Taking care of the larks and owls in our night-time economy

Could you or your shift-working colleagues be sleep-walking into ill health?

Do you work for a 24/7 organisation? If so, you’re not alone. And if you, your team or your company has staff working outside of regular daytime hours, there are potential health implications that may be relevant to your / their health, wellbeing and productivity.

UK Shift Worker Stats:-

  • 27% of the UK workforce (approx. 8.7 million people) work in some form of night-time work¹
  • Shift work is linked with an increased risk of sleep problems, occupational and driving accidents, and long-term health conditions²
  • A survey in 2017 of NHS junior doctors found that 57% reported an accident or near-miss on the drive home after a night shift
  • Long-term effects – shift work is associated with increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease²

So how is the data looking for retention, staff sickness and morale amongst your shift workers? Are they feeling valued? Is the wellbeing of this largely unseen workforce a priority?

A common question regarding employee health is whether the main responsibility lies with the individual or the organisation? Shift workers are often aware of the increased risks to their health of ‘circadian desynchrony;’ the effect of living and sleeping contrary to our natural biological rhythms and resulting health conditions, such as chronic sleep deprivation. Yet individual choices are ‘too often frustrated by unfavourable environmental and organizational structures.³

Canteens are often open for regular daytime workers but closed to those working irregular hours, such as lates and night shifts.

Healthy eating options are usually more limited for shift workers, meal breaks can be ad hoc, depending on the job role, and cooking facilities scarce. Yet we demand so much of our shift workers – responding to emergencies, saving lives, protecting the public, caring for the vulnerable, maintaining our utilities, keeping our streets and workspaces clean, flying or driving us from A to B, delivering our essential supplies, preparing and serving us food and drink…

Once it gets dark, our digestive function is reduced, as our body and mind prepare to sleep. We are in rest mode, not digest mode. So how to fuel our night shift workers to perform well at 3am? How to focus the mind to perform surgery, make informed, wise and calculated decisions in the face of adversity, and on all manner of scales, when the key message from the brain is, ‘I should be asleep’?

Chrono-nutrition is the fascinating and emerging area of nutrition science that studies the relationship between our natural 24-hour body clock – our circadian rhythm – our food timings and choices, and the impact on our health. It seems that eating in rest mode without digest mode can drive a number of conditions, including uncomfortable gut symptoms commonly experienced by shift workers, issues with insulin and blood sugar regulation that can be the precursor to type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and challenge with managing weight.

Many popular food options available from 24/7 outlets are the very foods that drive fatigue, blood sugar dysregulation and weight gain. There are both dietary and lifestyle interventions that can reduce these health risks. But many shift workers report feeling too tired to regularly cook fresh healthy food from scratch after curtailed sleep.

And so many rely on convenient ultra processed foods, offerings from vending machines, foods to fill, but with little nutritional value. We can struggle to register ‘fullness’ effectively when we eat these foods, which can lead many people to being overfed and undernourished.

Feed Your Body Clock ® is a programme that seeks to address these unique challenges, offering individuals and organisations chrono-nutrition learning and practical recommendations to invest in the long-term health and wellbeing of those 8.7 million, frequently unseen night workers.

Nutrivival is by no means the only organisation championing and campaigning for the wellbeing of shift workers through nutrition and lifestyle interventions, both at home and in the workplace. But I wish to thank the following organisations who have, to date, used and promoted our services, raising awareness and sharing our programmes with staff to support those individuals willing to crawl out of bed at unearthly hours, in order to keep us and our economy going:-

  1. Office for National Statistics (ONS), released 24 January 2023, ONS website, article, The night-time economy, UK: 2022. Available at https://www.ons.gov.uk/businessindustryandtrade/business/activitysizeandlocation/articles/thenighttimeeconomyuk/2022
  2. Houses of Parliament Postnote. Shift Work, Sleep and Health. Number 586, Sept 2018. Available at POST-PN-0586.pdf (parliament.uk).
  3. Rapid Response: Is individual responsibility the answer to optimising sleep at work to improve safety? Cappuccio, F, (2018) https://www.bmj.com/content/360/bmj.j5637/rr-2

Nutrition for Shift Workers

I previously worked as a police officer and loved the daily challenge of such a unique job.

But I witnessed chronic poor health amongst a number of colleagues. We regularly lived off ready-made, processed meals, fast food and caffeine to fight tiredness and to cope with the topsy-turvy wake/sleep shift pattern. This soon takes its toll. Shift work puts you at greater risk of chronic health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, IBS, high blood pressure, heart disease and fatigue.

But all is not lost. Many of these conditions can be addressed and reversed with nourishing food and good lifestyle choices. I am living proof of that! I addressed issues with asthma, digestive issues/sensitivities and monthly mood swings, all by tweaking my diet. That was it. Oh, and I did stop shift work, but that is not a necessity! You can continue shift work and better manage your health, with some understanding of chrononutrition – the relationship between food timing and your body’s metabolism.

How, when and what you eat can keep your body’s wake/sleep cycle better in alignment with your metabolism, and this impacts your health.

Chrono-Nutrition – Feed Your Body Clock!

Our body clocks are designed to release certain hormones over a 24-hour period, known as our circadian rhythm. Our digestive hormones are triggered during the day

  • prompting an appetite to eat to maintain energy and fuel our activities
  • releasing digestive juices and stomach acid to properly breakdown the food we eat
  • absorbing our nutrients for energy production
  • telling us when we are full.

This all happens most efficiently during the day.

Sleep hormones rise in response to it getting dark, and our digestive hormones slow down. At night, our body is programmed to detoxify, particularly our brains and digestive tracts. Toxins, hormones, dead cells, and chemicals are flushed out of the body, cleansing and protecting it from the brain down. This is not the natural time for processing and digesting food, which presents a biological challenge if you are a shift worker.

The impact of eating against our natural circadian rhythm can be

  • Sluggish digestion. Food sits around in the gut for longer and can cause symptoms of painful bloating, indigestion and wind.
  • The lining of our gut is repaired and replaced when given a break from digesting. A break of 10-12 hours is ideal to restore and heal a gut lining that can easily become inflamed from the daily assault from processed foods, bacteria, viruses, high sugar intake, alcohol and stress.
  • Energy peaks and troughs – insulin production drops at night. Insulin helps to take sugar, or glucose, out of our blood and into our cells to produce energy. As metabolism also slows at night to encourage rest, excess fuel is more likely to be stored as fat. Weight management can be an issue, and shift workers are more likely than non-shift workers to be obese.

Why do we crave the wrong foods?

When tired, we tend to crave simple carbohydrate foods that have a high ‘glycaemic value’, giving us a quick sugar hit – biscuits, cakes, pastries, chips, crisps, chocolate, sweets, and carbonated drinks. They also release dopamine that gives us a little ‘high.’ But two things happen. We crave more. That’s the role of dopamine. And we experience an energy crash. So the rollercoaster energy ride begins, meeting each crash with more sugar and caffeine throughout the day/night.

A Healthier Plate

Use this brilliant template to balance every meal with

  • good sources of protein (eggs, chicken, fish, nuts, some red meat, oats),
  • healthy fats (eggs, oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocado, natural, organic yoghurt)
  • an abundant colourful variety of vegetables and fruit at every meal to increase your fibre, vitamin and mineral intake (1/2 your plate!) is a great way of keeping your body and mind nourished and energy consistent. You stay fuller for longer than choosing higher glycaemic foods. You are less likely to have peaks and troughs of energy, and less likely to crave sugary snacks and caffeine to stimulate energy.

Top night shift tips

  • Plan your meals and food shop in advance to make healthy meal planning and prep easier.
  • Eat a meal before your shift starts, including a good source of protein to keep you full.
  • Take plant-based dishes, homemade soups and smoothies with you, which are gentler on your digestive system, and reduce the temptation of fast food and snack machines.
  • Drink water and herbal teas instead of caffeine and carbonated drinks, to reduce the impact on your stress hormones.
  • Protein & fibre with breakfast balance your blood sugar and appetite whilst you sleep.

Supporting your body’s natural circadian rhythm and energy metabolism is a simple and effective tool for reviving your vitality.


If you work shifts, I can support you in three ways:-

  1. Your organisation – I can deliver my programmes Feed Your Body Clock, Eat Well 24/7 and It Makes S.E.N.S.E. to support your workplace.
  2. Group programmes  – run for 4 weeks online, these can motivate, support and teach you how to eat well as a long term dietary lifestyle. It’s not a diet, we don’t count calories, we don’t ban all the good stuff! It’s about nourishing food for real life.
  3. 1:1 – if you need individual support to address ongoing health symptoms, concerns and goals, my range of three private programmes could be for you.
A picture of a table and chairs for a group

The Benefits of Joining a Group Programme

Group health programmes can be an affordable way for you to address some health conditions, through a combination of learning, easy-to-implement recommendations, and support for the duration of the programme.

This support can be a powerful tool, as other participants may share similar experiences and challenges. It can be reassuring to realise that you are not alone. As your relationships within the group develop, trust and encouragement combine with a level of accountability, which can drive you forward.

Hopefully the group leader works to create a warm, caring and confidential environment, one where you can be heard, honest and valued. Humour where appropriate may also help you to see hope and lift your mood. The power of laughter!

Whilst a group programme may not give you personalised advice, the latest evidence-based general guidance and reminders of healthy practices can give you some direction, especially when the pace of the programme is well managed. You don’t want to feel overwhelmed. One tiny step at a time to build confidence, celebrate that success and keep gradually reaching towards that health goal.

A nurturing group will build you up, want you to succeed, encourage and motivate you. New connections might emerge that will last and support you after the programme comes to an end. A good leader will also provide or signpost quality resources, memorable techniques and helpful strategies to equip you long-term.

Convinced? Take a look at my seasonal group programmes for a nutritious nudge. Try some delicious home cooked foods that will boost your energy today and your long-term health beyond.

Image of cereal bowl with homemade granola and smoothie combined

Start the day with some protein – Free Granola Recipe!

Anna’s Granola Recipe

This sugar-free granola recipe is bursting with nourishing ingredients, which keep you fuller for longer than lots of high-sugar boxed cereals. It combines protein and fibre-rich foods which release energy more slowly, preventing the energy highs and lows you can experience with simple carbohydrates.

Topping this with fruit provides you with immune-boosting plant chemicals containing anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

This is ideal to bake spread over a lined grill tray whilst you have the oven on for other dishes. 



1 kg whole oats

200ml good quality coconut oil

300g raw mixed nuts, chopped (or briefly pulsed in a food processor, but still in pieces, not powdered!)

200g mixed seeds (flax/linseeds, hemp, chia, pumpkin, sesame, sunflower…)

150g coconut flakes or unsweetened desiccated coconut

75g flaked almonds

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon ginger

150g sultanas

Olive oil



Heat oven to 160o centigrade.

Remove the grill from a grill pan or use a large baking tray. Line with non-stick paper.

Place coconut oil and oats onto the lined tray and into the oven for 10 minutes.

Remove from oven and coat the oats well in the melted oil with a tablespoon.

Add chopped nuts and seeds and return to oven for 10 minutes.

Remove and stir well so all layers are coated and cooking.

Add coconut, flaked almonds and sprinkle with cinnamon and ginger.

Return to the oven for 5 minutes.

Remove and sprinkle with generous amount of olive oil. Toss to coat. Leave to cool.

Add sultanas and store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

When eating, soak in milk or your non-dairy replacement for 10 minutes to allow oats to soften.

Add berries and / or a dollop of natural live yoghurt / kefir.


Optional extras

Chopped (fresh or dried) apple, cranberries, pear, apricots or figs.

Fresh / frozen berries (add when preparing to eat. Frozen berries are ideal when our of season, they can be defrosted quickly in the microwave or taken out of the freezer and refrigerated overnight.

You can see in this picture, I sometimes pour my frozen raspberry, banana and oat milk smoothie over it instead of plain milk, combining both as a nourishing 2-in-1 breakfast. So delicious, and definitely keeps the hunger hormones at bay until lunchtime!

Our project with the National Police Wellbeing Service

Tea with the changemakers is a weekly podcast for changemakers by changemakers. Their host Kelly chatted with Anna Earl, founder and CEO of Nutrivival. Anna focuses on the dietary wellbeing of shift workers, particularly how diet is incredibly important for both your short and long-term health. Listen to the podcast here.

Feed Your Body Clock

How to Feed your Body Clock

Article Printed in Police Life and Metropolitan Life Magazines