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How to Practice Circadian Fasting for a Night Shift Worker

How to Practice Circadian Fasting for a Night Shift Worker

Wondering how to reap the benefits of circadian fasting while being a night shift worker? Here’s how.

Circadian fasting, as we all know, is a form of time-restricted eating plan in which we eat in sync with our body's internal clock, which is synchronized with the external environment through certain cues such as sunlight. Through this fasting, the body’s resources are maximized during the sleep-wake cycle. This is different from regular intermittent fasting (IF) in terms of the fasting hours, which in this case lasts anywhere between 12-16 hours. The circadian rhythm encourages timing our meals with the rise and fall of the sun, and the corresponding surges and dips in cortisol, which is controlled by the hypothalamus. External cues and stimuli provide feedback to our hypothalamus, which in turn signals several different functions including our inflammatory markers, metabolism and a host of other processes. Thus, a misalignment of food consumption with our natural circadian clock is a risk factor as it may lead to weight gain, diabetes and other metabolic disease states.

With the way our society functions, in order to meet the demands of our thriving communities and systems, there are many who are required to reverse their clock and work at night. There are many industries that require workers to work on the basis of shift schedules due to the sheer demand of the job. This leads to an alteration in the biological clock of night-shift workers and this disruption in circadian nutritional intake, takes a toll on the well-being and health of these workers. In fact, shift workers regularly experience circadian misalignment, which occurs when the fast/feeding times are desynchronized with the temporal pattern established by the central circadian clock. This affects cognitive function, emotional state and wakefulness. Interestingly, while circadian fasting is mostly done in accordance with the normal biological clock of the body, it can also be hugely beneficial for those with altered biological circadian rhythms. Hence, circadian fasting for night shift may not be as much of an oxymoron as you may think. Here’s how. 

Consume a light dinner and a big breakfast

A heavy meal makes the body lethargic, making you less alert and focused. When practicing circadian fasting for a night shift, consider eating a light meal for dinner and don't snack during nighttime hours. Opt for options like soup, tofu scramble, lettuce wrapped tacos, and salads. 

Avoid intake of foods rich in carbohydrates

Compared with high-fat meals, consumption of foods rich in carbohydrates at night creates a greater increment of sleepiness level and a decrease in mental performance and cognitive function, contrary to the physical act. Meanwhile, there is an association between protein intake and a diminished feeling of hunger, increased satiety and reduced caloric intake when practicing circadian fasting for night shift.

Consume real foods during the eating window

This goes without saying that consuming healthy, balanced meals during the eating window will not only make you feel more full, curbing cravings, but will also enhance the effects of circadian fasting for night shift, making you feel more energized.

Maintain the same fasting schedule every day

Much like anything else, your body too needs time to adjust to your fasting schedules. Switching it up every now and then may do your body more harm than good. Hence, make sure to maintain the same chronology of circadian fasting for night shift as well as the eating window everyday.

Drink enough water

The importance of drinking enough water during fasting can’t be stressed enough. When our body is in a fasting state, it looks for alternative energy sources which results in a higher volume of damaged components and toxins in the body. It is critical and imperative that we flush out these toxins and prevent headaches by drinking lots of water. Make sure the meals you consume during your eating window contain lots of fruits and vegetables that have a high water content such as oranges, strawberries, cucumbers, tomatoes, etc. These healthy, low-calorie, water dense foods hydrate our body adequately to hold us over the fasting window.

Fast during the work shift

This can be done if you eat when you wake up and for the first few hours of the shift. The rest of the shift and your sleep schedule post that can be completely spent in fasting. By fasting throughout this period, your body gets to rest as it normally would when you are asleep. Getting into a routine of longer fasts makes you more energized while working.

Eat more during daylight hours

Again, this helps satiate hunger and curb cravings at night. Eating enough during the day will give your body the impression of being ‘full’ so that you don’t resort to late-night snacking. If the need arises while you are practicing circadian fasting for night shift, then always opt for low calorie meals.

The study

According to National Center for Biotechnology Information, eating in a set period of time, say 8-12 hour eating window, and getting natural daylight along with timing melatonin and caffeine can help night shift workers.

The takeaway

Circadian fasting for night shift isn’t as difficult as it sounds. The key is to listen to your body and start slow. Once you get used to it, your body will reward you with all the benefits that come with circadian fasting.