A Hard Day's Night for Weight-Watchers on the Late Shift

Working the night shift might be good for your paycheck, but it can be tough on your body.

Maintaining a healthy diet can be challenging when our natural circadian rhythms--the daily activity cycles that tell our body to be awake during daylight hours and asleep when it's dark--change dramatically because of our work schedule. To encourage healthcare workers on the late shift to maintain a healthy lifestyle, nutritionists at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center have provided healthy eating tips to night workers to help them be more productive and alert at work.

Netty Levine, R.D., a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Cedars-Sinai, said that "Some night shift workers eat at work in order to maintain their stamina, then go home and eat with their families. People can lose sight of portion control." Levine added that sleep deprivation is also a common problem. "People working the night shift may consume large amounts of caffeine-laden beverages to stay awake, then--if they are parents--they may be forced to stay awake during the day in order to drive their children to and from school and other activities," she added. Recent students have shown that people who do not get sufficient sleep are more prone to being overweight.

Studies have shown that gastrointestinal problems, particularly ulcers, are more prevalent among shift-workers than others. This is because the digestive system is relatively inactive at night; therefore, some foods can cause digestive problems at night yet be well tolerated if eaten during the day. Other culprits contributing to gastrointestinal problems are snack foods with a high fat content (readily available from vending machines during the wee hours), caffeine and meals eaten in a rush or at irregular times. To prevent heartburn or indigestion, Levine recommends avoiding cabbage, cucumbers, onions, high-fat or fried meals, and spicy foods.