Shiftwork & Weight Control: How To Maintain A Healthy Weight When You Work At Night

 Shiftwork & Weight Control

Maintaining a healthy weight is a challenge everyone faces, but it can be even more problematic when you work at night. For example, a Columbia University study of night workers at a hospital found they’d gained an average of 9.5 pounds since starting shiftwork; most reported increasing their food intake and exercising less.

This can have significant consequences. Excess weight increases a person’s risk of health problems such as hypertension and diabetes. Additionally, research studies have shown that overweight and obese people sleep less than normal weight people.

The good news is that you can maintain a healthy weight as a shiftworker. Here are some ways you can keep yourself healthy and at the weight you want.

Make sleep a priority. Swedish researchers have discovered that sleep loss can cause a specific brain region associated with appetite to be activated. Investigators believe this finding suggests that poor sleep habits can affect a person’s risk of becoming overweight. Therefore, if you’re trying to lose weight (or not gain any), make sure you are getting enough sleep enough sleep everyday.

Monitor your daily food intake. Tracking what you eat for a couple of days can be very enlightening. It can really put into focus where you can cut calories out: Do I really need that second helping of meatloaf? And thanks to modern technology there are food diary apps that make tracking everything you eat a breeze.

Eat light before day sleep. When you eat in the morning after work, stick to lowfat healthy foods before going to bed. A bowl of cereal or a small serving of pasta with chicken are good examples.

“While you’re asleep, your body does not actively burn calories like it does while you’re awake,” says Dr. Marci Gluck, who has done research on shiftwork and weight gain at the New York Obesity Research Center.

“Eating light before going to bed in the morning can help night workers keep the pounds off.” If you’re used to eating a large breakfast after work, the key to breaking this bad habit is recognizing that it doesn’t take a lot of food to eliminate a seemingly huge appetite. What it requires instead is patience: From the time you start eating, it takes 20 minutes for the feelings of hunger to go away. So there’s nothing to be gained by wolfing down a large breakfast.

Bring meals and snacks from home.

With many workplace cafeterias shutting down at night, the food available to night workers tends to be limited. What’s available to you is not necessarily what’s healthy for you. Bringing your own food gives you control over your overnight food options.

Snack smart. Low-fat, natural foods make the best snacks for those trying to maintain a healthy weight. Packing some pretzels, crackers, an apple or a bag of carrots can help you save money and avoid the high-sugar, high-fat snacks sold in most vending machines. While an occasional candy bar won’t hurt you, limiting yourself to one a night at most will minimize the empty calories you consume. Also keep in mind that although candy bars provide a quick energy boost, this high lasts only about 20 to 30 minutes, after which your energy crashes back down to a level that is actually lower than it was before you ate the candy.

Keep a regular eating schedule. Strive to maintain as regular an eating schedule as possible. Regardless of your work and sleep schedule, try to eat breakfast between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. and lunch and dinner before 10 p.m. Between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., it’s advisable to stick to light and healthy snacks because the stomach doesn’t digest food well during the overnight hours.

Stay active. Shiftwork offers good opportunities for morning or afternoon workouts, which help you burn calories and lose fat while preserving muscle. During the daytime, you have access to gymnasiums and running and biking trails. Or if the weather’s bad, as it often is this time of year, try walking inside a mall.

Chew gum. Instead of reaching for a snack, reach for a piece of sugar-free gum. The nice thing about gum is that you can chew it all night long without ingesting calories and some studies suggest that chewing gum boosts alertness levels as well.


1) Geliebter, A, et al. “Work-shift period and weight change.” Nutrition 2000; 16(1):27-9.

2) Nauert PhD, R. (2012). Sleep Deficiencies Spur Hunger. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 25, 2013, from


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