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.
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.
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