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Shift-Diabetes: developing dietary support for shift-workers living with type 2 diabetes

The Shift-Diabetes research team at King’s College London is working to understand more about how night work influences diet and blood sugar levels in people living with type 2 diabetes.

Our researcher Dr Rachel Gibson tells us more about the study’s origins and how you could get involved.

Shift workers are an essential part of our workforce, economy, and community. However, working night shifts has been linked with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes and higher blood sugar levels in people already living with type 2 diabetes - which is why the Diabetes-Shift study is so important. There are several reasons for this, including:

  1. Upsetting our ‘body clock’: Our internal body clock is designed to help us be alert during the day and then sleep at night. Working night shifts often means eating and being active at times of the day when our body expects to be resting.
  2. Changes in the types of foods eaten: As well as eating at different times, night-shift workers report it can be difficult to find healthier foods at night. Changes in hunger hormones, or workplace factors such as limited breaks or stress can also influence food choices.
  3. Changes in sleep: Sleeping during the day can be challenging for many shift workers, and typically rotating night workers report shorter and poorer quality sleep.  Short and disrupted sleep can influence our mood, food choices and other aspects of our health.

After reviewing research papers that had investigated shift work and type 2 diabetes, we realised there was very little research looking at how shift work impacts diet and blood glucose in employees living with type 2 diabetes. We also gathered views from shift workers living with type 2 diabetes. Knowing more about what and when to eat during night work was a common theme raised by them.

The Shift-Diabetes Study

During the summer of 2018 we got to work to design the Shift-Diabetes study, which has been funded by Diabetes UK. The Shift-Diabetes research team includes researchers from the fields of dietetics, nutrition, behavioural science, endocrinology and diabetology. 

The aim of the Shift-Diabetes study is to gather information on blood sugar, diet, sleep and physical activity in shift workers living with type 2 diabetes when they work night shifts. We also aim to understand people’s experiences of how they manage their diet during night work.  We are focusing on shift workers working in the healthcare setting for this study as it’s the largest employment sector of shift workers in the UK.

We are currently looking for volunteers to take part in the study. Over a 10-day period that covers rest days, night and non-night shifts we’re asking volunteers to wear a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) and activity monitor. And to record their diet and sleep during the same period.

The study can be completed online, from anywhere in the UK. Volunteers will be compensated for their time and will receive an individual report from the CGM, plus a physical activity and dietary assessment report.

Taking part in the study will help us to understand more about the impact of shift work on diet and blood glucose in people living with type 2 diabetes. The end goal of the research is to develop an intervention to improve the health of shift workers living with type 2 diabetes.

About Dr Rachel

I am a Dietitian and Lecturer in Nutrition and Dietetics at King’s College London. As we spend an increasing amount of our life in work it is important to understand how hour work environment can impact our health. My research focuses on investigating how our work environment can influence our diet and how this can impact the development and management of type 2 diabetes.

I am originally from Yorkshire and although I have lived in London for almost 25 years, I realised over the pandemic I had seen very little of the capital – so a recent hobby has been exploring new areas of London. Recent discoveries are the windmills of Brixton and Wimbledon and the amazing Thames path from Ham to Teddington.

The views and opinions expressed in the ‘views’ section of this website belong solely to the author of each article. These views and opinions do not represent those of Diabetes UK as a charity or any of its staff members.

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