Nutrition for shift workers

Here's a shout-out to all our essential workers keeping us healthy and safe during the Covid-19 pandemic - thank you doctors, nurses & medical staff, paramedics, firefighters, and police for everything you do (and many other occupations too!).

These occupations frequently require shift-work, with shifts often being overnight or odd hours while everyone else is sleeping. This can wreak havoc on the body due to sub-optimal sleeping and eating patterns, and with it, increased stress.

The human body has a natural body clock (which is roughly 24-hours in duration), called the circadian rhythm. Morning sunlight triggers your master clock (located in the brain) to release hormones which help regulate metabolism of energy, your body temperature and other processes which function best during the daytime. At night, different hormones are released which help the body rest and repair itself. The human body is not well equipped to work during the night and sleep during the day; shift work disrupts the circadian rhythm.

A body clock mismatch of eating at night instead of resting creates dysfunction in the circadian rhythm, and when combined with inadequate sleep and increased stress, can lead to a range of health concerns. Studies have indicated that shift workers are up to 40% greater risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and Type 2 Diabetes (1).

Healthy eating whilst working shifts can be difficult, but not impossible.

  • Meal timing is important - the body treats food eaten during evening hours differently to daytime meals. There is an established relationship between late-night eating and obesity, metabolic syndrome, hyperglycemia and cardiovascular risk (2,3).

  • Meal type is important - high carbohydrate meals raise your blood glucose more rapidly when eaten in the evening compared to the morning (4). High blood glucose levels over time can lead to Diabetes and damage blood vessels.

  • Your eating environment is important - if the workplace promotes unhealthy eating practices, it becomes difficult to eat well on a regular basis.

My Nutrition for Shift Workers resource goes into more detail on what to eat and drink, and the best times to do so. You can find it in my free resources section.

If you'd like to find out more, you could also read these helpful resources:

As always, Appetite for Health can offer individualised nutrition support, get in touch if you'd like more information about a Dietetic consultation.


  1. Heath, G, Coates A, Sargent C, Dorrian J. Sleep Duration and Chronic Fatigue are differently associated with the dietary profile of shift workers. Nutrients. 2016;8,771. doi:10.3390/nu8120771

  2. Wang JB, Patterson RE, Ang A, Emond JA, Shetty N, Arab L. Timing of energy intake during the day is associated with the risk of obesity in adults. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2014;27 Suppl 2:255-262. doi:10.1111/jhn.12141

  3. Qian J, Scheer FAJL. Circadian System and Glucose Metabolism: Implications for Physiology and Disease. Trends Endocrinol Metab. 2016;27:5,282-293. doi:10.1016/j.tem.2016.03.005

  4. Davis R, Bonham MP, Nguo K, Huggins CE. Glycaemic response at night is improved after eating a high protein meal compared with a standard meal: A cross-over study. Clinical Nutrition. 2020;39,5:1510–6. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2019.06.014

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