Shifting Gears – Managing Healthy Eating on Shift Work

Picture of a digital clock

Did you know that shift workers are at a higher risk for a number of diseases?

Some research has found that shift workers are at a higher risk for sleep disorders, Type 2 diabetes, stomach upset, some cancers, injury at work, and heart problems (heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure)! Shift workers also report more indigestion, diarrhea, heartburn, and constipation.

Does this mean if I work shifts, I am more likely to develop a chronic disease, such as diabetes? No, not necessarily. There are many factors that influence our risk for chronic diseases. While some of the research does show that shiftwork alters how our bodies use some nutrients, such as blood sugar, it does not reveal a true cause and effect relationship. Many studies have shown shift workers are more likely to have unhealthy eating behaviors, and low activity. We know that both of these factors are very important for reducing the risk of disease and, making ourselves feel our best!

 Poor diet habits of shift workers

  • Drinking lots of caffeinated beverages, and sugary drinks (ex. Double double coffee, or energy drinks
  • Inconsistent meal times, skipping meals, frequent snacking
  • Higher carbohydrate and fat intake, than day workers
  • Low fruit and vegetable intake, low fibre intake
  • Emotional eating patterns, over eating
  • Higher intake of fast food and sugary foods has been shown in some research

 What can I do?

Great question! There are many things you can do to improve your eating and activity patterns while working shifts:

Tips for healthy eating on shift work :

  • Make your meal before the shift your largest meal. Have a small meal before going to bed. Feeling too full can make it harder to sleep. Try a small meal such as cereal and milk before bed.
  • Pack your own meals and snacks. Packing meals before starting your shift can allow you to watch portions while working shifts. Choose lots of veggies, lean protein, fruit, and low fat dairy products. Choosing higher fat and sugary meals may contribute to feeling tired, and indigestion or heartburn.
  • Check out for great meal and snack ideas. Make sure your snacks have enough protein, so you are not too hungry (examples: beans and lentils, nuts, grilled meats with veggies).
  • Having a protein meal or snack in the middle of your shift can improve energy levels
  • Try and get into a routine of when you have your snacks and meals while on shiftwork.
  • Keep active! Activity in the middle of your shift can improve energy levels, and sleep.
  • Make sure to drink enough water, and watch the amount of caffeine! Did you know that caffeine can stay in your body for 8 hours??

Amount of caffeine in common drinks:

Drink Caffeine
Coffee (1 cup)Decaf Coffee (1 cup)

Tea (1 cup)

Herbal Tea (1 cup)

Cola (1 can)

Energy Drink (1 can)

80-180 mg3-15 mg

43-60 mg

0 mg

30 mg

80-125 mg

Look here for more great ideas:

My Challenge for this week: _____________________________________________


  • I plan to eat meal before I start shiftwork this week (example. Egg burrito on a whole wheat wrap with cheese, tomatoes, and salsa). This way I will have 3 regular meals.
  • I plan to bring by own healthy snacks on my shift this week
  • This week I plan to make one of my coffees decaf. That way I can sleep better!

Remember; keep it SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely)