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‘Time-restricted eating’ could improve health of nurses on shifts

Study suggests shift workers’ blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels improved if they ate at set times and fasted the rest of their shift

Study suggests shift workers’ blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels improved if they ate at set times and fasted the rest of their shift

Eating meals at set times could help nurses and others working unsocial hours stay healthy, a new study has suggested.

NHS research shows shift workers are at a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks, strokes and Type 2 diabetes, as well as other health problems, like

Study suggests shift workers’ blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels improved if they ate at set times and fasted the rest of their shift

tudy suggests shift workers’ blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels improved if they ate at set times
Picture: Barney Newman

Eating meals at set times could help nurses and others working unsocial hours stay healthy, a new study has suggested.

NHS research shows shift workers are at a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks, strokes and Type 2 diabetes, as well as other health problems, like sleep disorders.

But a new study, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, found ‘time-restricted eating’ helped to improve shift workers’ general health. Tests showed their blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels improved if they ate in a set period of time and then fasted for the rest of their shift.

Nurses thinking about trying time-restricted eating should start gently, advises dietitian

The US study saw 137 firefighters who worked 24-hour shifts encouraged to follow a healthy diet over a 12-week period. Half of the firefighters ate in a 10-hour window without skipping a meal and then fasted the rest of the time, while the other half continued to eat as per their normal routine, in an average window of about 14 hours. Those who ate in a 10-hour window were found to be in better health.

British Dietetic Association spokesperson and dietitian Linia Patel told Nursing Standard that nurses thinking about trying time-restricted eating should ‘start gently’ and allow their bodies to ‘get acclimatised’ before making a full-time change.

‘It’s about what works for you and is sustainable for you. There is no one size fits all,’ Dr Patel said.

‘Nurses could do a few different things if they want to try intermittent fasting – maybe not grazing or snacking as much in between meals, for example. There are lots of different stages you can embark on, it doesn’t have to be the full whack right from the beginning.’

Keep your meal patterns similar to what it would be if working during the day

Dr Patel also suggested nurses working night shifts should try to keep their meal patterns as similar as they would be if they were working during the day.

nurses working night shifts should try to keep their meal patterns as similar as they would be if they were working during the day
Picture: iStock

Breakfasts could include toast and eggs with baked beans, or porridge with fruit, or wholegrain cereal or muesli with Greek yoghurt, while lunch could be healthy leftovers or wholegrain bread sandwiches. Snacks could include carrot sticks or other vegetables with houmous, or popcorn.

‘Have your last meal or snack in the early hours of the morning before you go home so you can get home, have a shower and go straight to bed. That way, you’re maximising that overnight fast time, but also fuelling yourself during your shift,’ Dr Patel added.

‘And of course, get as much fruit and veg in your diet as often as you can. Legumes are also great, and can be cost effective, especially with the current cost-of-living crisis.’

Dr Linia Patel’s top tips for eating better before your shift

  • Have a balanced meal before your shift
  • Meal prep – try bulk cooking when you are off so there are balanced meals ready to go when back on shift
  • Stop eating earlier before you clock off to maximise the overnight fasting period
  • Do what works for you and your work style – if something is not feeling right, then do not keep at it, try something different. Shift work is stressful enough
  • Get as much fruit and vegetables in meals as possible
  • Try and get a structure to main meals so you are not scrambling around for unhealthy refined carbohydrates when hungry

 

But having time to take a break is a problem nurses frequently face. A Nursing Standard survey earlier this year found for many staff rooms were non-existent or far too small.

More than one third (37%) of the 1,200 respondents to our health and well-being at work survey had no access to a staff room or rest area. One third (33%) said they had nowhere to eat, and more than one in five (21%) were not even able to access drinking water.


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