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Eating during the day may reduce health risks from nighttime shift work, study finds

Experts say eating full meals late into the night may worsen consumers’ metabolic health

Woman eating salad from container
Photo (c) Westend61 - Getty Images
Several studies have found that shift workers tend to have an increased risk of several health concerns, including cancer. Now, a new study conducted by researchers from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute found that eating meals during the day, rather than in the middle of the night, may lower the risk of poor health outcomes for overnight shift workers. 

The experts say shift workers who eat their meals during the day are less likely to experience spikes in glucose levels, which can contribute to metabolic health risks. 

“This study reinforces the notion that when you eat matters for determining health outcomes such as blood sugar levels, which are relevant for night workers as they typically eat at night while on shift,” said researcher Dr. Sarah L. Chellappa. 

Avoiding nighttime meals can improve metabolic health

For the study, the researchers had 19 participants involved in a two-week night-work experiment that had them follow one of two different meal plans. One group ate their meals during daytime hours and the other group ate late at night. 

The study showed that the participants’ glucose levels varied based on when they ate their meals. Eating meals at night was linked with a 6% average spike in glucose levels, while this didn’t occur for those who ate during the day. The researchers said this is a cause for concern because high glucose levels can increase the risk for diabetes. 

The researchers say altering mealtimes could be helpful to overnight shift workers so that they can reduce these health risks.

“This is a rigorous and highly controlled laboratory study that demonstrates a potential intervention for the adverse metabolic effects associated with shift work, which is a known public health concern,” said researcher Marishka Brown, Ph.D. “We look forward to additional studies that confirm the results and begin to untangle the biological underpinnings of these findings.” 

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