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Shift Work


Shift work really can be difficult in terms of sticking to regular meals. If you are working nights and sleeping during the day, then when you come off night shift you will need to eat something that is sustaining but that also helps you to get a good amount of sleep during the day.

Eating a large meal close to bed time may cause sleep disturbances for two main reasons:

  • large meals can cause increasing circulation, secretion of gastric acid, pancreatic enzymes and liver bile-salts and increasing 
    activity in the gut muscles. With all these things going on, it can be difficult to go to sleep.   
  • laying down soon after eating a meal means that gravity may make the food go back up from your stomach causing reflux and indigestion.

On the other hand, going to bed feeling hungry may also prevent you from getting to sleep or may cause you to wake earlier than planned. So what can you do to help you get a good “day’s” sleep and maintain your weight?

Meal size

Avoid eating large portions of food servings within 1-2 hours of lying down to sleep, especially foods that are high in protein and fat, such as meat, bacon, eggs and fried foods. These foods take longest to digest, causing indigestion or keeping you awake.

If you are hungry immediately before bed, eat a small snack. A milk-based drink may help you sleep and will stop you waking up because of hunger.

Meal timing

Eat "breakfast" every day - within 1 hour of waking. For those that don’t like breakfast or are pushed for time this doesn’t have to be a big sit down meal. It could be a KicStart™, a fruit smoothie, a piece of fruit or a tub of yoghurt.  

Eat evening meals at night between 5pm and 8pm. If working night shift, eat evening meals between 5pm and midnight.  

Eat something from the contents of your lunch box (lunch and snacks) every 2-3 hours during your waking hours. You should not go 8-12 hours without eating while awake. Doing so will make you feel lethargic and possibly sleepy.  

Have a well balanced meal including some protein and some low GI carbs 1-2 hours before going to sleep after doing shift work. 

Meal type

It is often promoted that foods high in carbohydrate make you drowsy because they increase the uptake of the amino acid tryptophan by the brain. Tryptophan is a chemical that can work together with another important brain chemical called serotonin, to help promote a calming effect and sleepiness. So these choices are good for after a night shift, and hour or two before trying to sleep.

Foods rich in protein increase production of noradrenaline, a hormone that increases alertness and reduces fatigue so these are good choices for before or during your shift.



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About Prima Health

HWFL Phase 4 - University of Sydney Evaluation