How To Work Shift Work and Minimise Digestive Distress.

When it comes to health complaints amongst shift workers, one of the most common things that I hear from my clients is digestive discomfort.  This can come in the form of constipation, bloating or various other irritable bowel type symptoms.

Now to be honest, there could be a myriad of reasons as to why you may be experiencing digestive distress, but today I want to talk about one strategy that’s  … well, often overlooked if you work 24/7 – yet it can make a MASSIVE difference to how your gut feels and functions.

And if comes down to asking yourself “when (and how often) am I eating?”

Because when we work 24/7, we tend to eat 24/7 which can set us up for a whole world of pain – in a number of ways!

In other words, although we may be awake at 2am (well I use the term “awake” loosely here!), it doesn’t mean we should be eating at 2am, because of our innate biological rhythms as a human being.

I’ll use an analogy to help explain what I mean.

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How To Use Mother Nature To Sleep Better.

When it comes to improving our sleep, so many of us are resorting to taking pills and potions when working 24/7, but did you know that using Mother Nature strategically (AKA timed sunshine exposure) can help to improve your sleep?

I know this might sound counterintuitive, but often when we think of ways to improve our sleep, most of the time we think that it’s all about what we’re doing JUST BEFORE BED (which does play a role), however, what we’re doing hours before, leading up to bedtime, also counts.

This is because getting sun exposure helps to reset certain mood-boosting hormones and neurotransmitters – in particular cortisol, dopamine, serotonin and melatonin, which also play a role in our sleep.

For example, when we get sun exposure first thing in the morning it boosts production of:

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Why Prioritising Your Sleep Is Important – REALLY Important.

Today I want to talk about why we need to be prioritising our sleep when working 24/7 – which I know sounds like a bit of a no-brainer when working irregular hours, but surprisingly so many of us aren’t doing it!

Having worked with SO many clients over the years (and from observing my own behaviour)… I know first-hand that sleep tends to get pushed down the ladder of priorities in comparison to other areas of our life.

As one of my clients so openly and honestly shared with me:

“But Audra, I’ve got way more important things that I need to be doing than sleep!”

Ummm. Wrong answer!

So why is prioritising our sleep so important?

Well there are many, many reasons, but probably hands down the biggest is that your immune system is dependant on you getting sufficient quality sleep. In other words getting sufficient quality sleep is an absolute necessity to keep you healthy and well!

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Do You Struggle With Broken Sleep? Why Your Diet May Be To Blame.

Ditching the processed foods not only help us to feel better (and shake off a few extra kilos!), but it also helps us to sleep better.

This is because most processed foods are:

  • Low in dietary fibre required to support optimal gut health. Poor gut health impacts the production of certain hormones and inhibitory neurotransmitters such as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glycine, which help to calm the nervous system and encourage better sleep. Lack of GABA also contributes to anxiety in a lot of people, which can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • High in refined sugars which feed pathogenic bacteria leading to an imbalance of gut microbes, otherwise known as dysbiosis. For example, when there is an overgrowth of a yeast infection such as Candida, it causes inflammation in the gut. This in turn triggers production of cortisol – a stress hormone that also acts as an anti-inflammatory. When cortisol levels are elevated, it can contribute to insomnia because it dampens down production of the sleep-regulating hormone, melatonin.
  • Deficient in nutrients that play a role in sleep such as vitamins B1, B3, B5, B6, folate, magnesium, zinc, iron and calcium – all of which help to facilitate the many biochemical processes required to produce melatonin. For example, magnesium, calcium and vitamin B5 act as co-factors in the conversion of serotonin to melatonin.

So if you’re struggling with continual bouts of broken sleep (on top of working shift work), it might be time to take a good look at your diet. Because gut disturbances and nutrient deficiencies as a result of consuming foods that are highly refined and processed may be further contributing to your sleep disturbance – in addition to the shift work itself.

Audra x


References:

Ji, X, Grandner, M & Liu, J 2017, ‘The relationship between micronutrient status and sleep patterns: a systematic review’, Public Health Nutrition, vol. 20, no. 4, pp. 687-701.

Li, Y, Hao, Y, Fan, F & Zhang, B 2018, ‘The role of microbiome in insomnia, circadian disturbance and depression’, Frontiers in Psychiatry, vol.9, no. 669, pp. 1-11.

Smith, R, Easson, C, Lyle, S, Kapoor, R, Donnelly, C, Davidson, E, Parikh, E, Lopez, J & Tartar, J 2019, Gut microbiome diversity is associated with sleep physiology in humans’, PLOS One, vol. 14, no. 10, pp. 1-17.

Putting Our Shift Working Jobs Into Perspective.

Having grown up in rural NSW and watched my house burn to the ground when I was just 7-years old, the images that we’re seeing right now of widespread bushfires around Australia is nothing short of heartbreaking.

The sheer devastation of loss including wildlife, livestock, property, vegetation and even human life, is gut-wrenching to see.

It’s why I feel it’s fitting to give a special shout out to all the firefighters who are on the front line, risking their own lives to help others 24/7.

Here’s just a snippet as to why:

✔️ Many of these firefighters are experiencing sleep deprivation on a whole new level.
✔️ Their “shifts” are longer than anyone should ever have to work.
✔️ They are having minimal meal breaks – if any.
✔️ Many are volunteers who have also taken leave without pay 💰 from their “real” jobs.
✔️ Despite being physically and emotionally exhausted, they keep going because they don’t want to let their communities down.
✔️ They are working in an extremely dangerous and hazardous environment 🔥.
✔️ They are subjected to a level of emotional distress that no one ever wants to experience – seeing countless burned wildlife and livestock, (and in some cases, the loss of human life).
✔️ Many are also working in the community in which they live. So when a house 🏡, or heaven forbid, a life is lost, it affects them right to the core.

So please join me in sending out an enormous gratitude of thanks for all of the incredible work that they are doing.

And the next time you’re experiencing a crappy shift at work, please keep in mind what the fire fighters are currently having to endure.

It definitely puts things into perspective and why they are truly deserving of the title of “HERO” – as I’m sure you would agree.

Audra x