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By Jo-Anne M. Rizzotto, M.Ed, R.D., L.D.N., C.D.E.

Created: 09/23/2009
Last Updated: 08/10/2012

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Q: I am a registered nurse, and I am having difficulty adjusting my diet from days to nights. What should I be eating to stay healthy when working the night shift?

Working a night shift doesn't always allow for the traditional "3 meals a day," so a little creativity with preplanning and timing of meals and snacks can help a great deal. A good idea is to try and eat two of your meals at "regular" times and a light meal during your night shift.

Often women who work the night shift might have breakfast before getting off duty and before returning home to sleep. Some may even exercise before going home, which would make breakfast even more important to eat. The other option is to eat breakfast right when you get home, before going to sleep.

Aim to eat lunch later in the day during some brief waking periods; consider something light like a sandwich on whole grain bread or a homemade roll-up or a piece of fresh fruit with a yogurt. If you tend to sleep for most of the day, then you might plan an early evening dinner and bring leftovers for a "lunch" or a "brown bag" lunch for work with a fruit, some pretzels or a yogurt for snacking.

With the holidays approaching and the onslaught of treats (and goodness knows, people love to shower nurses with treats during these times), healthy eating can be a challenge for all of us. So having snacks handy can minimize overindulgence with treats. Lastly, try to limit the amount of caffeine-containing beverages that you drink during your shift, such as regular coffee, tea and cola, as well as greasy, fatty foods, as they can disrupt your sleep patterns.