Light meals rated best way to stay alert at night

A research study by the University of South Australia has found that a simple snack is the best choice for maximising alertness and productivity.

This study aimed to investigate whether altering food intake during the night shift could optimise how shift workers feel during the night and reduce their sleepiness. The researchers tested a snack intake against a meal and no food at all.

While all participants reported increased sleepiness and fatigue, and decreased vigour across the night shift, 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.

Lead researcher and PhD candidate 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 night shift is increasingly common, with many industries – health care, aviation, transport and mining – requiring employees to work around the clock,” she said.

“We know that many night shiftworkers 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.”

In Australia, 15 per cent (or 200,000 workers) of the total 1.4 million shiftworkers regularly work a night or evening shift.

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

The next step in the research is to investigate the different types of snacks and how they affect shiftworkers differently.

“As a night shiftworker, finding ways to manage your alertness when your body is naturally primed for sleep can be really challenging,” Gupta said.

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