Food Healthy Living — 05 July 2012
Eating Right While Working Nights: How to Manage Your Eating When Working Crazy Shifts

Eating on night shift is often times confusing.  You don’t know if you are supposed to eat dinner when it is evening and everyone else is eating dinner, or if you are supposed to eat it in the morning when you are done with your day.  To make matters worse, the types of foods available to night shift workers are usually not very healthy foods.  It is a constant struggle to find foods that are healthy, to eat them at the right time, and to maintain a healthy weight while working the crazy night shifts that a nurse has to endure.  However, with some simple tips, you can make the best of this nutritionally upside down situation.

Timing Meals

Knowing exactly when to eat is one of the most confusing things about working night shift.  It is hard to know if you eat your main meal in the evening when everyone else eats it, in the morning when you get home, or during the night while you are on shift.  Actually, experts recommend eating your largest meal before your shift starts if you are a night shift worker, according to the Canadian Health Network.  Eat small snacks during your shift, but do not eat a large meal because it will make you sleepy.  During the 3AM hour, try to eat a high protein snack to avoid tiredness.  When you get home, eat a small, high carbohydrate snack before sleeping.  If you are working an evening shift, eat your largest meal in the middle of the day.


Foods to Include

When you are planning your meals, make sure that you are eating three meals in any 24 hour period of the most nutritious food possible.  Aim to eat whole grain carbohydrates, such as whole grain breads, rice, cereals, and energy bars.  Fruits and vegetables are key to eating nutritiously, and you want to get at least five servings from this category of food.  Some examples are a medium apple, a large banana, or canned peaches without syrup.  Fruit and vegetable juices are a good choice as well, but try to include as many whole foods as possible to get the advantage of the fiber they contain.  Protein from meat and meat substitutes is also important.  Look for low-fat proteins such as white-meat chicken, turkey breast, and extra-lean ground beef.  It is easy to make sandwiches out of low-fat luncheon meat, but be careful for the high sodium and nitrates in these products.


Foods to Avoid

Although caffeine is often used by night shift workers to give a much needed boost, you have to take caution with it so that you are able to get your sleep the next day.  Refrain from drinking caffeine five hours before your plan to go to sleep the next morning to prevent it from interfering with your sleep cycles.  Avoid high-fat, high-carbohydrate foods because they are not only bad for you, they can make you sleepy as well.  Processed and packaged foods that are easy to pick up and eat are often high in sodium, which can lead to high blood pressure and an increased risk for stroke and heart disease.  If possible, bring food from home instead of eating out of a vending machine because you are more likely to make healthy choices when planning meals at home.  Vending machines are also less likely to have healthy choices available to the night shift worker.



Canadian Health Network; Shift Work and Healthy Eating; Heather Schnurr; October 2005

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About Author

I am a registered nurse with three years experience on a medical-surgical floor in a busy city hospital. In my work, I encountered patient populations such as post-op open heart, gastric bypass, active chest pain, and many other chronic and acute disease functions. I am familiar with the nutrition, diet and fitness fields, as well, from working with obese patients and conducting teaching.

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