Enhanced preference for high-fat foods following a simulated night shift

Objectives Shift workers are prone to obesity and associated co-morbidities such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Sleep restriction associated with shift work results in dramatic endocrine and metabolic effects that predispose shift workers to these adverse health consequences. While sleep restriction has been associated with increased caloric intake, food preference may also play a key role in weight gain associated with shift work. This study examined the impact of an overnight simulated night shift on food preference. Methods Sixteen participants [mean 20.1, standard deviation (SD) 1.4 years; 8 women] underwent a simulated night shift and control condition in a counterbalanced order. On the following morning, participants were provided an opportunity for breakfast that included high- and low-fat food options (mean 64.8% and 6.4% fat, respectively). Results Participants ate significantly more high-fat breakfast items after the simulated night shift than after the control condition [167.3 (SD 28.7) g versus 211.4 (SD 35.6) g; P=0.012]. The preference for high-fat food was apparent among the majority of individuals following the simulated night shift (81%), but not for the control condition (31%). Shift work and control conditions did not differ, however, in the total amount of food or calories consumed. Conclusions A simulated night shift leads to preference for high-fat food during a subsequent breakfast opportunity. These results suggest that food choice may contribute to weight-related chronic health problems commonly seen among night shift workers.