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Another Night Shift Hazard

Night work is a fact of life in highway construction, but people are not wired to work at night and it exacts a price:


Laborers with workdays that begin after dark or who work rotating shifts are at an increased risk for obesity. While non-traditional hours that limit access to healthy food outlets are a factor, simply by being awake and on the job, Laborers who work the night shift often pack on pounds.

Here’s why.

Humans are ruled by circadian rhythms. These internal processes regulate hormone levels, which affect all bodily functions. Melatonin, released late in the day, makes people sleepy and head for their beds.

Unless they have to go to work.

In the United States, more than 15 million people, many of them Laborers, begin their workday after the sun has set and when melatonin levels are high. Not letting nature take its course – not going to sleep as “programmed” – wreaks havoc with metabolism. Fighting sleep while on the job, which is a hazard in itself, is not the only fallout. Laborers on the night shift eat when their bodies are not prepared for them to do so. Levels of leptin, the hormone that signals fullness, are low. Levels of ghrelin, the hormone that stimulates appetite, are high. The upshot is that Laborers who work at night tend to eat more than they do when assigned to the day shift. Moreover, because they are trying to stay awake and keep their energy levels high, and because off-kilter metabolisms actually encourage this, they tend to eat highly caloric sugary foods, even when healthier options are available. Not operating in accordance with the body’s schedule, excess weight and poor diet increase risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

In a society that is increasingly 24/7, more people in every profession have nighttime workdays. Healthy food choices and exercise can help offset the ills of punching the clock at non-traditional hours.

The LHSFNA’s Nutrition and Fitness for Laborers program helps Laborers improve dietary and exercise habits. The program includes an Instructor’s Guide, participant pamphlets and educational posters. For more information, call 202-628-5465. The LHSFNA brochures: Becoming Physically Active and Weight Matters, offer additional tips and information on exercise and diet. They can be ordered through the Fund’s online Publications Catalogue.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

Stay Healthy on the Night Shift

  • Pack healthy meals and snacks (and avoid vending machines and fast food restaurants). Combinations of protein and fiber from lean meats, whole grains, beans, nuts, vegetables and fruit will keep you satisfied. Satisfy your sweet tooth with low-fat graham crackers and vanilla wafers.
  • Drink healthy beverages. Pack a bottle with water or another non-caloric beverage. If you do drink tea or soda, choose diet sodas or unsweetened tea. If coffee is your beverage, choose an artificial sweetener and go light on the cream.
  • Exercise before your shift (exercising after you get off work can make it harder to fall asleep). Invest in some home equipment or consider joining a 24-hour gym.
  • Take a walk during your break time. This helps keep weight off and boosts energy.

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