Vitamin S:

The Most Depleted Micronutrient in Shift Workers.

As a Clinical Nutritionist, I’m definitely a huge fan of vitamins as the body requires them in order to function optimally, every single day.  Vitamins, otherwise known as a type of micronutrient, are found in the food that we eat and fall into two distinct categories:  fat soluble and water soluble.

Fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins A,D E & K, and water soluble vitamins include vitamins B and C, all of which play an important role in our health and well-being because dietary deficiencies, can lead to disease.

Given water soluble vitamins are not stored in our body as they are excreted in urine, replenishing vitamins B and C daily becomes particularly important, and even more so for shift workers, as these vitamins help to support our nervous system, and become quite depleted during times of stress.

Unfortunately for shift workers, our body is under constant stress whether our job is stressful or not, thanks to an ongoing and relentless sleep deprived lifestyle.  This is why adrenal fatigue and thyroid conditions are quite prevalent in those who work shift work, because both organs get a hammering during times of chronic stress.

However one vitamin which rarely gets a mention in most nutritional textbooks, yet is severely lacking in those who work 24/7, is Vitamin S.

As in S for ‘Sleep’.

In fact this particular vitamin is way more important than any other type of nutrient – which includes all of the food that we eat, and yes, even the so called ‘superfoods’ that we’re told we must include in our diet.  Green smoothies and all!

Sound a little strange?

Well consider this.  If we starved ourselves for a week (which I’m not recommending by the way), we’d certainly be feeling weak, hungry and a few kilograms lighter.  But if we went without sleep for a week, we’d barely be able to function.

And this of course is the biggest challenge for shift workers.

According to the Victorian State Government, shift workers get on average 2-3 hours less sleep than other workers which is MASSIVE.  No wonder we feel so exhausted!

When we multiply those figures per week, per month and then per year, we end up accumulating a sleep debt we can never pay back.

Research has even shown that after 17-19 hours without sleep, our performance is equivalent or worse than if we had a blood alcohol reading of 0.05 percent!  Pretty scary stuff when you think about it.

So whilst nutrition is incredibly important, the vitamin that I prescribe the most to all my shift working clients is vitamin S.

That being said, as we know, it can be one of the hardest vitamins to acquire when working irregular hours, however making sleep our number one priority – no matter what, is absolutely critical for anyone wanting to sustain a long term shift working career.

Audra x



Better Health 2016, Shiftwork.

Schwartz, T 2011, ‘Sleep is more important than food’, Harvard Business Review.

Shenkin, A 2006, ‘Micronutrients in health and disease’, Postgrad Medical Journal, vol. 82, no. 971, pp. 559-567.

Stough, C, Simpson, T, Lomas, J, McPhee, G, Billings, C, Myers, S, Oliver, C & Downey, L 2014, ‘Reducing occupational stress with a B-vitamin focussed intervention:  a randomized clinical trial:  study protocol’, Nutrition Journal, vol. 13, no. 122, pp. 1-12.

Williamson, A & Feyer, A 2000, ‘Moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication’, Occupational & Environmental Medicine, vol. 57, no. 10, pp. 649-655.

HSW 31: Self Care and Balneotherapy with Elizabeth Greenwood.

Healthy Shift Worker Podcast Episode:

Self care is super important for shift workers because our bodies are already biologically stressed as a result of working against our natural circadian rhythms or body clock. That being said, for most people, self-care can be an incredibly hard thing to do, as we often feel guilty of assigning some “me time” to ourselves.

So this week, I invited Naturopath and Aromatherapist Elizabeth Greenwood to talk to us about self-care, including one particular form – that being Balneotherapy.

In this episode, Elizabeth explains why self care is essentially working out what best works for you, as we are all very different, and why it doesn’t have to involve going to a health retreat or undertaking some kind of fancy detox. It can just mean doing something little each day, something that is both practical and sustainable, and that you can integrate into your own shift working lifestyle.

Elizabeth also shares her passion for Balneotherapy, which is a type of water therapy similar to that found in a natural thermal spring, and is great for the mind whilst also allowing us an opportunity to take some well-deserved “time out”, which is vitally important for those who run on little sleep.

To find get in contact with Elizabeth:

Email –

Balneotherapy FB page

HSW 23: Adrenal Fatigue and Insufficiency with Naturopath Jules Galloway.


Healthy Shift Worker Episode 23:

Thanks to our crazy, sleep-deprived lifestyle the adrenal glands of shift workers, which are responsible for pumping out our stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol, are notorious for becoming burnt out.

This is because we’re quite literally “biologically stressed” from having to work 24/7.

Get ready for a super entertaining and informative podcast as Naturopath Jules Galloway, (AKA the “Queen of the Adrenals”) explains exactly what is adrenal fatigue, how we can test for it, along with some great lifestyle and nutritional recommendations that are going to help to reduce some of the debilitating effects.

For more info on Jules visit –

Shift Work Burnout – Why Your Adrenal Glands Need You To Occasionally Say ‘No’.


In the last 7 weeks or so, I’ve had the privilege of seeing lots of shift working clients in our student clinic here at Endeavour College of Natural Health in Brisbane.

However I have to say, after seeing so many patients something has been left imprinted in my mind, and that’s how incredibly resilient shift workers are.

I mean some of the rosters my clients have to work week after week is nothing short of extra-ordinary.  Not to mention everything else they’ve got going in their lives – juggling kids, prepping meals, study commitments etc.

So how then, does this leave time for YOU?

Because if you’re not working (or sleeping), and you’re juggling fifty million things at once (OK, maybe not quite this many) there’s not much time left for you to take care of yourself.

And whilst you may disagree, but as a shift worker – this has to be your priority.

That is, YOU must be your biggest priority – no question.

In fact the following quote captures this intention to a ‘T’.

“You can’t pour from an empty cup.  Take care of yourself first”.

As James Wilson describes in his book ‘Adrenal Fatigue:  The 21st Century Stress Syndrome’ – people who undertake rotating shifts are under continual stress because their bodies don’t have a chance to adjust to the alternating circadian rhythm or sleep/wake cycle.

In essence, your adrenal glands (which are no bigger than a walnut, weigh less than a grape), and sit on top of your kidneys, are working way much harder than our 9-5 cousins who have a consistent sleep routine.

Quite simply, your resilience, energy and endurance depends on the proper functioning of your adrenal glands.

And they are incredibly vulnerable to burnout when you work 24/7.

Your adrenal glands secrete stress hormones (adrenalin and cortisol) which influence many physiological processes in the body including:

  • the conversion of fats and proteins into energy
  • the distribution of stored fat (especially around the waist)
  • blood sugar regulation
  • cardiovascular and gastrointestinal function, and much, much more.

But the crazy thing is, mainstream medicine doesn’t even think “adrenal fatigue” even exists!

Tell that to a shift worker who is burning the candle at both ends (and setting light to the bit in the middle), and often has days when they can barely peel themselves off the couch.

Ongoing exposure to artificial light is actually one of the drivers behind a biologically stressed body, because it triggers the body to produce cortisol at night (instead of melatonin – a powerful antioxidant), which moves our body into ‘fight or flight’ mode, otherwise known as the sympathetic nervous system response.

So whether you call it ‘adrenal fatigue’, ‘adrenal insufficiency’ or something else beginning with the word ‘adrenal’ – it does very much exist.

Which leads me back to the title of this post, and the art of saying ‘no’.

Whilst it’s great to be busy (it’s 2016 and this seems to be the “buzz sentence” at the moment), it’s not great for your adrenal glands – and your overall health.

As shift workers we must remember that working shift work places a great deal of stress on our body, and that’s even before we’ve taken a stressful workplace into the equation.

So my new mantra which I began to implement this year (and strongly recommend you follow suit) is the following:

“I don’t say no because I am so busy.  I say no because I don’t want to be so busy.”

At the end of the day, we’re not going to win a prize for saying “yes” to everything, and wearing ourselves into the ground.

We will however, be a much better wife, husband, mother, father, grandparent etc. if we start prioritising our health by allocating more “me time” – which quite simply means doing anything which makes us happy.

And it all begins by applying the simple art of saying ‘no’.

Audra x



Wilson, J 2015, Adrenal Fatigue:  The 21st Century Stress Syndrome, Smart Publications, Petaluma.