This research may be academic for a score of medical shift workers who may struggle to find time for a comfort break let alone a mealtime. However, research from across the Nullarbor is looking into whether altering food intake during the nightshift could optimise how workers feel during the night and perhaps 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 maximising alertness and productivity. Lead researcher Charlotte Gupta said most night-shift workers found it challenging to manage alertness when the body was naturally primed for sleep. “We know that many night-shift 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,” she said. Over a seven-day simulated shift-work protocol, the study assessed the impact of three eating conditions (a meal comprising 30% of energy intake over a 24-hour period (e.g. a sandwich, muesli bar, and apple); a snack comprising 10% of energy intake (e.g. just the muesli bar and apple); and no food intake at all. Those who were eating consumed their food at 12:30 am. The results showed that while all participants reported increased sleepiness and fatigue, and decreased vigour across the night-shift, consuming a snack reduced 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. Gupta says the next step in the research is to investigate the different types of snacks and how they affect shift-workers differently. “Ultimately, the goal is to help Australian night-shift workers to stay alert, be safe, and feel healthy.”

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