SLEEP: Why It’s Even More Important Than Nutrition.

“Sleep.  Why it’s even more important than nutrition.”

Sound like an odd statement coming from a Nutritionist?!

Perhaps so, but for the last 2 years I’ve been working with clients one-on-one, and have noticed a missing link in those who are getting great results and feeling much healthier, versus those who are not.

So you’re probably wondering, “what’s this missing link?”

Well it’s actually kind of obvious, particularly if you’re a shift worker, but it’s Sleep.

Because we all know when we work 24/7, sleep can be a very scarce resource.  In fact, almost non-existant on some days!

However despite this enormous challenge faced by every single shift worker out around the world, those who appear to “have it all together” so-to-speak, truly value their sleep.

In fact sleep is their absolute NUMBER ONE priority.

Not nutrition, not exercise, but sleep.

Because let’s face it.  It’s very hard to make in-roads with our health when we’re consistently running on little sleep.

And that’s the difference.

For shift workers, sleep disruption or deprivation is not an ‘occasional’ event.  Sleep deprivation is a part of their life.  I like to think of it as one of the “perks” to your job, that your employer forgot to mention in your job interview!

But let’s get back to nutrition.

As a fully-fledged nutritionist, I am by no means discounting the importance of nutrition.  Absolutely not.  It’s a fundamentally important element of our health and wellbeing, however I’m merely pointing out that if you’re drinking a turmeric latte whilst scrolling through social media on your smart phone at 10pm, knowing that you start work at 4am, then you’re pretty much offsetting all of those nutritional benefits – at the expense of your sleep.

Because it’s really important to understand, that sleep is right up there with water and the air that we breathe on the importance scale!

It is an absolutely essential, non-negotiable part of our health, which is why shift workers are incredible human beings, because they work against their natural circadian rhythms or body clock almost every single day.

But let’s compare the two.

  1. If you were to go without food for a week (which I’m definitely not recommending by the way), you would feel weak, tired and lethargic, but generally overall you would still be OK.
  2. If however, you were to go without sleep for a week, you would barely be able to function!  Your entire body would begin to shut down and if this sleep deprivation continues long enough, you could even start having hallucinations, when you begin to see or hear things that aren’t even there.

Not exactly an enticing picture, that’s for sure.

So if you’re working really hard on your nutrition and you’ve been moving away from your once highly-processed diet, then I’d like to say that’s awesome – really it is!  Eating well can be an enormous challenge when we feel continually tired all of the time.

If however, you’re knowingly or unknowingly sabotaging your sleep whilst working 24/7, then perhaps it’s time to redirect your focus a little, and make sleep your number 1 priority.

Big shift working hugs,

Audra x

P.S:  If you’re feeling lost on how to fine-tune your sleep whilst working 24/7, I’m very excited to announce the launch of my brand-spanking new ‘Better Sleep Program’ – exclusively for shift workers.  So if you would like to really drill down and find ways to improve the quality of your sleep despite erratic rosters, then Click Here to watch a video to learn more.



Alhola, P & Polo-Kantola, P 2007, ‘Sleep deprivation:  impact on cognitive performance’, Neuropsychiatry Disease and Treatment, vol. 3, no. 5, pp. 553-567

Leptin Resistance:

What Is It, and What Make's Shift Workers Prone to It?

Something I hear often from many of my shift working clients is “ever since starting shift work, I’ve continued to gain weight.”

Perhaps this is something that you can relate too as well.

But why is this so?

Well the etiology (or cause) of weight gain and/or obesity is certainly very multifactorial, but one of the biggest drivers behind weight gain is due to a satiety or ‘hunger hormone’ called leptin.  You may remember from a previous blog post – Weight Loss and Shift Work, where I discuss how sleep deprivation is actually a type of endocrine or hormone disruptor – one of which includes leptin.

Leptin is a hormone that is stored in our fat cells and essentially tells us when we are feeling full.  It does this by sending a message to the pituitary gland in our brain, telling us when we’ve had enough to eat, and that we do not require any more food.

Quite simply, it acts a bit like a petrol gauge in our car, telling us when we’re full, versus getting close to empty.

But what happens in leptin resistance?

Well when we put on more and more weight, we produce more and more leptin which causes the receptors of our cells (the part of the cell which receives stimuli) to become fatigued (or resistant).  In other words, the body fails to receive those “I’m feeling full” signals, subsequently tricking the body into believing it isn’t carrying enough weight and needs to eat more.

It’s kind of a Catch 22 really, because the more fat we have, the more leptin is produced.

See the dilema here?

So if you keep putting on more and more weight, then you gain more and more fat cells which triggers more and more leptin, which causes the body to wrongly tell you that you’re starving, when in fact, you’ve probably had more than enough to eat.

It really can become a vicious cycle, but what can you do about it?


Shift Work Nutrition:

Why Timing Is Everything!

Beautiful young woman holding a plate with food, diet and time concept close up

As a fully fledged Clinical Nutritionist (wow, I can finally say that now after completing a Bachelor of Science degree last week), I have to say there’s certainly a lot of emphasis in our training on WHAT our clients are eating, which undeniably plays a huge role in our overall health and well-being.

In fact, it sounds ridiculously simply given food is designed to nourish us, and provide us with the right balance of macro and micronutrients to fuel us each day.

However, after spending 6 years submerged under textbooks and inhaling the contents of journal articles (yes, it took me a bit longer to complete a 3 year degree whilst working full-time) I was a little intrigued as to why the topic of food TIMING was never discussed throughout my degree.

But perhaps that’s because I was the only one in my class interested in the timing of food – which for a shift worker is extremely relevant.

More and more research is beginning to surface on the importance of WHEN we’re eating (otherwise known as chrononutrition), and how it’s just as important as WHAT we’re eating – if not more.

This is because the body’s physiological response to food can be completely different depending on the circadian phase or timing of the body.

By this I mean, the body responds to food intake differently – depending on the time of day.

Given we’re quite literally walking clocks governed by a master clock, the suprachiasmatic nucleus or SCN located in the brain, food timing can can be an incredibly important aspect to our health as this ‘master clock’ sends messages to other circadian clocks located in various cells throughout the body including those in the pancreas, liver and gastrointestinal tract.

And here lies the problem for shift workers.

Human beings are diurnal creatures – that is, we’re meant to be awake during the day, and asleep during the night.

But shift workers don’t operate this way.

In fact there are times when we do the complete opposite, that is sleep during the day and remain awake during the night – which also includes EATING in the same way.

And when we eat out of sync to our body’s natural circadian clock, it can disrupt our metabolism making us more susceptible to gut disturbances such as intestinal permeability and dysbiosis, along with enhancing our risk to developing a host of other chronic diseases.

According to Professor Fred Turek, a professor at Northwestern University, humans are the only species on earth that disobey their biological clocks.

A pretty compelling statement don’t you think?

Thanks to Thomas Edison and his trusty little invention – the humble light bulb, we have quite literally become ‘creatures of the night’, pushing our bodies to work against their natural biochemistry which unfortunately, is having detrimental effects on our health.

So whilst I may have digressed a little, the point to my blog post is this.

Working 24/7 often means eating 24/7 – which is not ideal.

Eating as close to a “normal” eating pattern as possible is something that shift workers need to try and aspire to, and whilst I completely understand this can be quite challenging at times, eating a calorie dense, nutritionally void hamburger at 3am is not going to win you any favours in the digestive stakes.

But if you can eat “dinner” as close to dinner time as possible, and avoid eating heavy meals during the night when your digestive system is quite literally sleeping, then you’re going to feel a whole lot better then if you “fuel up” on a hamburger, donut and a soft-drink at 3am.

Big shift working hugs,

Audra x



Cagampang, F & Bruce, K 2012, ‘The role of the circadian clock system in nutrition and metabolism’, British Journal of Nutrition, vol. 108, pp. 381-382.

Resilience: The Untold Story of a Shift Worker

Resilience written in search bar on virtual screen

As the blaring sound of an alarm clock pierces the serene and tranquil silence of the bedroom, a fatigue riddled body stirs beneath the warmth and comfort of a beautiful, yet hidden sleep sanctuary – otherwise known as a doona.

The body struggles to move, as every muscle and every limb aches from relentless fatigue.

Turning towards the clock positioned on the bedside table – their heart sinks with disappointment.

There must be some kind of mistake.

It cannot be.

Surely there are way more hours left before the start of our next shift?

It is after all, only 3am.

This scene I’ve described above, no doubt sounds familiar if you’re reading this post right now.

In fact, as a fellow shift worker, I’m sure it resonates with you in more ways than one.

And whilst many of us would refer to this as a typical “day” or a typical “night” whilst working 24/7,  I’m going to call it something else.

I’m going to refer to it as continual circadian rhythm dysregulation.  In other words, the recurrent disruption to our natural sleep/wake cycle as a result of working long and erratic hours.


HSW 9: Optimal Nutrition For Shift Workers with Dr Katrina Hurley

Dr Katrina

Healthy Shift Worker Podcast Episode 9:

This week Audra chats with fellow health professional and Paediatrician Dr Katrina Hurley who is an Emergency Doctor based in Halifax, Canada and has a similar interest in nutrition to support shift workers.  Dr Hurley is a Certified Culinary Nutrition Expert having graduated from the Academy of Culinary Nutrition, and has extensive experience working shift work, in particular night shift, which as we know, is one of the toughest shifts when it comes to ongoing fatigue and tiredness as a result of a lack of sleep!