Tips for shift workers

I have to give a shout out to my good friend, Rupy Aujla, otherwise known as @doctors_kitchen, who took part in this blog post, and who understands the true meaning of night shift work!


Before and after shifts, people often complain of abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, low mood and increased susceptibility to common viruses. Studies looking at brain waves show that sleep rhythms are incredibly important to health.  Proper alignment influences metabolism, inflammation pathways and stress hormones. So it’s no wonder us night shift workers (I’m afraid to say) have a significantly shorter life expectancy than our 9-5 colleagues.

But someone’s got to keep the streets safe at night, bake the bread or take care of the emergency department right?

Keeping your body awake when it naturally wants to sleep raises your cortisol. You’ll be working off adrenaline, so the last thing you want is sugary food to spike your glucose and insulin levels. Stick to low GI, nutrient dense and high quality fat foods to keep you going:

  1. I tend to have a low carbohydrate, high quality fat and protein rich meal before my shift starts. My favorite is avocado toast with an egg on top.
  2. Graze on nutrient dense, quality fat foods to keep you satiated.Toasted nuts and seeds – experiment with spices, I like using caraway and cumin seeds that are great at settling your tummy as wellKale chips – easy to bake a whole batch to keep snacking on, your colleagues will love you for them

    Baked avocado – cover some slices in flaxseed crumb with cayenne and you’ve got a great high fat snack

    Nut butters – I’m addicted. I like this one and this one

    Crudités with hummus/guacamole – experiment with carrot, asparagus or whatever is in season. My favorite hummus can be found here

    Dark berries – low sugar, antioxidant rich and tasty

    Popcorn with spices – even though popcorn has low nutritional value, sometimes you just need to graze on anything that tastes good. My favorite can be found here and here

    Dried coconut strips- in moderation due to sugar content. Shop at Trader Joe’s for these

    Greek yogurt bites or yogurt-covered fruit- to curb the sweet craving when everyone else is eating cake. This is one of my current favorites here

  3. If you find yourself desperate for caffeine hit, stick with tea. I aim for my tea fix about halfway through my shift. It’s enough to keep my energy level up for the rest of my shift, yet still allow me to sleep when I get home. Coffee raises your adrenaline levels that are already elevated, leading to high cortisol and insulin that leads to weight gain. Matcha tea naturally contains L-Theanine, an amino acid thought to be responsible for mitigating the anxiety promoting effects of caffeine. It’s also been shown in controlled studies to improve concentration… so drink up!
  4. Foods to avoidSugary snacksProcessed foods

    High Carb – pasta, rice, bread

    Soda, chocolate bars … Cake (please stop eating cake at night)

  5. Preparation is key to making sure you don’t reach for that cake somebody always brings in with the best intention! Before you get your last sleep in, make sure your food is ready. I plan for my favorite snack to be eaten halfway through my shift; it gives me something to look forward to.
  6. Exercise. I always make sure I exercise before a shift. Even if it’s something as simple as stretching, yoga or a short HIIT session. It gets my blood pumping, endorphins running and I find it refreshing before a shift. But it completely depends on you!

Night shifts are not ideal, let’s be honest… but you CAN make it through a job that includes night shifts, with a little bit of preparation and a lot of discipline.

Good luck to you night shift workers out there!

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One thought on “Tips for shift workers

  1. Awesome tips for night shifters!! I buy the individual packs of honey almond butter and pull one of those out when it is crazy busy and I HAVEN’T had a chance to take a minute to get something of substance in my body! What advice do you have when you are in a cohort ER durIng this pandemic all decked out in PPE to adequate drink water or get a snack in for energy? <3

Dr. Majestic

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