Diabetes and Shift Work

salad in a plastic container

Managing diabetes through healthy eating takes some planning.  This becomes more challenging if you are a shift worker. You may find it harder to manage your diabetes if you don’t know when or what to eat. Read on for tips on how to manage your diabetes while doing shift work.

How does shift work affect healthy eating?

Shift work can cause:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Weight loss or weight gain and
  • Digestive problems like constipation, diarrhea, indigestion and heartburn.

As a result, you may not feel like eating and you may find it hard to make healthy choices.

Why is healthy eating important if I am a shift worker and have diabetes?

Choosing the right foods in the right amounts can help you manage your blood glucose levels. Over time, if diabetes is not managed well, high blood glucose can cause other serious health problems, such as:

  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Eye disease
  • Nerve damage

The good news is that diabetes can be managed well with healthy lifestyle choices.

How does shift work affect my blood glucose levels?

Shift work often requires you to work at different hours. When you eat and sleep at different times, this affects how well your body can keep blood glucose levels at a healthy level.  Mental and physical stress that sometimes comes with shift work might also affect your blood glucose levels.

How do I manage my blood glucose levels during shift work?

Managing your diabetes on the job is possible!  Here are some steps you can take to make sure you keep your blood glucose in check:

When to eat

  • Try to eat your lunch around noon and your dinner around 6 pm regardless of when your shift is. Avoid eating large meals during the night.  This can lead to heartburn or constipation.  Eating your main meals during the day and early evening will help keep your blood glucose balanced. 
  • Don’t wait until you are too hungry. Include healthy snacks during your shift to keep your energy levels up and also to keep your blood glucose levels from dropping quickly.
  • For tips on healthy meal ideas, see Tips for healthy meal planning with diabetes.

What to eat

Try these tips for packing healthy meals and snacks

Pack your own healthy snacks

Make extra of your favourite healthy meals 

Include more protein 

  • Protein doesn’t affect your blood glucose and helps to keep you feeling fuller longer. Add hard boiled eggs on a green salad, low-fat cottage cheese on whole wheat crackers or water-packed, low sodium tuna on a slice of whole wheat toast. 

Choose carbohydrates wisely 

  • Too little or too much carbohydrate can make your blood glucose levels unstable. Choose low-glycemic carbohydrate options as much as possible like whole wheat breads, oatmeal, low fat milk and low-sugar yogurts, and chickpeas and lentils.

Avoid fatty, fried or spicy foods and sugary drinks 

  • Fatty, fried and spicy foods may lead to heartburn and indigestion.  Fatty and fried foods also make it hard for you to control your blood glucose levels. 
  • If you are thirsty, choose water, low-fat milk or a plain soy beverage instead of sugary drinks.

More healthy eating tips for shift work

  • Stay active. Add some light exercise before or midway through your shift.  This will help give you energy to finish your shift and improve your overall mood and blood glucose control.  Try doing stretches during your break or go for a brisk walk if it is safe to do so.
  • Keep others informed. Speak to your dietitian or health care provider about your job so that they can help you come up with a plan.  You may want to share this plan with your employer so they know how to help you effectively manage your diabetes in the workplace.
It’s also important to follow your doctor or nurse’s advice about monitoring your blood glucose levels and taking prescribed medications.

Bottom Line

Managing your diabetes is possible if you work shifts.  Use the tips provided to help plan for healthy meals and snacks to keep your blood glucose in control. Speak to a Registered Dietitian or your health care professional to help manage your blood glucose levels when doing shift work.

You might also be interested in:

Getting to know the Glycemic Index

Diabetes Menu Plan for prevention and management

Nutrition tips for shift workers

Last Update – August 15, 2018

Phone Icon

Dietitians look beyond fads to deliver reliable, life-changing advice. Want to unlock the potential of food? Connect with a dietitian.