If you are one of the millions of Americans who work night shifts, you are probably sleep-deprived. When you don’t get enough quality shut-eye, your health begins to suffer, and losing weight can seem impossible.
Sunlight exposure is vital for regulating your daily rhythms, and humans are diurnal like all mammals. Darkness means it’s time to rest, and light signals energy and alertness. When we go against biology, there is always a cost. So, if you want to lose weight while working the night shift, it will require a commitment to doing whatever you have to do to take care of yourself.
The good news is that the rules for weight loss don’t change because you work nights. What changes are the strategies you use to meet the requirements for optimal health and well being. Our nutrition team has created a scientifically-proven guide to losing weight on the night shift, and you’ll be glad to see that it is entirely do-able. With a positive mindset and an awareness of the traps, you’ll find the specific strategies to help you achieve your weight loss goals.
Does Working the Night Shift Affect Your Weight?
Simply put, yes. Working night shifts disrupt your body’s internal clock or circadian rhythm. This cycle is your daily biological clock, and the human body likes routine. Shift work throws this cycle off balance along with your body’s metabolic and hormonal equilibrium. This includes the critical hormones that regulate satiety and hunger, increasing your appetite for carbohydrates and high-calorie foods.
Disrupting your circadian clock increases your risk for weight gain because it decreases your resting metabolic rate. This can make you feel more stressed, moody, less energetic, and it signals your body to hang on tightly to fat. It also releases the stress hormone cortisol, which directly correlates with weight gain in the abdominal area. Beyond affecting your weight, disruption of your circadian rhythms can also result in other adverse side effects, including:
- Social Isolation
- Mental Health Disorders
- Gastrointestinal Discomfort
- Insulin Resistance
The disruption of your circadian rhythm has biological consequences, and if your work night shifts, you are bound to run into some of them. However, there are some actions you can take to maintain a healthy weight and avoid adverse stress reactions proactively.
How Can I Lose Weight as a Night Shift Worker?
The goal is to find a better balance of when to eat and what to eat while you’re working the night shift. Check out our best tips to help with weight loss while you’re burning the midnight oil as a shift worker.
Create a Log: Reaching your weight loss goals doesn’t mean giving up everything you love to eat and drink, but you do have to make choices to create a calorie deficit. Writing down exactly what you are eating and drinking, how much sleep you’re getting, and the amount of exercise gives you a starting point. Then you can decide if you need to work on just your diet or focus on exercise. If you are not where you want to be in any category, don’t criticize yourself. Pick one area to work on and first, then add others gradually. This is a strategy that works for many things, and the most critical step is to begin.
Start with Protein: Get in the habit of eating before you start your shift, so your body has time to transfer those calories into energy. Make sure it is a high protein meal with complex carbohydrates, healthy fat, fruits, and vegetables.
Prepare Healthy Meals: Instead of one large meal, eat smaller, low-fat snacks throughout your shift. Choose local, fresh, organic foods as much as possible. Although almost every type of fruit and vegetable is available year-round, matching your diet to what is in season where you live can help your body reclaim the benefits of natural cycles.
Get Your Vitamin D: When you are sleeping during the day, you aren’t getting any time in the sun, which is a significant source of vitamin D. Your body needs 600 IU daily of this nutrient to help absorb calcium, magnesium, phosphate, and other minerals that can decrease overall body fat. You can increase your intake of vitamin D with supplements and diet. Focus on eating foods such as salmon, tuna, mushrooms, egg yolks, and fortified milk and yogurt. If possible, use your break time at work to go outside and soak up some rays.
Make Time for Exercise: Doing some resistance training right before bed will increase your resting metabolic rate for about the next 16 hours. Even if you’re not crazy about suiting up for the gym in the middle of the night, doing some bodyweight exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, squats, and dips at home can do the job. Or get a jump rope and make it fun!
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate: You can reduce fatigue and increase mental alertness by making sure you are drinking enough water. In addition to consuming water during your workday, drink 20 to 32 ounces shortly after waking. It gives your metabolism a boost and can give you more energy while minimizing your appetite.
Create a Sleep Routine: The amount of sleep you get can dramatically affect how your body responds to food. Doing the same things every night an hour before bedtime can help program sleep triggers. Your brain will start to associate these rituals with the end of the day and help you fall asleep quicker. Because sleep is a critical factor in weight loss, it needs to be as much of a priority as diet and exercise.
Practical Ways to Improve Sleep Quality and Quantity
Whether you work nights or days, getting the quality sleep you need is frequently the first thing that gets sacrificed when life gets in the way. Sleep deprivation slows your metabolism, making it nearly impossible to turn down high-calorie, high-fat foods. In addition to weight gain, it can also leave you with no energy to exercise or stick to any kind of fitness or exercise program. The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get seven to eight hours of sleep. If you are currently running on four to six, this may not seem realistic. We are all time-poor, so taking positive action is vital.
Do what you can to control your sleep environment and maximize the quantity and quality of your sleep. Darken your drive home with a pair of dark-tinted wraparound sunglasses. This trick can help your body clock and melatonin levels believe it is nighttime.
Turn your bedroom into a calming den you can retreat to after work. Use heavy blackout curtains to keep the lighting dim, and be sure to close the curtains before you leave for work. Keep the temperature between 65 and 70 degrees and cover computer screens or other digital devices that can disturb your sleep. Go to bed as soon as you can when you get home and choose relaxing activities to help you get to sleep.
Set a reasonable goal and get consistent with it. Figure out how much more sleep you can get if you go to bed 30 to 60 minutes earlier. Commit to your goal for at least five days a week, re-evaluate each month and see if you can make further improvements. If you end up off the track, don’t give up, life happens. Get back on track when you can and leave any guilt behind.
Some foods can make it challenging to get the necessary sleep you need. Foods to avoid four hours before bed include:
• High-Fat Foods like ice cream, fried chicken
• Dried Fruit
• Spicy Foods hot peppers
• High Sugar Cereals
• Raw Onions
What Can I Have Before Bed?
If at all possible, you should avoid eating between midnight and six am. However, going to bed hungry doesn’t help matters at all. If you do need to eat before going to bed, be careful what you eat. Here are some of the best foods to eat after a night shift that can also help you sleep!
• Warmed oats with blueberries and Greek yogurt has complex carbs, fiber, protein, and probiotics
• Sprouted bread is high in nutrients, fiber, protein, vitamin C and B
• Almonds are a source of melatonin, a sleep-regulating hormone
• Apples are high in vitamin C, B6, and potassium to aid sleep
• Kiwis contain serotonin to regulate sleep
Additional Healthy Snacks: Whole-grain cereal with milk and fruit, smoothie, or a piece of whole-grain toast with a little peanut butter. Cottage cheese contains casein protein to slow digestion and tryptophan to promote sleep.
Sip Tea: Rooibos tea is naturally decaffeinated and contains a powerful flavonoid called Aspalathin. This compound can reduce the stress hormones that trigger fat storage and hunger. Plus, it tastes great!
A surprising and less well-known treatment for insomnia is Montmorency tart cherry juice. Drinking 100% tart cherry juice one hour before bed can improve your sleep quality and increase the time you sleep by 84 minutes! It enhances sleep, fights inflammation in the body, lowers total cholesterol and harmful LDL levels, and reduces muscle soreness. Plus, just saying cherry juice invokes happy thoughts and memories of spring and summer!
What is the Best Diet for Night Shift Workers?
There isn’t a specific diet that works specifically for night shift workers to aid weight loss. Instead, focus on healthy ways to eat that combat the detrimental effects of the night shift.
Breakfast: No matter what time you get up, your first meal of the day is the best way to kick-start your metabolism. Some ideal choices include:
• Whole grains cereal
• Fresh fruit
• Low-fat dairy products
• Scrambled egg whites
• Turkey bacon
• Black coffee
Lunch: This should be your main meal where you consume the most calories. You need to give your body a steady flow of energy that will keep you going throughout your shift. Good choices include:
• Grilled chicken
• Whole-wheat pasta or bread
Dinner: A meal that is easy to digest, not frozen, and not junk food from the vending machine is a wise decision. Avoid fried or spicy foods, red meat, and rich desserts. Drink water instead of
soda or coffee. Options include:
Snacks: Keep snacks to a minimum by waiting until you are truly hungry. Sometimes being dehydrated can fool you, so start with water. Bring your snacks with you and choose healthy items such as:
• Baked crackers
Types of Foods to Include
Working nights or 12-hour shifts limit your options and leave you vulnerable to fast-food restaurants or whatever you can find in the cafeteria. These are not nutrient-rich foods, so you need to pack your lunch and snacks. Choose foods that sustain energy, are low in fat, and high in fiber and lean protein. Some great food ideas include:
• Lean Protein and L-tryptophan: turkey, chicken, cheese, fish, yogurt, and eggs
• Complex Carbs & Fiber: grains, potatoes, beans, oatmeal, and whole-grain cereal and bread.
• Good Fats: fish, nuts, flax and chia seeds, canola oil, and flaxseed oil, especially salmon
Take the time to make an eating schedule and create meal plans. Invest in your health by scouring the internet for food ideas that you like and fit into your budget.
How Much Water Should You Drink?
Experts recommend eight 8-ounce glasses of water throughout the day, which equals half a gallon. The amount you need can vary depending on where you live, the season, and how active you are. If you are on your feet all night, you’ll need more than someone sitting at a desk. Drinking water before meals can help you manage your appetite and maintain a healthy weight. Adequate hydration can also increase mental alertness and reduce fatigue.
Healthy Habits for Night Shift Workers Leads to Weight Loss
When you eat, what you eat, your sleep quality, and how you exercise are critical factors for losing weight. Diligent attention to these essentials will allow you to lose weight while working the biologically counterintuitive night shift.
If you are one of the protective services and healthcare workers often exposed to dangerous or traumatic events, taking care of yourself is essential for all of us. At Dr. Seltzer Weight Loss, we are dedicated to supporting your health and wellness so you can continue to help and serve.