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Surviving night shifts: eating a snack rather than a meal may help you stay alert

Nurses who choose a fuller meal may be more likely to get headaches and dizziness too

Nurses who choose a fuller meal may be more likely to get headaches and dizziness too


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A midnight snack can be more effective in helping shift workers remain alert that a larger meal.

A study found people who ate a snack of a muesli bar and apple performed better in a driving simulation exercise than those who had also eaten a sandwich.

Having a meal was associated with greater incidence of headaches

Researchers at University of South Australia split participants into three groups – those that would eat either a meal, a snack, or nothing at all at 12.30am.

The meal group ate a sandwich, muesli bar and an apple, while the snack group would just have the muesli bar and apple.

Those who ate the snack or had no food were less likely to report headache or dizziness than those who had eaten a meal.  

The snack group reported fewer thoughts of eating during the night shift the group who did not eat at all.

Effects on alertness of eating a snack


Kim Sunley, RCN national officer

Lead researcher Charlotte Gupta said when tested in a driving simulator, the snack group drove more safely than the meal group, which had more crashes. 

However, all of the research groups, together comprising 18 women and 26 men, reported an increase in sleepiness and fatigue.

RCN national officer, Kim Sunley, said employers should ensure nurses have access to healthy food and time to eat.

‘Employers have a duty to make sure their workers have access to nutritional food throughout their shift,’ she said.

‘Nursing staff have the right to a proper break and while they may have to miss some to urgently care for patients, this mustn’t be the norm as fatigued, hungry and dehydrated workers are more likely to make cognitive errors.’


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