9 Nutrition and Diet Tips for Night Shift Workers
If you work nights, you probably already know that there can be drastic swings in your energy levels. Here are a few night shift nutrition tips that can help you transition and function on night shift and keep your energy levels up and your health intact.
Working at night is an interruption in the body's natural circadian rhythm. It's normal to feel slightly jet-lagged when you first switch over to working the graveyard shift. Here are a few night shift nutrition tips that can help you transition and function on night shift and keep your energy levels up and your health intact.
1. Melatonin May Become Your Best Friend
Instead of sleeping pills, consider melatonin. Melatonin is a natural sleep hormone that your body produces when light begins to fade into darkness. An antioxidant for your brain, melatonin works to help your brain begin to slow down and begin the process of becoming drowsy to fall asleep. When you take oral melatonin, available at your local drugstore or big-box store, the half-life is about 2 hours. This means that if you take, for example, a 5 mg tablet, in just a couple of hours half of that dose will be processed out of your system. Why is that important? Because it means you are less likely to feel groggy and still asleep as with some sleep medications. Foods that naturally lead to melatonin production include food rich in tryptophan, like turkey, peanut butter, and milk.
2. Switch Off Your Phone and TV Screens
Blue light from electronic devices can cause your body to wake up, because this stimulates the breakdown of melatonin. Try turning these devices off at least 30 minutes before going to sleep. Listening to an audiobook or a podcast is a great way to have your eyes safely closed off from any light so that you can drift off in to dream world a bit more easily. Creating a dark room with blackout curtains will help you stay asleep as well, because light even through our eyelids can lead to lighter sleep.
3. Be Careful with Caffeine
Caffeine blocks melatonin synthesis at the genetic level. Allow your body 6-8 hours to process caffeine. This means if you leave work at 7am and attempt to fall asleep around 9 am, then your last cup of coffee or other caffeinated beverage should be no later than 2 am. This may seem drastic for some people, so finding other methods outside of consuming caffeine to stay awake when you are drowsy on night shift is imperative. Try getting up and walking around a bit or listening to upbeat music to help you stay alert.
4. Get Real Sunlight Whenever You Have the Chance
There is nothing more helpful than sunlight to help you wake up and adjust your circadian rhythms. Plus, it can make you happy, and help you avoid a low mood because you are constantly exposed to artificial light sources. Here comes the sun, doo-daa-doo-doo.
5. Choose Healthy Foods at Night
Choosing the right foods on night shift can go a long way for your health and your energy levels when you are working while the rest of the world is fast asleep. Avoid super sugary beverages and desserts, as these can cause you blood sugar to fluctuate drastically. If you notice you are getting sleep a couple of hours after meal, make a note of how many carbohydrates and sugars you at that meal. Cutting down on your portions of pasta, rice, potato and bread can help stabilize your blood sugars night, which means your energy level will stay more constant as well.
6. Snack Smart
It's important to snack a little during your night shift, but don't use food as a distraction to stay awake. The extra calories could lead to weight gain. Try limiting yourself to no more than two healthy snacks and one meal while you are on night shift. Your other two meals can be eaten outside of work.
7. Get on a Schedule
Just like working during the day, carving out a schedule and timing your meals can help you stay healthy while you are working night shift. It's a great idea to formulate a diet plan as a night shift employee, and set alarms/reminders on your phone to remind you when it's time to eat, and when to stop drinking caffeine. A healthy diet for night shift workers is the same healthy diet for people who work during the day. Healthy foods to eat at night include lots of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins like chicken, fish, turkey, and lean beef or pork, some low-fat dairy, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains will go a long way toward a healthy diet for night shift work.
8. Skip the Libations
Alcohol stops the synthesis of melatonin - the best sleep hormone we have. So if you want to have a great night's sleep, forego your evening brew and have some decaffeinated tea or a seltzer water instead.
9. Explore Your Vitamin Intake
In animal studies, deficiency of B vitamins (such as folate, niacin, vitamin B12, and vitamin B6) as well as specific mineral deficiencies of magnesium or zinc may lead to decreased melatonin production. Low serotonin levels can be problematic, as serotonin is a precursor to melatonin synthesis. This means that people who are suffering from depression may also suffer from sleep issues due to decreased melatonin synthesis. Making sure you are getting these essential nutrients can help you stay healthy on night shift.
Sample Diet for Night Shift Workers
Peuhkuri K, Sihvola N, Korpela R. Dietary factors and fluctuating levels of melatonin. Food & Nutrition Research. 2012;56:10.3402/fnr.v56i0.17252. doi:10.3402/fnr.v56i0.17252.
Ulhôa MA1, Marqueze EC2, Burgos LG3, Moreno CR4. Shift work and endocrine disorders. Int J Endocrinol. 2015;2015:826249. doi: 10.1155/2015/826249. Epub 2015 Mar 29.