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17 September 2019 Posted by 


Food types under scrutiny
WE’VE all been there. Burning the midnight oil and the company vending machine keeps calling your name.

You try to avoid it because you are on a diet and the machine and the adjacent fridge are full of “bad stuff”.

First, the good news, snacking on the job is good for you. Now the bad news, take quality, healthy snacks with you and avoid the “rubbish” at all costs.

If you’re one of Australia’s 1.4M shift workers, eating at irregular times is just par for the course, but have you ever stopped to think about the impact this might have on your body? 

New research by the University of South Australia, investigated whether altering food intake during the nightshift could optimise how shiftworkers felt during the night and help 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.

Lead researcher Charlotte Gupta said the finding had the potential to help thousands of shiftworkers who work during the night.

“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,” Ms Gupta said.

“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, but until now, no research has shown whether this is good or bad for their health and performance.

“This is the first study to investigate how workers feel and perform after eating different amounts of food.

“The findings will inform the most strategic eating patterns on-shift and can hopefully contribute to more alert and better performing workers.”

Of the 1.4m shiftworkers, 15% or more than 200,000, regularly work a night or evening shift. Working at night-time conflicts with a person’s internal circadian clock, making it harder to stay focused and awake. Managing fatigue is therefore critical for workplace health and safety.

Over a 7-day simulated shift work protocol, the study assessed the impact of three eating conditions:

• A meal comprising 30 per cent of energy intake over a 24-hour period such as a sandwich, muesli bar, and apple
• A snack comprising 10 percent of energy intake such as a muesli bar and apple
• No food intake at all.

The meals and snacks were 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 eased 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. 

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 nightshift 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,” Ms Gupta said.

“Ultimately, the goal is to help Australian shift workers on the nightshift to stay alert, be safe and feel healthy.”


Michael Walls
0407 783 413

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