Skip to main content

In Australia, one in five employees is a shift worker. But when you work irregular hours, you eat irregular hours, which can put you at increased risk for weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

One in five Australian employees is a shift worker. Image Credit: University of South Australia

Today, a first global study by the University of South Australia and Monash University is investigating strategies to help shift workers better manage their eating habits when working at night.

The SWIFt study – funded by the National Board of Health and Medical Research (NHMRC) – focuses on finding suitable diets that can empower shiftworkers to better regulate their health.

In Australia, 1.5 million Australians are employed as shift workers, and more than 200,000 of them regularly work nights and evenings.

UniSA researcher Dr Michelle Headland said the combination of irregular sleep and 24-hour eating can seriously affect the health of shiftworkers.

“When you work irregular hours, your eating and sleep patterns are affected, causing metabolic changes that can affect your health,” says Dr. Headland.

Our body relies on regular rhythms of energy storage and use, guided by day and night. When we upset this balance by eating or sleeping at irregular times, our bodies cannot compensate and we end up with higher glucose levels which contribute to weight gain. Shift work makes traditional weight loss plans extremely difficult to follow, so what we’ve done is explore alternatives.

Dr Michelle Headland, UniSA researcher

UniSA co-researcher and colleague Professor Alison Coates says the best way to stay healthy as a shift worker is through education.

“Prevention often goes hand in hand with education. If we can make sure Australian shift workers are educated about healthy food options for the night shift, they can learn how to make simple, lasting changes to their diet, ”says Professor Coates.

“Being prepared is the key. By spending as little as 10 minutes a day planning and preparing meals, you’re more likely to snack on healthier foods and avoid vending machine treats.

“Of course, a healthy variety of foods increases your chances of optimal nutrition, and if you include foods high in fiber and low GI, you will not only stay fuller for longer, but you will also regulate your glucose levels and cholesterol.

“Choosing smaller portions or meals when working nights can keep you from feeling drowsy, without taking in too many calories, and drinking water to stay hydrated, as opposed to coffee – it can lift your spirits. , but too much can lower your health.

The SWIFt study has more than 200 registered participants and is currently in the final recruitment phase.

To learn more or to participate, please visit:


University of South Australia