Tips for shift-workers

Does working evenings, nights and weekends sound familiar? Are you skipping meals and losing sleep? This is the case for many workers as the traditional nine to five becomes a thing of the past, with around 15% of the workforce now working shifts.

Working irregular hours disrupts the body’s natural body-clock. This may disrupt eating patterns and have a negative effect on health, putting shift workers at a higher risk for weight gain and chronic disease.

Our recent report  involved interviewing shift workers about the factors that influence their food and lifestyle behaviours while working shift hours. Workers said:

“I often don’t eat breakfast. Just dinner, that’s the main kind of, the whole day. The one main meal a day and then snacks in between… coffee.”

“I just skip lunch and just have a coffee and a bit of toast, and then I’d be starving by the time I get home but inevitably you’re tired. I’d just get a Chinese [takeaway] or something on the way back.”

“Your routine is completely gone and you’re not on night duty for long enough to adjust in one way… so you tend to not eat very well”

“When I go home from shift work I'm too tired I wouldn't be bothered cooking. So I just go to the supermarket on the way home and get a roll or chicken wrap or something.”

With this in mind, how do you stay healthy while working shifts? Here are some tips:

  1. Plan your meals. If you’re working nights aim to have your main meal before you go to work, this will keep you feeling full while at work and prevent you snacking throughout your shift. If you’re going to sleep when you get home, just have a small meal after your shift as it can be hard to sleep on a full stomach.
  2. Prepare your meals in advance. Preparing your meals on your day off means you can have healthy options within reach. Invest in lunchboxes for easy storage and transport.
  3. Make the freezer your friend. Cook items in bulk and freeze extra portions for healthy meals when you don’t have time to prepare anything. Dinners such as shepherd’s pie, lasagne, chicken casserole, beef casserole and spaghetti Bolognaise can be made in bulk and frozen, ready to reheat when you are busy.
  4. Bring your own snack. Reduce temptation to turn to vending machines and snacks high in sugar and fat by bringing your own snacks to keep your energy up. Snacks such as fruit, vegetable sticks and hummus, yoghurts and rice cakes are full of healthy nutrients. Choose high-fibre carbohydrate sources such as wholegrain breads and pastas. High-fibre carbohydrates release their energy slower, keeping you feeling fuller for longer during your shift.
  5. Keep hydrated, bring a bottle of water to work and keep it at your work station. You can infuse water with fruit for more flavour without the calories.
  6. Moderate caffeine intake. It may seem like a great idea, having caffeine to keep your energy up throughout your shift but it will disturb your sleeping pattern further. 


Posted: 04/11/2016 15:59:05 by Anne Parle
Filed under: Health, Shift work

About Me

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Anne Parle
Hi, my name is Anne Parle and I am a Human Health and Nutrition Research Fellow at safefood. I’m a nutritionist with an interest in all things food related. I love cooking and can often be found baking away in the kitchen. When I’m not in the kitchen I can usually be found trying to balance binge watching tv-shows and going on adventures outdoors.