Healthy Eating and Shift Work

Shift workers are often at a higher risk of poor health, find out what you can do to be healthier.

Shift workers, especially long-term night shift workers, have been shown to be at an increased risk of being overweight and developing diet related conditions such type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. This is suggested to be because the body’s own internal body clock is disrupted, often because of exposure to light during night times which disrupts the circadian rhythm. Roughly aligned to a 24-hour day period, the circadian rhythm helps to coordinate the body's sleep-wake cycle, eating habits, digestion and body temperature. The main external factor which influences the circadian rhythm is exposure to light.

The good news – by eating well, balancing your diet and being active you can take control of your health and help reduce your risks of developing diet related conditions.

Top Tips for Shift Workers

1: Slow Releasing Energy

One of the biggest battles of a healthy diet during shift work is battling the energy dips and tiredness. But including foods which release energy slowly helps to avoid the peaks and dips in blood sugar and energy which often lead to the feeling of ‘craving’ chocolate, sweets and other quick, high calorie pick me ups.
So, try to choose meals and snacks which include more of the below foods for slower energy release:

  • Wholegrain carbohydrates: unpolished and whole grains (e.g. millet, whole wheat, maize, whole wheat rye, quinoa), foods made from whole grain flours, brown, red, unpolished and wild rice, wholegrain pasta, oats
  • Pulses: peas, beans and lentils (unpolished) are naturally high in fibre yet low in fat and breakdown slowly in your body

2: Healthier Snacking

When your body is calling for energy and battling against tiredness it’s easy to reach for a quick pick me up in the form of energy dense snacks like fried bakery, chocolate, sugary drinks, crisp or cakes. But the pickup is short term – these foods are typically high in calories as well as saturated fat, sugars and salts and offer little nutritional benefits. So not good news for the waistline or the quality of your diet. Instead, try to choose more healthier snacks such as baked rather than fried snacks, chopped fruit, veg with salsas, raitas or other dips, low fat yogurt and dairy drinks (without added sugars). You can even enjoy the occasional treat, just try to enjoy these in smaller amounts and not every day.

3: Healthier Eating

Choosing a healthy, balanced diet and staying hydrated not only helps to provide your body with the energy and nutrients needed whilst working during a shift, it also helps to look after your waist line and risk of developing health conditions such as diabetes or heart disease. Click here to find out more about healthy diets.

4: Follow a Routine

Especially important if you work in shift patterns or have limited time to have a break and grab some food, sticking to a routine with regular meal intervals can help to maintain your energy and concentration.

5: Enjoy a Break

Time away from your desk, work station or team location help to refresh your energy, concentration and motivation.

6: Keep Moving

It’s well established that long periods of sedentary behaviour, particularly sitting, is not good for our health and has been associated with an increased risk of conditions such as heart disease. Not all of us can go for a walk, activity class or gym workout during our lunch breaks, especially when working night shifts, so instead try to build activity into your daily routine. For example, walk part of the journey to or from work if it’s safe to do so, take the stairs not the lift, walk to the furthest water or printer station rather than the nearest. All these blocks of small activity add up and help to reduce our sedentary time. Find more information about exercise and activity here.



  • Costa, G. (2010) Shift Work and Health: Current Problems and Preventive Actions. Safety and Health at Work. 1(2):112-123
  • Health & Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) (2014) The Health Survey for England 2013: Chapter 6, Shift Work. HSCIC. London
  • World Health Organisation (2010) WHO The 3 Fives Healthy Choices Healthy Life. Available from www.who.int/foodsafety
  • Public Health England (2018) The Eatwell Guide Booklet. Crown Publishing. London.