Healthy Snacks for Night Shift

I understand the temptation to hit up the vending machine for a sugary snack, especially on night shift.  I went through a phase of calling smarties my proton energy pill (AKA Roger Ramjet), thinking they were on the only thing that would get me through nights.  Now I realise that all I was doing was making myself even more fatigued, which is why I decided it was important to write a post about healthy snacks for night shift.

Shift work can impact on the foods and drinks we consume.  In fact, research shows that many shift workers feel that they have a less healthy diet since starting shift work.  Sleep deprivation affects food choices, making you crave carb-rich, sugary foods and salty snacks.  However, these foods are not a good option for shift workers, as they cause energy slumps, are low in nutrients, contribute to inflammation and don’t keep you feeling full.  Instead, choosing healthy snacks helps keep you focused and energised, and is a great opportunity to increase your nutrient intake and boost your health.  This may help protect shift workers from the health impacts of working shifts – exhaustion, accidents, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, obesity, gastrointestinal disorder, mental health disorders.  For more information see my blog on the ‘Health Effects of Shift Work.’

Snacks – what do I mean??

When I’m talking about ‘snacks’, I’m referring to any food or calorie-containing drink consumed between main meals.  These snacks can be either healthy or unhealthy, and are not to be confused with ‘snack foods’.  It is best to avoid what are often called ‘snack foods’ – chocolate, lollies, chips, cakes, biscuits, desserts, sugar-sweetened drinks – as they are energy-dense i.e. contribute to weight gain, and are nutrient-poor i.e. are low in the nutrients that the body needs for good health.

So, what should I eat?

a fridge full of healthy snacks

Snacks with a good amount of protein and healthy fats are a great option as they keep you fuller for longer, boost your energy levels and help curb sugar cravings.

  • Snacks should contain between 5-15g of protein.
  • Choose avocado, yoghurt, eggs, nuts and seeds, fruit, vegetables or vegetarian-based protein – legumes, beans, nuts and seeds.
  • Soups are a good option as they are easy to digest and warming – have you noticed feeling cold on night shift?  This is because your core body temperature drops overnight.  Check out my sweet potato, carrot and lentil soup recipe, it’s really yum!
  • See below for more options

What else can I do?

  • Make sure you eat a healthy filling meal before you start your shift, this helps keeps your energy up and reduces cravings for sugary snacks.
  • Drink plenty of water and avoid soft drinks and energy drinks.  The high sugar content of these drinks ultimately make you more tired, interferes with your sleep and increases your chance of gaining weight and diabetes.  Green tea is a great option if you find yourself needing a caffeine fix.
  • To make things more social you can invite your shift work buddies to bring along some healthy snacks you can all enjoy together.  You can take turns providing the snacks or have a potluck platter where you all contribute something.  Taking a break together has the added benefit of social connection, which helps reduce stress and anxiety.  Although try to keep the food healthy, I know from experience that on night shift we can get carried away thinking we need to treat ourselves.  I’m totally guilty of being the junk food enabler, I often stopped on the way to work to buy a box of Magnums to share.  I really should have brought a bag of carrots and a tub of hummus though!!  Thinking we need to treat ourselves on nights seems to be ingrained in our psyche.  This is a habit we need to break.
  • Ask for help – if you’re really exhausted ask family and friends if they can cook you some healthy meals or help out with the grocery shopping.  It’s imperative during this time to support yourself with healthy foods.

Planning is your friend

Often there is a lack of availability of healthy foods for night shift staff.  Therefore, taking your own food is the best way to ensure that you are eating healthy snacks.   Once I realised how bad my reliance on Smarties was, food prepping and healthy eating became my saviour.  One of my naturopathy lecturers told me that they thought my prioritising healthy eating was the only thing keeping me standing upright.

A few days before going on shift think about what you might like to eat while working.  Give yourself a few options, variety is key to staying on a healthy path.

The day before your first shift prepare some healthy snacks for night shift that will last a few days in the fridge such as:

  • Overnight oats, chia puddings, protein balls – homemade protein balls are best
  • Chop some veggies sticks for dipping into hummus.  I love carrot, celery, capsicum and cucumber.
  • Wash, chop and freeze ingredients for smoothies – e.g. spinach, banana, mango, pineapple, berries
  • Boil some eggs

  • Mix your favourite unsalted nuts and seeds in an airtight container to keep at work.  If you’re feeling special add some dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa) and unsweetened dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, apricots).  You can sprinkle a handful of your mix on some Greek yoghurt for a change.

Here are some more quick and easy healthy snacks for night shift:

  • A piece of fruit, a tub of yoghurt and a handful of unsalted nuts and seeds – an awesome easy protein-rich snack that will keep you full and the fruit makes it sweet!
  • Rice cakes with avocado, tomato and cheese or nut butter
  • Veggie sticks and dip – hummus is a tasty protein-rich dip.  If you’re not making your own, Pilpel hummus is a good brand as they use extra virgin olive oil and not vegetable or canola oil.  Tzatzikik and beetroot dips are also healthy options.
  • A green smoothie with a scoop of protein powder.  I like Amazonia Raw protein powders.
  • Celery sticks filled with nut butter or slices of apple smeared with nut butter
  • Tuna and crackers
  • Golden halloumi and pear slices – place slices of halloumi and pear in a hot frypan and toss them around the pan until they are golden brown.  Eat while hot.

Surviving shift work and staying healthy is possible.  It does take some preplanning, which is hard when your knackered, but that’s what I’m here to help with!!

If you’d like my help I offer both in-person and online appointments from my clinic in Caloundra.  I also have a free 15min discovery call which allows you to have a chat with me to learn more about naturopathy and how I might help you.  You can book those here.

Thanks!!  Take care, Annie.

References

Gifkins, J., Johnston, A. & Loudoun, R. (2018). The impact of shift work on eating patterns and self-care strategies utilised by experienced and inexperienced nurses. Chronobiology International, 35(6). DOI: 10.1080/07420528.2018.1466790

Gupta, C., Coates, A., Dorrian, J. & Banks, S. (2019). The factors influencing the eating behaviour of shift workers: what, when, where and why. Industrial Health, 57, 419–453.  DOI: 10.2486/indhealth.2018-0147

Hess, J. & Slavin, J. (2018). The benefits of defining “snacks”. Physiology & Behaviour, 193, 284-287. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2018.04.019

Rimmer, A. (2019).  What should I eat on my night shift? BMJ, 365, I2143. DOI: 10.1136/bmj.12143

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