If you’re reading this at 3 a.m., we feel you! Weight loss while tackling the night shift is a double whammy. For those who regularly toil from dusk till dawn, let’s take a look at how the night shift affects your body. Then, we’ll nail down tips to help you keep the weight off while still making mad money.
Why Shift Work Can Affect Health and Waistline
Our cities and towns operate around the clock. To make all this possible, roughly 15 million Americans perform shift work outside of regular hours. Doing so defies human biology — we are internally wired to be active during the day and asleep at night. This wiring occurs through an internal circadian clock, which regulates the release of hormones that control body temperature, hunger level, energy level, and mood. This circadian pattern is affected by light, which is why it’s harder for us to fall asleep when the sun is out.
Night shift workers are more likely to suffer from sleep deprivation, snoozing on average 2–4 hours less than normal per day.
Your health unravels as your sleep takes a hit. Common signs of inadequate sleep include irritability, fatigue, stress, poor learning, and concentration issues. All these signs can leave you feeling zonked out and in poor health.
On top of this is the mounting evidence for a sleep-weight connection; losing as little as 30 minutes of sleep per night can promote weight gain. How? Losing shut eye may mess with appetite hormones. The satiety hormone, leptin, dips while the hunger hormone, ghrelin, soars, leading you to crave sugary carbs and more calories.
A Mayo Clinic study looking at 17 healthy, young adults found that sleep-deprived subjects slept one hour and 20 minutes less than the control subjects but ate an average of 500+ more calories per day. Granted, the sample size is small, but it’s consistent with research that finds a link between sleeping less and eating more.
6 Tips to Shed Weight on the Night Shift
Losing and maintaining weight on the night shift takes some extra dedication. Follow these six tips to get yourself on the right track:
1. Prioritize sleep.
Ask yourself, are you really getting the recommended 7–9 hours each night? If you’re nodding off more than nodding yes, put sleep down as a calendar item. Setting up a good sleep environment can help you put more hours in your sleep bank. Here are few tricks: Set your thermostat between 54–75 degrees F. Invest in thick blinds and window covers to minimize pesky light leakage. Keep electronics off your bed and set your phone on silent. Use earplugs to block out extra noise.
2. Pack nutrient-dense snacks.
Have a good snack strategy ready to squash late-night cravings. The selection at 24-hour eateries (think: gas station stops, fast food joints, and vending machines) are rarely healthy. Save some money and empty calories by bringing your own snacks. You can pre-portion food into plastic containers or resealable bags so it’s easier to keep track of how much you eat. Choose nutrient-dense snacks such as trail mix, hard-boiled eggs, string cheese, sliced fruit, and yogurt. Shakeology balls are also great make-ahead energy bites that can be made in batches.
3. Don’t skimp on exercise.
If the choice is between sleep and exercise, go with sleep. However, making exercise a priority is critical for getting closer to your goal weight. It also has the extra benefit of promoting good sleep. Since the gym (or sun) may not be in your favor, sneak in some indoor workouts. Invest in some workout DVDs or Beachbody On Demand to stream workouts when you have a break or some down time. Bonus: Get your co-workers involved for extra motivation!
4. Don’t abuse caffeinated drinks.
Caffeine is no sleep replacement, but it’s common to prop ourselves awake with it during the work “day.” But, as it comes close to the end of your night shift, don’t drink fully caffeinated coffee, tea, and sodas. Caffeine is a stimulant that persists for hours after your last sip, so it’s crucial not to let it ruin your sleep.
5. Lay off sugary drinks and snacks.
Weight-loss hopefuls should steer clear of sugary foods, and night shift workers have an extra reason. A study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that peak blood sugar level was 16 percent higher when subjects underwent one night of shift work, compared to one day of a regular work schedule. The study’s sample size is small, just 13 adults. However, the findings are insightful because it helps us understand why shift work increases people’s risk for obesity.
6. Set up a regular schedule for your meals.
Disrupting the circadian clock increases risk for obesity because it alters metabolism by decreasing resting metabolic rate and increasing blood sugar after a meal. But, light isn’t the only factor. Your circadian rhythm is also affected by meal timing, so set up and stick to a regular eating schedule. If you’re used to eating three regular meals during the day, then establish the same routine at night.
If you work the night shift, what are some ways you keep your weight in check? Share what works for you in the comments.