Working third shift creates strain on the body. By staying awake at night you interrupt the natural circadian rhythms that govern your body's biological processes. This leaves you feeling groggy when you're awake, making sugary snacks and caffeine-filled drinks tempting. Your appetite and eating habits may also change while working third shift. Late night workers tend to eat faster and consume more high-fat foods than people who work normal shifts. This leads to weight gain and gastrointestinal problems.
Whether you work late nights or early mornings, you need a diet rich in vitamins and minerals. The Mayo Clinic recommends a minimum of four servings of vegetables and three servings of fruit each day. You need four to eight servings of carbohydrates and three to seven servings of protein and dairy. Plan ahead if working the graveyard shift makes it difficult to fix nutritious meals that meet your daily requirements. Cook your food early and store it in your freezer. This way you need only warm up your meal to have a healthy feast. Rather than turning to vending machines for snacks, pack easy to eat fruits and vegetables such as carrots sticks or apples.
Indulging in large meals filled with high carbohydrate and low-fat foods will make it harder to stay awake. To stay fueled for third shift, eat frequent smaller meals or snacks that are high in protein. If you plan to eat one main meal, try to eat it before your shift begins. Avoid protein-rich and fatty foods when your shift is over. Instead, eat a light, carb-based snack. Try to take your meals at the same time each night, since circadian rhythms control digestion. By picking set times to eat and sticking to them, your digestive system can eliminate wastes on a regular schedule.
Many third shift workers feel extra tired between 3 and 4 a.m. because of the body's natural sleep cycle. The temptation during this time may be to indulge in coffee, sugary beverages or energy drinks. While caffeine can provide a temporary boost, this can make it more difficult to fall asleep when your shift is over. Rather than caffeine and empty calories, try B vitamins such as B12. B-complex vitamins will aid your body in turning healthy food into fuel. B12 deficiency can also lead to fatigue.
The change in eating habits and tendency of late night workers to indulge in less than healthy foods can lead to weight gain or loss. To combat this, set up a regular exercise schedule and stick to eating healthy meals at set times. Avoid the convenience of vending machines and fast food.
- "Canadian Health Network"; Are There Special Nutritional Considerations for Shift Workers?; Heather Schnurr; 2004
- Mayo Clinic: Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Pyramid: A Sample Menu
- "Canadian Health Network"; I Work Evening and Night Shifts. Can You Give Me Ideas for Healthy Food Choices?; Phyllis Reid-Jarvis; 2006
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)