Working through the dead of night can wreak havoc on a person's diet. Many who work the night shift, also known as the "graveyard" shift, are thrown off of regular eating schedules because they no longer eat with family or friends where meals and mealtimes are fairly well-established. Snacks and fatty foods tend to become staples in the lives of night-shift workers, and these can lead to quick weight gain and the degradation of overall health.
Establish Eating Times
One important key for maintaining proper nutritional health while working graveyard shifts is to establish regular mealtimes. For example, eating "breakfast" within one hour of waking up (even if this means breakfast is eaten at 6 p.m. or even later) is a good way to jump-start energy levels for the long night ahead (see References 1). Also schedule regular times for lunch and dinner, and eat the foods traditionally associated with each meal, even if it means eating pancakes during everyone else's dinner time and a pork chop during their normal breakfast time. This will help you and your body recognize each separate meal for what it should be and provide an easier dietary transition to nighttime eating.
Don't load up on caffeine, carbohydrates, or other foods traditionally known to provide quick bursts of energy before a night shift. Many believe this will help keep them awake during a late shift, but it instead provides just a small and short-lived supply of energy that leads to a major crash afterward (see References 2). This can, in turn, lead to unhealthy snacking to re-boost energy levels, adding empty calories and unnecessary fat consumption.
Small and healthy snacks between meals can help maintain proper energy levels through the night as long as these snacks are nutritious and of modest size. This will also help reduce the need for huge meals during established mealtimes. Large meals tend to make a person feel sleepy.
Eat fresh fruit, small portions of nuts, light yogurt or a few slices of whole grain bread instead of chips, candy and chocolate. Making sure these snacks are eaten a few hours after one meal and a few hours before the next will help assure that energy is kept at a maximum without overeating or consuming too much salt or fat.
Follow the guidelines presented at the USDA's MyPyramid website to be sure you get a healthy balance of meals and snacks from each food group. See the "Resources" section below for a link to this useful website.
If you start to feel sluggish and it's not a meal or snack time, simply get up and walk around to get circulation moving and wake up your body. Doing a few jumping jacks or another quick exercise is a great way to stay awake during a graveyard shift.