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!


Shift Work and Our Immune Systems:

Why A Healthy Gastrointestinal and Lymphatic System Is So Important.


As shift workers we often push our bodies to the absolute limit, and unfortunately our immune systems get knocked around as a result.

Considering 80% of our immune system is found in the gut, it’s important that we support and nurture our gastrointestinal system because it acts as important barrier against pathogens – those nasty little micro-organisms which can cause disease.  In other words, it helps to protect our body from the outside world.

Unfortunately, continual disruption to our sleep-wake cycle as a result of haphazard rosters, actually weakens the lining of the gut, impairing our ability to fight off infections.  It also reduces important immunity cells in our body called T-cells, together with increasing inflammatory cells called cytokines.

Probably something your employer forgot to mention at your job interview – lol!

And not only are we running on limited sleep, but its often disjointed as a result of that nasty alarm clock which wakes us up at the most ungodly of hour!  This prevents the body from completing the recommended 4-5 full sleep cycles which allow it to rest, restore and rejuvenate.

So how can we strengthen our immune system, despite working 24/7?

There are many ways to do this, but these are my Top 2:

  1. Focus on Nurturing A Healthy Gut – As Hippocates, the founding father of modern medicine, so famously said:  “All health and disease begins in the gut” which is why it’s imperative that we support and nurture our gastrointestinal system.  This includes ensuring there is a healthy amount of gut bacteria or gut flora, which can help in the regulation of an immune response.  One of the best ways to do this is by ensuring your diet contains plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables containing dietary fibre, also known as prebiotics, which is essentially the food for our gut microbes.  In addition to plenty of dietary fibre and for an added boost, you can also alternate taking a broad-spectrum probiotic, which is a high strength multi-strain formula designed to provide beneficial bacteria to the entire digestive tract.
  2. Provide Support to Your Lymphatic System – the lymphatic system is our waste disposal system and is made up of glands, lymph nodes, the spleen, thymus and tonsils.  This system aids the immune system by removing and destroying waste, debris, dead blood cells, pathogens, and other toxic substances by moving it along in the lymph fluid into your glands.  This explains why our glands become enlarged when we are sick.  Rebounding on a mini-trampoline is a great way to improve the flow of lymph through the lymphatic tissues, together with ensuring you’re drinking enough water because dehydration prevents the flow of lymph fluid.

Of course, it’s important to remember that it’s OK that our bodies have to fight an infection every now and then.

It’s what it’s designed to do, which is why taking antibiotics continually is not a good thing because not only does it wipe out our good gut bacteria (goodbye immune system!), it’s not allowing our body to do what it’s supposed to do.

Whilst we don’t want to get sick, we do want to ensure our body is as resilient as humanly possible, in order for it to be able to fight an infection when it does come up, as opposed to being reliant on drugs and medication, which often come with nasty side-effects.

Audra x



Scrivens, D 2012, ‘Rebounding:  Good for the Lymph System’, Wellbeing Journal, vol. 17, no. 3

Wu, H & Wu, E 2012, ‘The role of gut microbiota in immune homeostasis and autoimmunity’, Gut Microbes, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 4-14.

Sugar and Shift Work:

A Double Whammy On Your Immune System!

Cookie man and retro alarm clock on wooden backgroundDo you often fall ill, catching every cold or bug that’s going around? Well considering sleep deprivation depletes our immune system – it’s not surprising.

However as much as we may like to, we can’t always blame sleep deprivation for our embattled immune systems – not entirely anyway.

For all of the sugar lovers out there (you’re not going to like me after sharing this), but several research studies have confirmed that there’s a strong link between high sugar consumption, and the suppression of the body’s immune system.

Yep I know what you’re thinking – bugger!

The harsh reality is that for many shift workers, sugar can be our nemesis.

As we wander around in a zombie state, we often reach for a sugar-laden drink or packet of lollies to help boost our energy (be it only temporary) to get us through our shift. Unfortunately this ends up having a negative effect on our health – in particular our immune system health. (more…)

How a SAD Shift Work Diet Can Weaken Your Immune System.

Young woman and an unhealthy diet conceptAs shift workers we’re certainly prone to eating all of the wrong types of foods as we often feel too tired to cook thanks to a lifestyle dictated by ongoing sleep deprivation, particularly when we’ve experienced a run of early or night shifts.

But is your shift work diet SAD or is it happy?

If you’re wondering what I mean by this I’m actually referring to the Standard American Diet (hence the acronym SAD) – or in my case, a Standard Australian Diet which is pretty much the same thing.

However depending on how you answer this question, it’s going to play a key in how healthy your immune system is which is an ongoing struggle for most shift workers.

If you answered “yes” to having a SAD (which most shift workers do), it’s important to recognise that the Standard American/Australian Diet is high in Omega 6’s which include saturated fats, trans fatty acids, and arachidonic acid which can result in inflammation, one of the leading causes of most degenerative diseases (The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition*).

In contrast, a diet high in Omega 3 fatty acids or Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s) can provide us with a healthy immune system as they support the healthy function of our cells. A depleted immune system also makes us more susceptible to injury, allergies and infection.

Foods containing Omega 3’s include fish and fish oils which are a source of long chain fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) which contain anti-inflammatory properties which can help to reduce risk factors associated with hypertension, high triglycerides, and atherosclerosis (The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition*).

The problem we have today is that the typical SAD or Western diet contains far more omega-6’s than it does omega 3’s.

Unfortunately because of our haphazard lifestyle, shift workers are much more likely to adopt the super-convenient-but-very-unhealthy Standard American Diet.

It’s also important to understand that when you’re feeding your body suboptimal nutrition day after day, year after year, it’s going to wear you down and lead to nutritional deficiencies which will negatively affect your immune system and make you less robust to fight off any infections.

So how can you adopt a much happier shift work diet?

By simply replacing your diet with foods which are high in omega 6’s (fast foods – fries, burgers, chicken nuggets, hash browns, cakes, pastries, muffins, sundaes and vegetable oils) with those which contain more omega 3’s (flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds, sardines, salmon, mackerel, eggs, chicken and beef).

I use the word ‘replace’ instead of remove because we shouldn’t be removing things from our diet without replacing them with something else – preferably with much healthier options! The word ‘remove’ can also lead to feelings of restriction – as though we’re missing out which is rarely sustainable in the long term.

So start replacing your SAD diet with one which is rich in Essential Fatty Acids or Omega 3’s, and your immune system and overall shift work health will be much happier as a result!

*Simopoulos, A 1999, ‘Essential fatty acids in health and chronic disease’, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 70, no. 3, pp. 560-569.

Protein: An Important Macronutrient For Shift Workers

Food high in protein on table, close-up

As a veteran of working 24/7, one of the things which I noticed in my own diet over the years along with my fellow shift workers is that many of us are overfed and undernourished.  Undernourished that is in certain nutrients and overfed because we tend to eat our meals when we’re not necessarily hungry – or the complete opposite when we’re so hungry that by the time we get to our allocated meal break we inhale it in great haste!

Our diets also tend to contain high amounts of processed and highly refined foods as a result of wanting to find something which is easy and quick to take into work, or perhaps because we’re feeling too tired and exhausted to cook something after work which is going to nourish and support our sleep-deprived bodies.

So today’s post is going to be on one nutrient in particular and that’s protein.

From a nutritional perspective, we want to aim to have at least one source of protein included in every meal.


Well protein is particularly good for shift workers for the following reasons:

1.  It helps to build a strong immune system – one of the biggest struggles we have when working 24/7 is we’re constantly getting sick however studies haven shown that a deficiency of high-quality protein can result in depletion of our immune cells, as well as reducing the body’s ability to make antibodies which bind with bacteria, viruses and other toxins to help to keep the body healthy.

2.  It helps to balance our blood sugar levels and keep us full – protein helps to sustain us so that we do not get hungry.  As shift workers we need food which is going to help to keep us feeling full so we are less likely to binge and reach for an unhealthy snack.  Due to our erratic shifts, we also tend to eat at strange times and can end up going for long durations without eating which is another reason why protein can be so good for us when working 24/7.

So what foods contain protein?

The following are great sources of protein:

  • Meat – chicken, beef, lamb, fish, pork and organ meats (heart, kidney, liver)
  • Dairy – milk, plain yoghurt and cheese
  • Other – beans, lentils, eggs, seeds, nuts, tofu, and tempeh

I’m off to make myself some barramundi with coriander, snow peas and jasmine rice for dinner tonight.  After reading this post I hope you get to enjoy some protein in your breakfast, lunch and dinner tonight too!