Recent research out of the University of South Australia has highlighted the role that diet can play on maintaining your shift workers’ energy levels and workplace safety.
Australia has 1.4 million shift workers and the University found that for those who work through the night, consuming snacks can help reduce the incidence of sleepiness and fatigue. Additionally, by increasing levels of alertness, snacks can improve safety in the workplace.
It seems then, that if you provide a selection of simple snacks for your team, they’ll feel less fatigued, and you’ll benefit from improved productivity and fewer accidents and illness. It’s a win-win-win!
To conduct the study, the South Australian researchers tested the impact of either a snack, a meal, or no food at all during nightshifts and found that a simple snack was the best choice for maximising alertness and productivity.
Over a seven-day simulated shiftwork protocol, the researchers assessed the impact of eating, at 12:30 am:
- A meal comprising 30% of the regular 24-hour energy intake (eg, a sandwich, muesli bar, and apple),
- A snack comprising 10% of the energy intake (eg, just the muesli bar and apple), and
- No food at all.
All 44 study participants reported increased sleepiness and fatigue and decreased energy across the nightshift. However, those who consumed a snack were less affected than those who consumed a meal or no food at all. The snack group also reported having no uncomfortable feelings of fullness which had been noted by the meal group.
Lead researcher and UniSA PhD candidate Charlotte Gupta said this is the first study to investigate how workers feel and perform after eating different amounts of food and it has the potential to help thousands of shift workers who work during the night.
“In today’s 24/7 economy, working the nightshift is increasingly common, with many industries – health care, aviation, transport and mining – requiring employees to work around the clock,” she 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.”
Ms Gupta said the next step in her research is to investigate the different types of snacks and how they affect shift workers differently.
“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 shift workers on the nightshift to stay alert, be safe, and feel healthy.”
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