Time Restricted Eating On Dog Watch

Let’s talk about the timing of the foods we eat. I’ve touched on this in previous blogs, but the WHEN we eat is very important for shift workers. I’m a big fan of intuitive eating. Intuitive eating is the mindful practice of eating when you feel hungry and stopping when you feel full, but when you’re working a night shift you can’t trust your hunger hormones (see my previous blog for why).

When it comes to time management of your meals, start with an assessment of your eating window. What time is your first calorie dense meal or drink of the day? And when is the last of the day? If your morning coffee on full cream is at 6am, and your last is a beer at 8:30pm then that means your eating window is 14.5 hours in a 24 hour period. Time restricted eating is changing the eating window to a shorter period of time, by doing this we can limit our total calorie intake, support digestion and lay a foundation for our internal body clock. Time restricted eating can be eating within a period of 6-12 hours depending on your schedule, shifts, and lifestyle.

Sounds like fasting to you? Well yeah, time restricted eating is managing a daily fast. Fasting dietary protocols come in a variety of methods, this is just one of them. I’ll happily talk your ear off about fasting methods another time, for now I’ll give you a night shift example of time restricted eating. Say you’re doing a 12 hour night shift from 7pm – 7am, your normal eating window is 5:30pm – 8am which is 14.5 hours, and your normal sleep time is 9am – 4pm 8 hours. Dropping your eating window to 12 hours will show benefits for your digestive system but we’re going to go a step further and drop it to 10 hours. Aim to eat your main meal before your shift at 5:30pm. This should be a large meal, high in protein. Pack a regular sized meal and wholefood snacks for during your shift. Your last meal of the night should be a regular sized meal which you finish before 3:30am. After that time stick to water or herbal teas without milk. By finishing your last meal at 3:30am that gives you a window 5.5 hours before you go to sleep where your body has already begun to start resting and digesting. 

Some flexibility around time restricted eating also needs to be addressed. Just because your eating window is 5:30pm – 3:30am one day doesn’t mean it can also be 4pm – 2am or 7pm – 5am on another. If your eating window is 12 hours 5 days a week, and then 8 hours the other 2 days that is still a controlled method of time restricted eating. For people on a rotating roster shorter eating windows can be used therapeutically on pyjama days. Choose an eating window that aligns with your “daytime”, that is when you are feeling the most alert and awake, this will help you to remain compliant. 

Time restricted eating isn’t easy at first, it can take some time to get used to. Restricting our eating windows is a mental challenge as much as it is a physical challenge. If you’re not consuming enough food to sustain your hunger try focusing on portions of quality fat and proteins and avoiding simple carbohydrates like pastry, white rice and pasta. One of my favourite appetite suppressants is a Yerba mate herbal tea. Yerba mate or green tea are great options for outside your eating, but if you’re trying to avoid caffeine, try mint or chamomile tea.

Oh I didn’t even tell you the long term health benefits of time restricted eating. Although there is ongoing research in the dietary and fasting field, time restricted eating is producing beneficial research in cardiovascular health. Current research shows it can help reduce blood pressure, reduce body weight & fat mass, and improve blood sugar control. These are significant risk factors for shift workers. It definitely can’t hurt to give this eating method a try. For nutritional consultation regarding time restricted eating give me a call.

Sleep, Hormones and Your Health

Our sleep patterns and our hormonal production are like two people, end to end on a tug of war rope. They respond to each other in a way that can either leave you feeling energetic and well, or lethargic and inflamed.

If your hormones are not regulating and pulling their weight, then sleep will be a priority. Your body will be lethargic and craving more rest. If sleep is not taking priority, then the hormones are going to be out of control and increasing inflammation through every body system. Sleep and hormones need to be as strong as each other in a perfect balance to keep the rope steady, and you feeling healthy and thriving.

There are over 50 different hormones in our body and they are responsible for a range of bodily functions, including metabolism, appetite, growth, body temperature sexual function (including drive and reproduction), heart rate, blood pressure, and of course our sleep-wake cycles.

Many hormones act by binding to receptors that are produced within cells. These receptors carry out the hormone’s instructions, either by altering the cell’s existing proteins or by turning on genes that will build a new protein. This hormone-receptor complex switches on or switches off the specific biological processes in cells, tissues, and organs.

Melatonin is the hormone responsible for our sleep-wake cycle. It is produced by the pineal gland and triggered by light to tell us to fall asleep, stay asleep and then wake up. In response to this circadian rhythm nearly every other hormone in our body is released and signaled to react and function. Who knew our hormones were such intricate little clogs in a clockwork system.

The most valuable of hormones that our sleep regulates is cortisol, our stress hormone. Melatonin and cortisol are hormones that have a seesaw effect on each other.

When melatonin is at its peak cortisol should be at its lowest, which is what makes relaxation a powerful tool for a quality deep sleep. In turn, once we wake in the morning cortisol should peak within 30 minutes, setting off its own signal for other hormones to react and get us moving for the day ahead. When sleep is disrupted or when we ignore our tired signs, our cortisol levels can be elevated leaving us in a state of feeling wired but tired.

Some of the noteworthy hormones affected by both melatonin and cortisol are our hunger hormones – insulin, leptin, and ghrelin. These control our blood sugar regulation, satiety, and appetite. Sleep naturally brings on a time to rest and digest. When normal sleeping patterns are interrupted, say by a rotating roster, suddenly the hormones we rely on to control our food cravings and appetite are no longer working in our favor. This is why people who work night shifts have an increased risk of metabolic disorders and weight gain. Reducing added sugar and limiting the time frame in which you are eating your meals can help to prevent these unwanted side effects of sleep dysregulation.

There are many other endocrine disruptors besides sleep so if you’re having issues with hormonal regulation don’t leave it until it’s spiraling out of control. Seek support for your symptoms and manage it according to your health professional. Correcting nutritional deficiencies, balancing dietary intake and making easy sleep hygiene lifestyle changes can make a world of difference to your energy, fatigue, inflammation and recovery.


There are many symptoms that you can be experiencing in relation to your sleep. Most of them can be fairly self explanatory but let’s just define some of the conditions associated with those symptoms. Once you can correctly identify what’s going on with your sleep then you work out what to do about it.

Insomnia is first on the list; this is when you have trouble getting to sleep also called sleep onset. When you go to bed, lay your head down on the pillow and close your eyes, it should only take 10-20 minutes to fall asleep. Insomnia can also be described as; once you get to sleep you have trouble staying asleep. So waking up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom or because of the kids, then it takes longer than 20 minutes to go back to sleep.

Usually trouble getting to sleep is from an overstimulated mind. Think use of screens before bed, daytime stressors, anxiety, medications, or other drugs like caffeine. The spiral issue with insomnia is that once you have one bad night’s sleep, the fear and worry behind having another bad night and missing out on your recommended 8 hours, can be the trigger for the next night. Managing stress, anxiety and being mindful about your sleep hygiene everyday is the key to managing insomnia.

Snoring, it is so common, but no one ever thinks about it as its own sleep condition. Snoring is what happens when there is partial closure of the airway; reducing the flow of breath from the mouth or nose into the lungs. It’s loud and unpleasant, and can lead to some very annoyed family members. People often describe the snoring as worsening after drinking alcohol, this is because it relaxes the muscles in the throat causing the restricted airway. There are many off the shelf mouth devices designed to help reduce snoring but if you are a really heavy snorer then best to speak to your GP about an overnight sleep study.

Obstructive sleep apnea is complete closure of your airways so you lose control over your ability to breathe. Apneas often go hand-in-hand with heavy snoring and are usually picked up by family members witnessing the lack of breathing. Other symptoms of sleep apnea can include waking up gasping for air, waking up the morning after sleep with a headache or raised blood pressure. Treatment for sleep apnea is to use a continuous positive air pressure device, this creates an air splint to keep the muscles of the airway open. If you think you may have sleep apnea then best to speak to your GP about an overnight sleep study, test for snoring and sleep apnea at the same time. Win. Win. As snoring and sleep apnea are respiratory conditions as well as sleep conditions, nasal breathing exercise and techniques can be very effective for improving lung capacity.

The last condition I’m going to talk about is Restless Legs Syndrome. It’s described as an uncomfortable pain in the lower limbs which is worse at night. Everyone describes the uncomfortable feeling differently like pins and needles, tightness, pulling. A strong urge to move the limbs is often required, making it difficult to sleep and leaving you feeling fatigued and irritable. Muscular support such as massage, stretches, gentle exercise and warm baths can help relieve tension. Poor diet and nutritional deficiencies can be underlying factors for restless legs syndrome. Consider increasing your mineral intake in your diet or supplementing with magnesium.

Theses are just a few conditions to get you thinking about what your sleep might be telling you. Sleep affects all our different body systems, the conditions above describe how the nervous system, respiratory system and the musculoskeletal system can all be involved in a bad night’s sleep. Sleep hygiene is just one piece of the puzzle.


Let’s first discuss the sleep-wake cycle before we move into basic sleep health. Sleep can be broken down into stages and we cycle through each stage when we go to bed.  

Stage 1 is light sleep; this is when we can be easily woken, often referred to as the dozing off stage. Stage 2 is where our bodily functions begin to slow down, like our heart rate, breathing, and brain waves. In stage 2 our core body temperature also drops. The 3rd and 4th stages are extensions of each other. 

Stage 3 & 4 is the NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) stage where the body enters deep sleep and the muscles and tissue begin to recover and repair. The immune system is activated and on a cellular level begins to modulate immune defence against infecting pathogens. The NREM sleep stage is fundamental for brain growth and development, cognitive function, memory consolidation, creativity, problem solving and emotional regulation.

Stage 5 is REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) this is further deepening of the subconscious where we enter dream states. The brain is very active and continues processing information from stages 3 & 4 but in stage 5 the body is immobilized and the eyes rapidly move. 

Part of the sleep-wake cycle is circadian rhythm function. Circadian rhythm is a biological clock-like process controlled in the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus part of the brain that sends messages to our body systems, telling us when it is time to sleep and time to wake up. Circadian rhythm changes are governed by multiple factors such as darkness, brightness, environment, genetics, hormones, and medications. An example of this is when our body temperature drops in the evening bringing on a feeling of tiredness and raises again in the morning to promote wakefulness. 

So with the sleep cycle explained here’s a few basic dietary and lifestyle interventions you can make to help support the natural rhythm of your sleep-wake cycle.

  • Listen to your body – if you are dozing off in the lounge chair it’s past your bedtime. If you are regularly needing to take naps during the day then you more than likely are not getting enough NREM and REM sleep. If you are waking up just before your alarm in the morning then you know you have had the right sleep duration. By listening to your own body signals you can determine the natural rhythm of your sleep-wake cycle.
  • Avoid caffeine 6 hours before your bedtime – caffeine disrupts the time your circadian rhythm signals kick in and, like most stimulating drugs takes time to eliminate from the body. It can remain in the body from 3-5 hours after ingestion. You may find caffeine doesn’t effect your ability to get to sleep, but it can prevent the body from reaching the deep sleep stages
  • Avoid blue light from electronic devices and fluorescent lights – power down technology 1-2 hours before bed and opt for dim warm light from lamps. Signals from the optic nerve can dictate the timing of circadian rhythms. Blue light has been shown to stimulate wakefulness, while low warm light signals darkness and sleepiness. Exposure to electronic devices and blue light can interfere with the amount of time the body spends in NREM and REM sleep
  • Don’t be afraid to speak up if you’re having issues with your sleep – talk to someone about it, seek professional advice. Sleep health is important to so many modalities of allopathic and complementary medicine. Pain, anxiety, dental problems, respiratory conditions, poor nutrition, and work lifestyle can all be reasons behind a bad night’s sleep. There are so many solutions to a variety of sleep concerns whether it is tea, ear plugs, snoring aids, dental appliances, herbal tonics, nutritional supplements, or meditation, they are there for your use and I encourage you to speak up if you would like to know more.