A simple snack such as a muesli bar is the best choice for maximising alertness and productivity while working a night shift, according to new research from University of South Australia.
The study set out to investigate whether altering food intake during a night shift could optimise how shift workers feel during the night and reduce their sleepiness.
It assessed the impact of three different eating patterns at 12.30am each morning for seven days in a simulated shift work protocol:
- a meal comprising 30% of energy intake over a 24-hour period, such as a sandwich, muesli bar and apple;
- a snack comprising 10% of energy intake, such as just the muesli bar and apple; and
- no food intake at all.
The study’s 44 participants were randomly split into three test conditions and asked to report their hunger levels, gut reaction and sleepiness.
Results published in June showed while all reported increased sleepiness and fatigue, and decreased vigour across the nightshift, consuming a snack reduced the impact of those feelings more than a meal or no food at all.
The snack groups also reported having no uncomfortable feelings of fullness, as did the meal group.
It is currently Sleep Awareness Week in Australia (5-11 August), with this year’s theme Sleep on it – memory and problem solving, and the findings tie in well with the push to improve the health of Australians.
“We know that many nightshift workers eat on shift to help them stay awake, but until now, no research has shown whether this is good or bad for their health and performance,” UniSA PhD candidate Charlotte Gupta said.
“This is the first study to investigate how workers feel and perform after eating different amounts of food.”
Ms Gupta said the next step in the research was to investigate the different types of snacks and how they affected shift workers differently.
“Now that we know that consuming a snack on night shift will optimise your alertness and performance without any adverse effects, we’re keen to delve more into the types of snacks shift workers are eating.
“Lots of shift workers snack multiple times over a night shift, and understanding the different macronutrient balances is important, especially as many report consuming foods high in fat, such as chips, chocolate and fast foods.
“We’re keen to assess how people feel and perform after a healthy snack versus a less-healthy, but potentially more satisfying snack like chocolate or lollies.
“Ultimately, the goal is to help Australian shift workers on the night shift to stay alert, be safe and feel healthy.”