How Can a Dietitian Help with Shift Work

Eating meals is one of the things that brings people together, gives us joy, improves our quality of life, and can help tell our body what time it is. When you work shift work however, all these factors are affected. You might eat alone, your mealtimes may be slotted for obscure hours of the day, and your family and social interaction might be very limited due to the need to sleep during the day.

We get it! And we’re here to help.

The issues that are associated with a long-time career involving shift work are extensive. Gut issues and digestive problems, sleep disorders, chronic disease, and mental health concerns are all included.  Getting a dietitian on board to help you map out your schedule, align your meal times with your natural circadian rhythm, and find the foods that work the best for your body will help prevent and manage the above-listed conditions.

A second skill set your dietitian should possess is to help you engage your mind. We’re not psychologists or therapists, but we absolutely can help you identify areas of stress and incorporate stress management, set goals, and help you incorporate behavior change into your lifestyle.

Unless you plan on changing careers to a 9-5 job, I would recommend starting early. I see many clients with gut issues, sleep concerns, and difficulty losing weight or changing their health. Implementing strong eating and lifestyle habits at the start of a shift-working job will have exponential affects on your health!

Here are the top three issues I have seen working with my clients:

  • Underfeeding. When someone works a night shift, they might have a meal when they wake up and then one more later in the night with a few snacks here and there. Sleeping during the day means they sleep through most of the regular meal and snacks times. In this situation, there is a risk of not eating enough during those shifts!
  • Eating in the middle of the night. Hunger can occur in the middle of the night because you have not eaten enough earlier in the day, or you are looking for an energy boost. The issue is that the body thinks the night is the time for the digestion system to be shut down. It’s not expecting to receive a big meal, therefore you might experience gut issues and cannot clear sugar and fats out of the blood stream as efficiently.
  • Sleep habits. I see inconsistent sleep patterns often. Family commitments and having a poor sleep routine plays a role in the quality of sleep one gets. Sleep quality is crucial to your body healing, preventing injury, and maintaining hormonal balances.

Here’s my recommendations to these three issues:

  • Eat regularly and eat balanced. Create a strong eating routine and stick to it! This will help you body know what time it is, and when it is time to eat and digest food. You will also fuel your body regularly with enough calories to drive consistent energy levels.
  • Minimize food intake between midnight and 0600h. This is when your gut wants to rest and rejuvenate. Unless your job is very physically active, don’t eat large meals during this time. Pack and plan for a small balanced snack if necessary.
  • Aim for at least six hours of uninterrupted, consecutive sleep. Less than six hours of sleep per night (or day) is called sleep restriction. In this state, your hormonal balance is disturbed, meaning your appetite will be affected and your body’s ability to clear sugars out of the blood stream is impaired, leading to higher risk for diabetes. So, sleep is key!

Those are just three of the issues I see with my clients on a regular basis, but the specific details are going to be unique for each individual. Your dietitian is skilled and able to help you navigate your schedule and make practical food recommendations to help you prevent chronic disease, stabilize energy levels and improve your quality of life.

By Raina Beugelink

– Registered Dietitian (Nutritionist)

If any of the mentioned issues resonate with you, we can help! The health concerns associated with shift work are largely preventable. You can book a virtual appointment with a registered dietitian today to help identify the areas that will most impact your short and long-term health. 

Click here to check out Raina’s availability – she specializes in shift work support!