Snacking maximises shiftworker productivity

Tuesday, 13 August, 2019

Snacking maximises shiftworker productivity

With large sections of the healthcare industry requiring employees to work around the clock, researchers have investigated the effect of food intake on staff alertness and productivity.

A University of South Australia study published in the journal Nutrients investigated whether altering food intake during the nightshift could optimise how shiftworkers felt during the night and reduce their sleepiness.

Testing the impact of either a snack, a meal, or no food at all, the study found that a simple snack was the best choice for maximising alertness and productivity.

Lead researcher and University of South Australia PhD candidate Charlotte Gupta said the finding had the potential to help thousands of shiftworkers who worked during the night.

“In today’s 24/7 economy, working the nightshift is increasingly common, with many industries — healthcare, aviation, transport and mining — requiring employees to work around the clock,” Gupta said.

“As a nightshift worker, finding ways to manage your alertness when your body is naturally primed for sleep can be really challenging.

“We know that many nightshift workers 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.

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

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

The researchers cited Australian Bureau of Statistics figures showing that of the nation’s 1.4 million shiftworkers, 15% (or more than 200,000) regularly worked a night or evening shift.

Working at night-time conflicted with a person’s internal circadian clock, making it harder to stay focused and awake. Managing fatigue was therefore critical for workplace health and safety, they said.

Over a seven-day simulated shiftwork protocol, the study assessed the impact of three eating conditions: a meal comprising 30% of energy intake over a 24-hour period (for example, a sandwich, muesli bar and apple); a snack comprising 10% of energy intake (for example, just the muesli bar and apple); and no food intake at all. Each were consumed at 12.30 am. The 44 participants were randomly split into the three test conditions and were asked to report on their levels of hunger, gut reaction and sleepiness.

The results showed that while all participants reported increased sleepiness and fatigue, and decreased vigour across the nightshift, consuming a snack reduced 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.

Gupta said the next step was to investigate different types of snacks and how they affected shiftworkers differently.

“Now that we know that consuming a snack on nightshift will optimise your alertness and performance without any adverse effects, we’re keen to delve more into the types of snacks shiftworkers are eating,” she said.

“Lots of shiftworkers snack multiple times over a nightshift, and understanding the different macronutrient balances is important, especially as many report consuming foods high in fat, such as chips, chocolate and fast foods.

“We’re keen to assess how people feel and perform after a healthy snack versus a less healthy, but potentially more satisfying snack like chocolate or lollies.

“Ultimately, the goal is to help Australian shiftworkers on the nightshift to stay alert, be safe and feel healthy.”

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