Eating during shift work: No general recommendations possible
Over 6.2 million people in Germany work in shift shifts; 5.5 million even at night. The work-related shift in the life and work rhythm leads to special burdens. Shift workers work when the body is on regeneration and sleep when the body is expecting food and activity. The most important bodily functions such as hunger, digestion, sleep etc. are controlled by an internal clock. There are so-called morning types (larks) that wake up early and are quick to perform, and evening types (owls) that are awake and active for a long time in the evening.
Most people, however, are mixed types. Many hormones that are important for eating behavior and digestion (e.g. leptin, ghrelin, insulin) are also subject to a daily rhythm. Accordingly, shift workers are more likely to develop sleep disorders, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular or metabolic diseases.
The time windows during the day, which are usual for food intake, can often not be observed by shift workers. Many go to the early shift without breakfast and lunch shifts to the afternoon. Working in the late shift least disturbs the "normal" rhythm. Breakfast and lunch are usually eaten at "normal" times at home. There will be a snack and dinner at the workplace. Diet is problematic during the night shift. The organism is not adjusted to food at night and the availability of food is limited (e.g. when the canteen is closed). After a night shift, 75 percent of night workers refrain from breakfast and only eat when they have slept.
Many shift workers tend to eat snacks more often than a "real" meal. There are a number of advisory brochures and websites with recommendations on nutrition during shift work, but - says Professor Dr. Manfred Betz from the Mittelhessen University of Applied Sciences in Gießen in the magazine "Nutrition in Focus": "The state of knowledge about the effects of shift work on health is generally rather poor." The same applies to the effects of shift workers' eating habits on their health. From the often contradictory research results, no general recommendations for the nutrition of shift workers can be derived.
There are effective approaches to improve the nutritional situation at company and personal level. These include e.g. rethinking the length of shift, type of shift and break times, the opening times of the canteen, the atmosphere in the break room or a sufficient number of machines with healthy snacks