A pathway to a healthier you

Eat for health on night shift

Working night shift and feeling too tired to cook? Choosing quick, high-carb and fatty meals for an energy ‘kick’?

Studies show that night shift workers tend to snack more on unhealthy foods and eat more calories than people who work during the day. 

Dr Tetyana Rocks, dietician and senior research fellow at the Food and Mood centre, explained to us that “Working night duty can be very disruptive to our eating patterns and circadian rhythms”.  

Radha, a midwifery student, was shocked when she started doing night duty on her placements and had strong cravings for sweet carbohydrate foods. “I was having blood sugar issues, feeling shaky and irritable from eating so much junk food. I knew it wasn’t good for me but it was hard to stop myself”. 

Digestion slows – so should our intake

Audra Starkey, nutritionist from the Healthy Shift Worker podcast, talked to us about night shift and eating “It's important to understand that our body doesn’t digest food as efficiently during the biological night, as it does during the daytime. Food intake on night shift should be kept to a minimum.” 

Planning and preparation is key

“We are all much less motivated when we are fatigued, so finding time to prepare or plan your meals in advance is critical. Food preparation doesn’t have to be boring! Try involving your family or friends, exploring new food ideas, or simply thinking about all the money you save by being prepared (and how you could spend them)." advises Dr Tetyana Rocks.   

Choosing snacks 

Having some snacks on hand is always a good idea. Non-perishable or easy-to-store foods such as nuts and seeds, whole grain crackers, dried or fresh fruit, canned and portioned meals (fish + pasta, legumes + grains, and soups) are also great.” Tetyana explains. 

Tips for night shift eating and drinking

Try these strategies to maintain good eating during the night shift:

When to eat

Aim for regular meals as close to your ‘normal’ schedule as possible

  • Before shift: have a substantial meal, your ‘dinner’
  • During shift: Plan regular small meals/snacks throughout the night
  • After shift: Eat a small, nutritious meal after your shift ends to keep hunger from waking you up. 

What to eat and drink

  1. complex carbohydrates, protein, and fibre to sustain energy and help regulate blood sugar levels (for example, veggie-packed chicken or fish stir-fry with brown rice or minestrone with brown pasta and vegetables).  
  2. Stay hydrated by drinking water/herbal cold or hot teas 
  3. limit sugary or caffeine-based drinks. Caffeine close to the end of the shift can affect sleep quality.  
  4. Avoid heavy meals to prevent discomfort during the night. 

Shared by Dr Teyana Rocks, a researcher from the Food and Mood Center.