By Tamzyn Murphy, RD, MSc (dist.)
Night shift workers are prone to conditions associated with insulin resistance (Hidalgo M, 2010) – obesity (Peplonska B et al., 2015; Chen J et al. 2009) and metabolic disease, diabetes (Pan A et al, 2011) and cardiovascular disease (Knutsson & Boggild, 2011).
Melatonin – the sleep hormone – is necessary for the proper synthesis, secretion, and action of insulin – the primary fat storage-regulating hormone (Cipolla-Neto J et al., 2014). Melatonin promotes sleep and is released at night a few hours before sleep and throughout the night. Exposure to light at night and night-time wakefulness reduces melatonin production and secretion. So, it’s unsurprising then that night-shift work is associated with insulin resistant conditions.
Night shift work also disrupts circadian rhythm (resulting in sleep deprivation), night-day eating patterns and increases stress (Reiter R et al., 2011) – all of which also interfere with insulin action, hunger and metabolic health.
So, while a low carb diet will likely help offset some of the signs and symptoms of insulin dysregulation associated with night-shift work; it may not be sufficient to overcome the melatonin, circadian rhythm (and eating at the wrong time of the sleep-wake-cycle) and stress effects associated with shift work. Melatonin supplementation just before sleep, may help somewhat (Sharkey KM et al., 2001). But, avoiding night shift work completely is the best thing you can do to overcome this problem.