Nutrition For Shift Workers – Part 1

Your 24-Hour Clock

We’re looking at nutrition for shift workers in this important blog series. 

Our society is increasingly reliant on a 24-hour workforce, and this has health implications for those in industries driven by shift workers. 

There is an increasing understanding that shift work—as in night shifts, early morning shifts and rotating shifts—can have detrimental short- and long-term health consequences for the folks who work them. 

First, let’s look at the human sleep rhythm and how shift work affects it.

Circadian Rhythm and Shift Work

The circadian rhythm—also known as the sleep/wake cycle—is a 24-hour internal biological clock that alternates between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. 

For a healthy individual who is not a shift worker, this looks like increased levels of alertness during the day and decreased alertness at night.

During waking hours, pressure for sleep builds. If individuals work regular daytime hours, their internal clock is synchronized with the environment’s light/dark cycle. This supports alertness during daytime hours and long stretches of sleep at night.

If an individual on shift work needs to work through the night or has an early morning start, this affects the internal clock that manages daytime alertness and nighttime sleepiness. It requires the person to work against his or her natural biological rhythm, which will often lead to shortened and interrupted sleep. 

This, in turn, can lead to drowsiness when awake. In the workplace, tiredness can result in increased errors, accidents, injuries and degraded health.

Who Is at Risk?

Certain industries are more reliant on shift work. Manufacturing, transportation, healthcare and law enforcement are all examples of industries with a continuous workforce.

When workers in these industries are assigned shift work that includes nights, early mornings or rotating shifts, they are forced to modify their sleep schedules. This creates circadian misalignment—the sleep and wake cycle no longer aligns with the body’s natural circadian rhythm.

Lifestyle and Circadian Misalignment

The effects of shift work go beyond circadian misalignment. Shift work affects sleep and health as well as other factors that support a balanced lifestyle. Relationships, exercise, social outlets and nutrition can all suffer as a result of shift work. 

For example, some workers will finish a shift and be forced to choose between getting to sleep or fitting in a workout. 

Over time, the natural circadian rhythm creates a contest between the body’s need to sleep and the need to do other activities such as meal prepping, grocery shopping and or exercise. Sleep is essential, and when the body’s natural rhythm is off, important aspects of health and self-care are left by the wayside. 

Balancing Shift work With Fitness and Nutrition Goals

If you have ever worked a night shift, you’re likely aware that healthy food options are more limited. And they’re affected by increased cravings. Making good choices becomes increasingly difficult the further you get into the evening.

In our next blog, we’re going to cover the following topics:

Macros explained

Guidelines for shift-work nutrition

Meal planning for day shifts and night shifts

How to build your meals

Beverages that help

What to choose on the road

If you’ve been feeling confused, frustrated or defeated because of the limitations shift work places on a healthy lifestyle, we’re here to help. To help you get started, schedule a call to chat with us about your nutrition!

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