If life is in danger
Beyond Blue 24/7 crisis support
Fortem Australia during business hours
Shift work can have a surprising effect on the way you eat.
Our bodies are designed to be awake and eat through the day, and to sleep and fast through the night. However, this is not really achievable when you’re a first responder working night shifts, and your body might find it difficult to adjust.
Shift work can result in skipped meals, over-snacking or eating too much ‘convenience’ food. All of this can impact on your mental health, physical health and general wellbeing.
Night-shift workers often report experiencing digestive problems, appetite changes, difficulty managing weight and poor energy levels.
Eating the right foods at the right times provides your body with energy when you need it, and helps you to sleep better and reduce fatigue.
Let’s look at how you can eat well to make shift work easier.
The way you eat affects your health, your energy levels, your mood, and how you perform at work. When you have poor eating habits, you’re at risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. Shift workers are at an even greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and weight gain.
Eating well can help you to lower those risks, increase your energy and feel well.
Enjoy a nutritious meal. Make sure it includes some vegetables, low GI carbohydrates (such as pasta, rice, potato or wholegrain bread), and lean protein. This will help to provide your body with the nutrients needed for good health and lasting energy.
Stick to small meals and protein-based snacks, which can help to boost your alertness during night shift. This does not mean you can only drink protein shakes! Try keeping some healthy snacks on hand such as nuts, boiled eggs, Greek yoghurt, nut bars, tinned tuna, and roasted chickpeas.
Avoid heavy, greasy or carbohydrate-heavy meals, because these can leave you feeling sluggish and cause gastro intestinal upsets.
You might need a healthy snack or small meal before bed to avoid waking from hunger.
While healthy eating may seem less achievable when you’re on night shifts, there are some ways to get through the night in a healthy way.
Caffeine can be used strategically to increase alertness during your shift – so, yes, you can have coffee! Other sources of caffeine include tea, cola and chocolate.
However, be mindful of your tolerance, and the times of day or night that you consume caffeine.
Avoid using caffeine in the second half of your shift (or at least six hours before going to bed) so as not to impact your sleep.
Over time you might find that you need more caffeine to experience the same boost in energy. Keep an eye on this and limit yourself to about three cups of coffee to avoid other negative health outcomes.
There are so many benefits to sharing meals as a family. Research shows that sharing meal times with your family boosts your mental wellbeing, helps to build family relationships, and provides opportunities for positive interactions as a family.
Your work schedules might impact your ability to be home for dinner, but there are a few things you can do to make family meal times work.
Be creative! Why not make breakfast the family meal if you’re working evening shifts?
Plan meals in advance or try a meal kit delivery service – this can make it easier to make family meal time a reality, and to get older kids involved in the cooking.
Have healthy foods on hand at home, so that you can prepare nutritious meals together.
You may not be able to have a family meal every day, but do it as often as you can.