My journey into researching shift work health began back in 2012, when I was a Customer Service Officer and Trainer based at Brisbane Airport, and decided to commence a Bachelor of Science degree majoring in Nutritional Medicine part-time, around my current full-time shift working job.
I became fascinated with learning more about Nutrition and how it can influence the health of shift workers when a staff member arrived late into my training class one day holding in her hand – a hamburger, donut and a soft drink.
Whilst that may not seem unusual, it was only 9am and when I politely said – “that’s an interesting choice of breakfast”, her response was “I’ve been up since 4am and in need of some sustenance!”
Sustenance? This word left me totally perplexed as I never knew a hamburger, donut and soft drink could contain so much sustenance!
And this got me curious.
It made me want to learn more about what exactly these sorts of foods were doing to us – particularly when working 24/7. By “these foods” I’m referring to those which are high in saturated fats and trans fats, along with those which are high in refined and processed sugars. Diets which have become fairly standard for many a shift worker these days.
So fast forward to 2016 as I near the home stretch of this science degree, I have to say it’s certainly been an interesting ride. As I’ve focused the majority of my research and assignments around shift work, it’s become somewhat emotional at times.
This is because the more I research, the more my heart sinks for my ever growing tribe of energy depleted and immune compromised shift workers.
In fact I’ve since come to realise, just how incredibly naive I was coming into this degree.
I thought all I was going to need to do, was to learn all about the different macro and micronutrients along with the many vitamins and minerals which are needed to sustain good health. Throw in a few healthy recipes here and there, and voila – I’d be done!
But this degree has taught me way more than that.
This degree has made me realise just how incredibly vulnerable shift workers are to developing chronic disease and ill health, as a consequence of working crazy and irregular hours.
And yet no one is talking about it. No one is bringing any attention to this, nor waving their arms around and saying to shift workers and shift working organisations alike – “Hey, something needs to change here, because we have a chronic sleep epidemic on our hands, and it’s slowly killing us”.
Ongoing sleep disruption and circadian misalignment has so many ill effects, some of which include:
- endocrine disruption
- immune suppression
- gastrointestinal complaints
- hormonal cancers
- cardiovascular disease
- metabolic dysfunction
- nervous system disorders … and much, much more.
In fact I remember sitting at home one day doing research for an Advanced Nutrition assignment, when tears began to welt up in my eyes.
Why? Because I was realising quite quickly that chronic conditions such as insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, depression and gastrointestinal complaints are so prevalent amongst the shift working population. In addition to those which I’ve already mentioned above.
Yet more and more people around the globe are working 24/7 – and are blissfully unaware of the effects.
I know, because I used to be one of them.
Quite simply, 24/7 is becoming the new “9-5”, but its having disastrous consequences.
So whilst I agree that we have a global obesity epidemic on our hands, and focusing on nutrition and exercise is certainly appropriate – what about the global sleep epidemic?
Because as human beings we are meant to sleep. We need to sleep, but sleeping during the day or working at night-time wasn’t how Mother Nature designed it to be. And with so many friends and family members that work irregular hours – along with a social media following that is closing in on 10,000 subscribers, I’m genuinely worried.
I’m genuinely worried that things are going to get worse before they get better if we don’t create some more awareness, or ‘noise’, which is why I decided to commence my podcast earlier this year called – The Healthy Shift Worker.
Because I’ve realised I can’t do this on my own.
I can certainly be a ‘voice for shift workers’ of sorts, but I need to enlist the help of others to ensure my message is spread both here in Australia, and all around the world.
So in order to do this, I’ve begun to bring in the ‘Big Guns’ per se, and interview not only other shift workers, but people who are experts in sleep research, stress relief, cancer, psychology, diabetes, hormonal health – to name just a few.
Because nutrition is important, but it’s only one piece of this incredibly complex – Shift Work Puzzle.
Big shift working hugs,
P.S – If you haven’t already subscribed to my podcast – The Healthy Shift Worker, you can do so by visiting this link in iTunes and clicking on ‘Subscribe’.