"In today's 24/7 economy, working in the nightshift is common, with many industries - health care, aviation, transport and mining - requiring employees to work around the clock. As a nightshift worker, finding ways to manage your alertness when your body is naturally primed for sleep can be really challenging," said Charlotte Gupta, lead researcher of the study.
"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. Our findings will inform the most strategic eating patterns on-shift and can hopefully contribute to more alert and better-performing workers," added Gupta.
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 shiftwork protocol, the study assessed the impact of three eating conditions (a meal comprising 30 per cent of energy intake over a 24-hour period, for example, a sandwich, muesli bar, and apple); a snack comprising 10 per cent of energy intake (for example, just the muesli bar and apple); and no food intake at all, each consumed at 1230 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 vigour 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.
"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 shiftworkers are eating," said Gupta.