Eating on the Night Shift

Specialties Med-Surg


Specializes in Med/Surg, Tele, Dialysis, Hospice.

I recently began working full time night shift again after several years, and work three twelve hour shifts a week, 7p-7a. I am having a problem with my eating pattern since I began staying up all night again, and I'm wondering if any of you who work nights could give me any advice.

Do you bring another full meal with you to work and eat it during the night? Do you snack during the night? If so, what kind of food do you take with you to eat? Our cafeteria is closed all night, so if I want to buy food at work I have to use the vending machines, which don't have very healthy options and I end up eating maybe a small bag of pretzels and a Snickers bar during the night and am then starving by the time my shift ends.

What I am looking for is a sensible, fairly healthy eating plan for the night shift where I won't gain weight by eating another big dinner in the middle of the night but won't be starving all night either. I don't usually take a traditional dinner break, it's more like we sit and eat while we chat and chart after we (hopefully!) get caught up by the middle of the shift. I wouldn't want to take a regular break anyway, since the cafeteria is closed and we don't go on break at the same time so there would be no one to sit with anyway.

Any and all suggestions would be very welcome.

I would just listen to your body and eat when you are hungry. You will eventually get into a pattern that works for you. Don't forget to hydrate yourself. Sometimes we get so busy running around, we don't even know we are hungry or thirsty.

Working midnights was the only time in my life ...that I lost weight without trying. Please take care of yourself.

Let us know how it goes.

Specializes in Med-Surg, Peds, Ortho, LTC and MORE.

I have worked many night shifts. I pack a lunch, carrots, clelery sticks small yougurts a small jar of peanut butter protein bars cereal bars and have maintained my weight. I even lost 5 pounds during the winter holidays and I did not pass the treats that seems to be mutliplying during that time.

I very rarely go off of my "night shift" during my time off, so I just eat like I normally would during the day. If I can't get a bowl of cereal in before I go into work, I take some type of granola bar and an apple or orange and eat it on my way to work. Since we don't have an open cafeteria either, I always pack my lunch (usually tuna for the protein and something with some fiber for the fullness). Sometimes on my nights off, I cook a couple of meals in advance so that my husband has something to eat while I'm at work, and so that I get a hot lunch every once in a while. I may snack on something on the way home, but I usually wait until I get home to fix something to eat for dinner. Recently I've been having Ensure once a day too, since it has extra calories and vitamins. And ditto on the hydration! I have to force myself to drink water at work, and on my days off! I don't know what it is about staying up at night that makes us forget to drink, lol!

Specializes in Med/Surg, Tele, Dialysis, Hospice.

Thanks for all of your quick, helpful replies!

I do drink fluids during my shift, because I tend to get really thirsty if I don't drink a lot of fluids anytime, not just when I'm working (I even got tested for DM just in case, but I'm fine, I just require a lot of fluids). I usually drink a 24 oz. Diet Pepsi earlier in the shift for the caffeine content then switch over to water and drink 2-3 large glasses of it during the rest of my shift. I don't drink coffee at work, mainly because of its diuretic qualities.

I know that I should be packing healthy snacks such as veggies, fruit, protein bars, etc. but the truth is that I am kind of lazy about that on the night shift, as opposed to when I was working 8-4:30 days recently and would pack a full healthy lunch. I am not someone who continues the night shift on my days off, because my schedule is such that I have 2-3 days off in a row a lot and I have a family whose lives revolve around daytime, so I am a day person on my days off. I think it would be easier to follow what the pp above does if I was in a 7 day a week night shift routine, but I'm not, so eating cereal in the evening just doesn't seem normal, even though it makes perfect sense for someone on nights.

I appreciate all of the good advice. I think that starting tonight I will make myself pack some healthy snacks to eat throughout my shift, as opposed to junk food from the vending machine, maybe even a sandwich if I'm feeling really ambitious, lol.

Thanks again!

Specializes in Medical-Surgical / Palliative/ Hospice.

I eat a protein heavy meal before my shift, then bring a small dinner (Lean Pocket, yogurt, apple) and some snacks that are easy to eat quickly. I don't usually find myself starving during a shift, and it helps keep my weight down without exercising, except for the calories burned during my shift.


If I am working this is what I usually do. Wake up and eat a small sandwhich or some cereal around 5pm. Go to work and eat around 1-4 am ( whenever i can get a break) usually a salad or a sandwhich from the cafeteria ( pretty gross)... but i hate packing lunch. . Go home and eat a variety of things maybe some fruit, a yogurt, another sandwhich. whatever I want/feel like eating. If I am working hunger isnt usually as intense as if I were stitting at home because I am too focused on the chaos of work to focus on being hungry.

I see that most of my coworkers eat frozen dinners or sandwhiches. Most frozen dinners are pretty light. The most popular one at my job seems to be lean cuisine and I think they have about 200-500 calories in them usually.

Specializes in Med/Surg.

My usual eating schedule on days I work: drink coffee when I get up around 9am, eat a light lunch around 2pm, take a nap around 330pm, snack before work at 530 with another coffee, dinner at 1-2 am, then light breakfast around 8 when I get off, if I'm working consecutive nights, I'll repeat the snack and coffee at 530 and go from there, otherwise will have a snack around 2 and dinner around 7.

My usual eating schedule on days I work: drink coffee when I get up around 9am, eat a light lunch around 2pm, take a nap around 330pm, snack before work at 530 with another coffee, dinner at 1-2 am, then light breakfast around 8 when I get off, if I'm working consecutive nights, I'll repeat the snack and coffee at 530 and go from there, otherwise will have a snack around 2 and dinner around 7.

is this when you have off and then work? when do you sleep if you are up by 9am? Nights can be ok for my diet as I sleep allll the time.

Specializes in Gastroenterology.

What's worked for me is: regular largish dinner before I go to work around 6pm, around 1am have a greek yogurt and some fruit (either a banana or something else) and a cup of coffee, then at home at 9am I basically have a second dinner and sleep all day. I also keep a bag of trail mix handy for the rare night I'm still hungry.

A yogurt and a piece of fruit is very easy to pack, no prep at all, and the combination of protein and fiber works for me. I personally think carbs and sugar at night are just not satisfying or healthy.

On my days off I'm not a big breakfast person, so a regular breakfast for me is pretty much just yogurt, fruit and coffee, so you could call my 1am snack 'breakfast'. I had actually lost 2 pounds over 5 months on the night shift (although I exercise on my days off) prior to getting pregnant. Of course, now that I'm pregnant I've had to add a PB&J to my midnight snack routine.

FYI the lastest research I've read says that coffee in small amounts isn't a diuretic either. It's only when you get up to 4+ cups a day that you're losing water instead of gaining it.

Specializes in ER, progressive care.

I try to sleep most of the day and wake up by 3:30-4pm, drink coffee, eat dinner at around 5pm (try to make it protein-rich), then drink more coffee on my way into work/while at work. I stop drinking caffeine at around 12-1am. I'm not drinking caffeine up until that point, though...many times I'll come into work with a coffee and won't get to drink it until 10 or 11pm because I am so busy. Other times I will finish my coffee by 9pm and I'll be good to go. I'll eat a light meal between 12-1am (sometimes later if busy) and then a light snack at around 4-5am (like some yogurt and/or a piece of fruit) and that's it. The meal I pack for night time is usually a Lean Cuisine or something. The cafeteria opens for us at midnight, but only one weekdays and they only have leftovers from that day. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it isn't.

For snacks, I always pack fresh fruit, yogurt, maybe a cheese stick and a granola bar. I haven't had any issues with weight gain; in fact, I've stayed at the same weight since I started working nights.

I'm a huge fan of snacks such as seaweed with Himalayan salt and green powder smoothie occasional parfaits with homemade yogurt. Mediterranean salad and pomegranate salads are my top choice to keep you awake and energized during night shift.

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