Altering meal timing to improve cognitive performance during simulated nightshifts

Charlotte C. Gupta, Stephanie Centofanti, Jillian Dorrian, Alison Coates, Jacqueline M. Stepien, David Kennaway, Gary Wittert, Leonie Heilbronn, Peter Catcheside, Manny Noakes, Daniel Coro, Dilushi Chandrakumar, Siobhan Banks

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12 Citations (Scopus)


Altering meal timing could improve cognition, alertness, and thus safety during the nightshift. This study investigated the differential impact of consuming a meal, snack, or not eating during the nightshift on cognitive performance (ANZCTR12615001107516). 39 healthy participants (59% male, age mean±SD: 24.5 ± 5.0y) completed a 7-day laboratory study and underwent four simulated nightshifts. Participants were randomly allocated to: Meal at Night (MN; n= 12), Snack at Night (SN; n = 13) or No Eating at Night (NE; n = 14). At 00:30 h, MN consumed a meal and SN consumed a snack (30% and 10% of 24 h energy intake respectively). NE did not eat during the nightshift. Macronutrient intake was constant across conditions. At 20:00 h, 22:30 h, 01:30 h, and 04:00 h, participants completed the 3-min Psychomotor Vigilance Task (PVT-B), 40-min driving simulator, post-drive PVT-B, subjective sleepiness scale, 2-choice Reaction Time task, and Running Memory task. Objective sleep was recorded for each of the day sleeps using Actigraphy and for the third day sleep, Polysomnography was used. Performance was compared between conditions using mixed model analyses. Significant two-way interactions were found. At 04:00 h, SN displayed increased time spent in the safe zone (p < .001; percentage of time spent within 10 km/h of the speed limit and 0.8 m of lane center), and decreases in speed variability (p < .001), lane variability (p < .001), post-drive PVT-B lapses (defined as RT > 355 ms; p < .001), and reaction time on the 2-choice reaction time task (p < .001) and running memory task (p < .001) compared to MN and NE. MN reported greater subjective sleepiness at 04:00 h (p < .001) compared to SN and NE. There was no difference in objective sleep between eating conditions. Eating a large meal during the nightshift impairs cognitive performance and sleepiness above the effects of time of night alone. For improved performance, shiftworkers should opt for a snack at night.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1691-1713
Number of pages23
JournalChronobiology International
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2 Dec 2019


  • chrono-nutrition
  • cognitive performance
  • driving
  • meal timing
  • Shiftwork


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