By Olga Rönnberg, photo courtesy of iStockphoto

If you are a night worker, you need to have different strategies from people who work during the day. Before I go into detail, you need to know an important fact (that makes a lot of difference!): being awake at night is not ideal for us as we are affected by daylight and the dark, we save energy at night and are more alert during the day. Our body temperature falls at night and is at its lowest in the middle of the night, our cardiac rhythm slows down, and the same applies to our digestion. You should also remember that people who work nights often sleep badly and are therefore more tired than people who work during the day.

Increased sweet cravings or cravings for carbohydrates and fat are not unusual if you are tired (ask any new mum). In turn, tiredness leads to reduced physical activity … and being overweight (with everything that goes with that) creeps in. And in your case, you shouldn’t just be focusing on your figure – your general health is equally important. But it is what it is – so let’s make the best of the situation!

Here are my best tips for those of you who work nights!

• Eat at regular times. If you work nights when you eat is as important as what you eat.

Try to eat at fixed times every day. It makes no difference whether it is morning, daytime or night. If you sleep an average of 7 hours a day, your eating times may be (obviously you can move an hour here or there):

Breakfast at 7.00 am (then you can take the opportunity to sleep for 7 hours until your next meal)

Lunch around 2 pm

Dinner around 7 pm

Late-night snack around 10–11 pm. It’s best to eat something before midnight – the further into the night you go, the more difficult it becomes for the body to process the food you’ve eaten.

But remember that we are all different – some people can get through the night without food whereas others need to eat more. If you exercise, you’re likely to fall into the second category. It would be better to choose a soup with protein accompaniments than a meal teeming with carbohydrates. In addition, proteins will keep you feeling full longer, which is more power to your elbow!

• Exercise! When we exercise or do any other physical activity, our energy requirement is greater and so is our appetite – this is quite logical. That is why we need physical activity to regulate our appetite.

• Eat in peace and quiet, where you can focus on your food, without being distracted by your computer or phone.

• Beware of staying awake with the help of coffee and sugar.

• Make sure you get your daily dose of daylight. This advice is useful to everybody, but especially to those who work nights since their circadian rhythm will be disrupted. Lack of daylight is on the list of causes of depression. Vitamin D supplements are something you should consider.

• Drink plenty of liquids. You’ll feel livelier and more alert! But avoid sugary drinks and go easy on liquids a couple of hours before you’re going to sleep so that you don’t end up running to the toilet when you should be sleeping.