Eating for Shift Work

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well. ~Virginia Wolf (A Room of One’s Own)

Volume 1, Issue 3

by Brittney Bernardoni, MD


It’s August, 90s greats are hitting the Cincinnati music scene, the Olympics are starting (August 5th), and we are all beginning to settle into our new roles. The beginning of a new year with new responsibilities can be exciting, terrifying, and exhausting, often all at the same time. It can be hard to make time to take care of yourself, especially on shift. Basic ADLs like using the bathroom and eating often go by the wayside. This month, we want to focus on tips for eating on shift.

Multiple studies have demonstrated that shift work changes eating patterns.2-4 Night shift workers tend to eat increased processed and energy-dense foods2,3 and less fiber and green veggies.2 However, night shift workers who bring their own food to work are more likely to have similar eating habits as their day shift counterparts.2 Diet has also been shown to impact your ability to function on shift. Large meals, especially carbohydrate/sugar-rich meals, have been associated with decreased mental performance and increased sleepiness.2

Tips for Eating during Shift Work:

  1. Eat your main meal before work1
  2. Bring healthy snacks and a small balanced meal to work1-3
  3. Avoid eating between 0000-0600 especially carb-rich meals (decreased attention, increased risk metabolic synd, possibly insulin-related)2
  4. Drink plenty of water, have a water bottle by your workstation1
  5. <400mg of caffeine/day (4 c coffee, 4 monsters, 4 mountain dew)1
  6. No caffeine in the 4 hours before bedtime1
  7. Avoid large meals 1-2 hours before bedtime2
  8. Avoid alcohol after work (may disturb sleep)1

Remember, these tips are guidelines. We will frequently do the exact opposite of these recommendations, especially during post-overnight breakfasts (aka 7 and 8). Wellness is all about balance. This month, try incorporating 1-2 of these recommendations into your daily shift routine and see what works for you!


  1. Dieticians of Canada. (2013) 10 Nutrition Tips for Shift Workers.
  2. Lowden et al. (2010) Eating and shift work – effects on habits, metabolism and performance. Scand J Work Environ Health 36(2): 150-162.
  3. Atkinson et al (2008) Exercise, Energy Balance and the Shift Worker. Sports Med 38(8): 671-685.
  4. Neif-Sztramko et al. (2014) Health-related interventions among night shift workers: a critical review of the literature. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine 40(6): 543-556.