In a new research study by the University of South Australia, researchers investigated whether altering food intake during the nightshift could optimize how shift workers feel during the night and reduce their sleepiness.
Testing the impact of either a snack, a meal, or no food at all, the study found that a simple snack was the best choice for maximizing alertness and productivity. “In today’s 24/7 economy, working the nightshift is increasingly common, with many industries – health care, aviation, transport and mining – requiring employees to work around the clock,” lead researcher and UniSA PhD candidate, Charlotte Gupta, says in a statement.
“As a nightshift worker, finding ways to manage your alertness when your body is naturally primed for sleep can be really challenging. We know that many nightshift workers eat on-shift to help them stay awake,” says Gupta. “The findings will inform the most strategic eating patterns on-shift and can hopefully contribute to more alert and better performing workers.”
Over a 7-day simulated shiftwork protocol, the study assessed the impact of three eating conditions (a meal comprising 30% of energy intake over a 24-hour period (for example, a sandwich, muesli bar, and apple); a snack comprising 10% of energy intake (for example, just the muesli bar and apple); and no food intake at all) each consumed at 12:30 am. The 44 participants were randomly split into the three test-conditions and were asked to report on their levels of hunger, gut reaction and sleepiness.
The results showed that while all participants reported increased sleepiness and fatigue, and decreased vigor across the nightshift, consuming a snack reduces the impact of these feelings more so than a meal or no food at all. The snack group also reported having no uncomfortable feelings of fullness as noted by the meal group.
Gupta says the next step in the research is to investigate the different types of snacks and how they affect shift workers differently.
“Now that we know that consuming a snack on nightshift will optimize your alertness and performance without any adverse effects, we’re keen to delve more into the types of snacks shift workers are eating,” Gupta says. “Lots of shift workers snack multiple times over a nightshift, and understanding the different macronutrient balances is important, especially as many report consuming foods high in fat, such as chips, chocolate and fast foods.”