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Creating Structure for the Night Shift

Having structure in our life is important, even necessary for some and whomever coined the terms “breakfast, lunch & dinner” were obviously genius! Knowing when to eat not only helps keep our bodies fueled for a day full of hard work but helps keeps us going into the night.

But, what if you sleep during the day and work hard at night? Unless you’re a vampire, eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner have a whole new meaning to your brain & your body. For those individuals that work the late-shift, the 24-hour shift or whatever awful shift your employer makes you work, having a structured meal plan can be daunting, overwhelming and many times can lead to an unhealthy approach to eating. So how does one combat the unstructured, irregular hours of “when do I eat?”

First off, get a good nights’ sleep. While you might think this doesn’t relate to the above topic, it does. Getting at least seven to eight hours of sleep is more beneficial than you think. When we sleep, our bodies go through muscle building and recovery. Another advantage to getting enough rest are the hunger hormones produced when we sleep. Those like leptin and ghrelin are both important to appetite control.

If you’re working at night, obviously you’re awake while the rest of us sleep so your 7-8 hours is different than most. Taking a nap is a great way to help reset your body and ward off fatigue, and some studies have shown that naps are way more beneficial and effective than your afternoon cup of joe.

So how does one adapt their eating habits to fit with an unconventional schedule? If waking up at 6pm to begin your work shift is your norm, then that time of day becomes your breakfast so eat accordingly. Unlike the rest of us, day becomes night and night becomes day with your diet.

But what if your schedule isn’t that consistent but you still get a good eight hours of sleep on a regular basis? One suggestion to this is to reset your plan at midnight, making sure to get all your meals in each day within a 24-hour period starting at 12:01am. This could mean eating breakfast and lunch, sleep, then eat dinner. Do what works for you for the day but reset at midnight.

For those that need to be awake for more than 12hours (think 18-24hours) you may need to be a bit more calculated with your eating plan. Here are a few tips to get through those long work shifts:

  • Eat normally for the first 12 hours.

  • Don’t eat for the next four to six hours; this is when you would be sleeping anyways.

  • Eat your next day’s meal when you wake up; this could be one to two meals.

  • Go to bed because your work shift should be over unless you have super powers and can function on zero sleep!

  • Upon waking up finish your last meals for the day you started before you slept.

  • This day go to bed early. Your brain and body will thank you!

Don’t forget that even though you’re working odd hours and when it does come time to eat or snack you’re going about it the most-healthy way possible. Not only will this help you function properly you won’t have a crash and burn if you’re choosing the wrong foods.

  • Stay hydrated. And I don’t mean drink loads of soda, coffee, teas and sugary fruit drinks. WATER should be your best friend!

  • Pack healthy, easy to go to snacks like string cheese, dried or fresh fruits and nuts.

  • Pack your own healthy lunches in lieu of eating out!

  • Limit your caffeine intake. Consuming more than 400mg of caffeine can affect your sleep which is something you probably don’t want to mess with. If you need that afternoon cup of coffee or tea try drinking decaf.

  • Avoid sugary drinks and foods. We all love rollercoasters but having a sugar high then a low is not the best thing for your body or your coworkers!

  • Try to avoid drinking alcohol too. Having one too many adult beverages can really wreak havoc on your body and your sleep pattern.

Fortunately, figuring out when to eat and sleep to stay “normal” isn’t rocket science, however, there is definitely some finagling that has to be done to incorporate a healthy eating regime in your late night working schedule. Do what works best for you and your schedule!

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