For nurses, shift work is a necessity, required to provide 24-h continuous care for patients. Research posits that fatigue amongst shift-working nurses is associated with inadequate and poorly timed sleep and also strongly influenced by the timing, quality and quantity of food consumed. The aim of this investigation was to examine differences and similarities in the food choices and eating patterns of nurses exposed to different lengths of time in shift work, as a means of understanding how nurses can adapt their eating patterns to better manage fatigue and sleep loss. Qualitative methodology was utilised to study and capture in-depth information about nurses' daily working lives. A case study approach allowed for the investigation of nurses with limited and extensive experience of shift work. Increased food craving, caffeine consumption and snacking behaviours during night shifts were described by both groups of nurses, as was the inability to drink enough fluids at work. Meal skipping at work, associated with high workload, was detailed more by experienced nurses. Experienced nurses described shopping and preparing home cooked meals in advance to manage food intake and associated fatigue, contrasting with patterns from inexperienced nurses. Experienced nurses recounted drinking alcohol as a way to rest and recover from shift work, unlike their less inexperienced colleagues. These findings indicate organisational and work place issues such as shift work and rostering influence the food choices and eating patterns of shift-working nurses. Experienced nurses, however, draw on a greater range of strategies around diet and eating patterns to minimise these impacts.
Keywords: Shift work; dietary behaviours; food choices; nursing.