When Should I Eat on Night Shift?

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Knowing when to eat as a night shift worker, is just as, if not equally important as what you eat. Our body clocks like routine and abiding by its rules leads to fewer feelings of indigestion, bloating, nausea and chronic tummy problems. Feelings that unfortunately impact us 3rd shift workers much more than the general public. 

When eating on night shift, try and consume most of your food whilst the sun is shining. This most likely means before and after your shift to best align with your body clock and normal digestion. If hungry overnight, consume easily digestible snacks whilst staying adequately hydrated.

Not every persons night shift schedule is the same. Some will have a run of multiple nights, whilst others may have varying times. But the thing that is consistent for everyone is this; eating heavy, fat saturated meals between midnight and 6 am or drinking caffeinated drinks at the same time will have dangerous implications on ones health.

As my husband and I have been working nights for years now, we’ve figured out some golden “rules” to abide by when structuring how you’ll be eating on nights. I’m excited to share them with you so you can apply them too!

if you are interested in checking out the best items we use for meal prepping on night shift click on this post for a list of our favorites.

[VIDEO] – If you are more of a video watcher, check out the video below which sums up this post nicely. (And consider subscribing to our channel)

How Our Digestive System Functions

Before we recommend when to eat, it’s important to understand how the body functions.

We’d love our body and all its moving parts to transition to whatever schedule we have decided to work for that day – imagine how great that would have been when we were partying till the early hours of the morning! I digress…

According to the Sleep Foundation, our bodies are basically one big clock.

Each and every cell is programmed to do a job at a specific time.

We have this thing labeled a circadian system, which keeps us in tune with a 24-hour day. The circadian system sends signals which impact the release of certain hormones, our body temperature and you guessed it – how and when we digest food.

The circadian system is generally regulated by consistency in ones daily routine – when you wake up, when you eat and when you go to sleep. Not a luxury the typical shift worker has.

So when we mess around with these “signals” regularly, such as eating overnight and being exposed to light when we should be asleep, the system “breaks” causing health conditions that can significantly impact your quality of life (more on this later).

So for someone who isn’t a night owl 24 hours a day (and we wouldn’t wish this upon anyone), then your digestive system will slow overnight (only during particular phases of our sleep cycle).

This includes the organs that play a HUGE role in breaking down every mouthful of food you eat and drink.

The big players here are the pancreas, kidney, liver, your stomach and intestines. What these guys do during the day is very different from the roles they play when asleep at night.

So when working night shift… we have to change our eating habits in order to play their game.

Now, I do want to flag the circadian system can be modified with an elongated, consistent schedule.

Think about traveling overseas for an extended period – you have feelings of jet lag for a period of time though your body eventually gets in order.

However, other consistencies with the sun and sleep play an important part here. Night shift workers don’t have that luxury, so you need to know why it matters what food at what time gets placed into your mouth.

But Why Does It Matter When We Eat on Night Shift?

There are SO many reasons, but here are three big ones.

1. Increased risk of insulin resistance and diabetes

You may have read or heard whispers that working shift work can lead to some pretty dire health conditions like diabetes, cancer, Shift Work Sleep Disorder (click on the link to explore a post I wrote about this too-close-to-home disorder and how to avoid it) and insulin resistance.

This is partly due to the pancreas not enjoying the fact we are eating at the wrong times while it desperately tries to control our blood sugar levels.

2. People who eat excessive amounts of food overnight can a higher incidence of chronic gut issues. (source)

We talk more about it in this video titled – How To Stop Nausea and Bloating Ruining Your Night Shift

Whilst talking about your digestive system, these probiotics from BIOTICS 8 are worth a look. Whilst only offered for men at this point, they help restore gut microbiome, help eliminate IBS symptoms and support digestion health. Take a look here.

3. Your sleep during the day can be affected by eating overnight on night shift.

In the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, they conclude that,

“that food intake during the nocturnal period is correlated with negative effects on the sleep quality of healthy individuals”.

With night shift workers already struggling to sleep during the day due to noise, sunlight and people not respecting your sleeping time, the last thing you need is something else holding you back from getting quality shut-eye!

Are we also at a higher risk of these medical issues because nobody has taught us what we should be doing in the first place to avoid these problems? Maybe (but that’s where we can help). 

Despite having a great orientation and clinical introduction in the nursing world 10+ years ago, the one thing which pretty much everyone failed to mention was how to actually be a healthy rotational (in my case) shift worker.

If you have been working night shift for a while now, you’ve probably been simply doing your best without really knowing what’s good and what’s not.

So if you are unhappy with your day to day and want to make a change, the next section will answer the important question – when should I eat on night shift?

When Should I Eat on Night Shift?

This is really sad, but important that I share with you. It was the light bulb moment for me, after doing careful research and trial and error for this article; I myself, have been eating at the wrong times for the last decade as an ER nurse!

…And you could be too!

I had this habit of eating my “main” meal on a night shift at 3am. I labeled it my second dinner and depending on what was in it, more times than not I would feel horrible after it. The remainder of my night shift, until I got home, was a drag!

However, there is a more “digestive friendly system” regarding the timing of your meals when working nights.

So, when determining how to present this information, I thought a table was best. Not every night worker starts at 11pm and finishes at 7pm.

I’ve tried to provide practical examples for a variety of night shift rosters and if you can’t see your specific shift listed, then work with one that is similar.

Shift TimeWhen to Eat
8pm – 8amHave your “main” meal when waking up (between 5.30-7.00pm). This can also be a great time for family bonding for those with kids! If possible, have a break at approx. 11pm-12am and eat a few filling snacks or a small meal. Then for the remainder of the night, try not to eat anything besides a few snacks. Think nuts, raw veggies, hummus or tuna, until breakfast the following morning.
11pm – 7amEnjoy your “main” meal between 7pm-9pm. This should keep you full for most of the night, but stay energized with healthy, filling snacks. A light filling breakfast is encouraged once you get home, though do not overeat. This can really impact your sleep cycle.
4am – 12pmAt 3am (ish) when you get up, your digestive system is still “sleeping”. Therefore, avoid eating or drinking anything but a small snack and water until the sun comes up at around 7am. Then when on your first break, enjoy a filling breakfast with sustained energy like oats, yogurt or fruit. It’s rare we say this for a night worker, but coffee is ok at this time too (though the sun needs to be up!)
All shiftsWant happens if I wake up during the day? Avoid eating. This “wakes” up your digestive system which in turn tells your body you’re ready to wake up. Instead, enjoy (or force if you need to) a filling breakfast before you get into bed like rolled oats, with a cut up banana and tart cherry juice.


Every workplace is different for when you can and can’t take breaks. But simply avoid eating when the sun is down, both overnight and in the morning. This can help massively both in the short and long term with your digestive health and how well you sleep.

We hope that covers majority of you night workers who start at varying times. Now this is the important part that you can’t miss – because if you do, it becomes the weak link in the chain. Here are the general rules across the board;

  • Any sugary snack on nights a no-no! You might think sugar will provide you an energy boost (and it may for a very short period), but the crash is hard – way harder than if you were to go without it.

    We’ve made this mistake too many times and regretted it instantly.
  • Heavy, high-carbohydrate meals are a sleeping pill waiting to happen for night shift workers. If you must have them, the best time is your first meal. Anything after 9pm is going to cause you major disruption.
  • Caffeine after 3am is out. It impacts your sleep cycle greatly and could play tricks on your mind when trying to sleep during the day.

    However, if you get to work tired (this has happened once or twice before for us), then try a coffee nap before midnight. It could really provide you a boost.
  • Breakfast beers were trending online for a period, but it’s not ideal for shift workers. Check out this article we wrote on the topic.
  • Lastly, remember to always remain hydrated overnight.

    I work with plenty of people who neglect the most important remedy to hunger and energy.

    A constant supply of H2O at your workstation will stop cravings and give you a boost to attack your job until the early hours of the morning. See how our energy-boosting drinks for night shift workers here.Opens in a new tab.

A related post that we wrote titled, Conquer Your Night Shift Cravings: A Clear Hourly Meal Plan is worth browsing through. It breaks down your shift into smaller, manageable parts directing you even further on what to eat, when, and why it matters.

Women with donuts on fingers

What Happens If I Get Really Hungry Overnight?


I hope you realise eating is not totally blacklisted when you’re feeling hungry on nights. The key is to be very aware of what you’re putting in your mouth.

So start with easily digestible foods…

You may not be sure what that means, so here are a few great snacks to have during the night which keep your digestive system pumping due to the rich protein aspect.

Note, this is the opposite of what we want to eat before we sleep – so limit your intake of these snacks in your final hours working and in a meal before bed.

If possible, also consider snacks with healthy fats and those which are easily digestible. This will help with not raising our blood sugar too levels too much.

  • Soups (great for hydration too)
  • Smoothies
  • Green Juice – we LOVE and recommend SuperGreen TONIK – See our review here
  • Hummus with raw veggie sticks 
  • String cheese
  • Toasted sandwich on whole-grain bread

Caffeine Tip…

Swap the caffeinated coffee for the decaf kind within 4-5 hours of needing to sleep. Or even better, simply switch to water or herbal tea – these will be better for you in the long run and are less addictive.

I’d never heard of SuperGreen TONIKOpens in a new tab. until I started looking for ways to be healthier on night shift. Now I have it every single day! Check out our review hereOpens in a new tab. and see why we love it.

Meal Preparation Tips

To help you even further, we have a few posts which specifically talk about what to eat during and after a night shift:

Digestion Tip…

Don’t stop chewing. Help your digestive system out by chomping on your food between 20-30 times before you swallow. The more work you do, the less it needs to do as it travels down your body at weird hours.

Night Shift Eating “Golden Rules”

Another great resource needs to be shared with you too. I spoke about my “golden rules” in the intro that I wish they’d told me during my nursing orientation all those years ago.

Well, a number of them came from the book I’m going to mention here, in conjunction with some great recipes on meal types for me to consider as a night shift worker.

Too Tired To Cook is a book from Audry Starky, a seasoned shift worker turned clinical nutritionist.

She understands exactly what our minds and bodies go through when trying to manage a rotating roster and has spent considerable time studying the best foods to consume that allow us to function at a maximum capacity.

This book has totally changed my thinking about shift work health and wellbeing and I HIGHLY recommend it for any shift worker out there.

Too Tired To Cook Book
Click to see on Amazon (#ad)

I’m Wanting To Loose Weight On Nights. Is This Possible?

I wish I could say yes, or better yet create a special, unique night shift diet and make millions! But I’m sorry to say, there just isn’t one magical potion.

However, there are some diets which my husband and I have tried, in conjunction with our other shift working pals and we wanted to share them with you.

They’ve had varying levels of success and like any diet, discipline and detail are the keys in achieving any desired goal.

We are not suggesting these will fix your weight loss issues, but if you are wanting to give something a try, then review the below and consult a health professional before proceeding.

  • The Keto Diet. We’ve provided an entire post for this diet, which has been tailored to shift working professionals. High fat is the priority here, consisting of eggs, meats, fish and nuts. You can read more on this here.
  • Intermittent Fasting. This requires great self control, where you are eating within an 8 hour window and fasting for 16. No breaking the timeframes either. Again, we’ve got a post specific to shift workers which you can check out here.
  • Paleo Diet. A diet that typically includes lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds — foods that in the past could be obtained by hunting and gathering. If you don’t mind skipping on the pasta dish or processed foods, this could be for you.
  • Atkins Diet. A low carb diet that focuses on limiting carbohydrates to help the body burn fat instead of sugar for fuel. They state this contributes to higher, consistent energy levels throughout your time awake, allowing you to reach weight loss and weight maintenance goals.

All these diets can work with the right amount of discipline, direction and education for some night shift workers, but there is nothing specifically out there for 3rd shift workers which will “fix” problems of weight gain.

The key is limiting what we eat overnight and getting enough sleep when home. It can be that simple!

If you are interested in losing weight while working 12-hour night shifts, this post title, “How Can I Lose Weight Working 12-Hour Night Shifts?” will also give you some great tips.

Night Shift Hot Tip…

Don’t just “swap” your meals to suit your night shift schedule. Eating a big, heavy “lunch” between 2am-5am is not what your digestive system craves or needs at that time. It is asleep (most of the time anyhow) and doesn’t need to be “woken up” with a big hit.

Stick to small, filling snacks instead at this time making sure you’re drinking plenty of water to assist with energy and feelings of fullness.
You can still lose weight on night shift by simply making better food choices.

Eating on Night Shift: Popular Eating Resources

Tractor with lights on at night | When Should I Eat on Night Shift?
Are you eating when your body likes it?

Summary: When Should I Eat on Night Shift?

The timing of when to eat your meals and snacks as a shift worker should be entirely based around your digestive system and sleep cycle.

They are the boss of this game until we evolve into “shift work machines” who are able to eat at crazy hours or whenever we desire. I doubt that will happen in my lifetime – nor is that something I’d get excited about.

Thanks for reading our post and we hope now have a newfound strategy to attack your night shift eating woes.

When do you eat when working night shift?

As a night shift worker, when do you consume your largest meal?

Let us know in the comments below.

Next up – Night Shift Rut: Break the Cycle and Get Your Life Back.


Disclosure: This page may contain affiliate links, meaning we receive a commission if you decide to make a purchase through our links, but this is at no additional cost to you. Please read our disclosure and privacy statement for more info.

Protein balls on brown plate
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Chocolate chip cookies

Emma @ The Other Shift

Hey there! I'm Emma Smith a passionate, Registered Nurse from Australia. Together with my husband Daniel, we run The Other Shift. Our sole aim is to help shift workers and those on unusual schedules find balance between work and life. I understand the challenges of fitting in exercise, maintaining relationships and getting enough quality sleep, but I'm excited to show you that it’s possible to do shift work and still thrive. Read more about us and our story here.

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