Alternatives to beat boredom

4. Support healthy digestion by incorporating these night-shift food ideas

Sleep deprivation often leads to cravings for foods high in fat and sugar. Yet greasy foods such as fried chicken, pizza, and French fries are more challenging to digest and lead to indigestion.

Instead of greasy foods, choose small portions of lean, protein-rich foods: skinless chicken, deli meat, low-fat dairy products, and smoothies. Also include veggies, fruits, whole grains, and nuts.

Some individuals find that avoiding high-fiber foods in the middle of the night, such as beans, lentils, large amounts of raw veggies, and spicy foods, helps prevent a gassy or upset stomach from interfering with their work and sleep hours later.

Experiment with different food combinations at other times to find what works best for your body.

Healthy ways to unwind after your shift

Some people find it challenging to unwind at the end of their shift. Avoid turning to alcohol to relax. Alcoholic drinks dehydrate you and interfere with your body's sleep cycle, making you even more tired. Instead, try deep breathing or yoga.

Ultimately, any type of shift work taxes the body and mind. So remember to take it easy on yourself if you are having difficulty meeting your weight-loss or general fitness goals. Remember, it is all about progress, not perfection!

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Meal Planning & Diets->Healthy Eating Weight Loss->Behavior
Aug 25, 2023

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