Go back

Published: February 24, 2023


Conventional medical school and residency curricula glossed over nutrition for patients and certainly made no mention of how to look after oneself on shift.

Eric and Karine discuss the roles that caffeine, hydration and nutrition play when working in emergency medicine. They look at some good and not-so-great strategies and provide some advice for shift performance enhancement.


Caffeine is the most widely consumed CNS stimulant, and coffee is the world’s 3rd most popular beverage. If you drink coffee, you can probably do stupid things faster and with more energy but …

Seriously, caffeine has beneficial effects on reaction time, vigilance, and attention, but there is less to suggest that it improves decision making and problem solving.

  • Caffeine is an ADENOSINE blocker. It counteracts the CNS depressant activity of adenosine.
  • 2 to 3 cups are likely the ceiling of beneficial effect. Restrict caffeine the to the first half of your shift.
  • Try a coffee nap:  have a cup or a shot some time prior to your shift, IMMEDIATELY lie down and rest/sleep/doze for 30 minutes. When you wake, the caffeine will be starting to have effect.


  • Dehydration of 2% can affect decision making and cognitive performance.
  • 1 to 1.5 litres of water over a shift is about right.
  • Caffeine does NOT dehydrate you.
  • PEE before you put on your PPE (prior to a procedure, critical care etc.)
  • Urine colour is a reliable marker of hydration status, so if you are yellow, have a glass!


  • Shift working (especially night shift working) affects circadian rhythms which has detrimental metabolic effects.
  • Night workers tend to choose sugary snacks, often out of convenience. Sleep deprivation makes you choose calorie dense carbs and salty snacks.
  • Aim for euglycemia, so avoid high glycemic foods (candy, donuts, fruit juice). Stick to balanced meals with roughage and high protein sources. Snack on fruits, vegetables, yoghurt and nuts.
  • Avoid where possible processed foods.
  • Eating at end of shift before sleeping? On one hand, you are less likely to wake up ravenous, but some data suggests that the increased body temperature generated after eating can impair sleep.
  • Eric and Karine were unable to agree on the concept of comfort food at 0200 hrs being beneficial. You must decide whether a handful of jujubes will prevail over 4 carrot sticks.

Related Wellness Resources: 


End of Shift Podcast Hosts

The End of Shift Podcast is hosted by EM Network members Eric Angus and Joe Haegert.

Eric Angus
Eric Angus is an emergency physician and trauma team leader at Lions Gate Hospital. He is married with 15-year-old twins. His non-medical interests include origami, meditation, mountain biking, skiing, rock climbing, just generally being outside, and drinking wine. He has a diploma in mountain medicine and volunteers for ski patrol and the North Shore Rescue team. He is an ATLS instructor. He dabbles in stoicism and Buddhist philosophies.

Joe Haegert
Joe Haegert practices emergency and trauma medicine at the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, British Columbia. He is a talented teacher, engaging speaker, and devoted clinician. He lives in South Surrey with his wife Sandy and managed to raise three children without much incident. Known for his unflagging enthusiasm, Joe enjoys all aspects of the outdoors and recently has taken to turning wooden burls into all manner of bowls and tables.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the BC Emergency Medicine Network.


Add public comment…


See All