Over 22 million people in the United States work while most others sleep, according to the Texas Department of Insurance. While the roles of these workers -- which include individuals in health care, transportation and other industries -- is vital, it can also take a toll on their health. Night shift workers are at risk for sleep disorders and nutritional deficiencies as well as gastrointestinal problems and impaired organ functioning. Certain vitamin supplements may help address nutritional deficiencies, facilitate sleep and reduce your risk of developing chronic illnesses associated with night shift work. Check with your doctor before using any vitamin supplement.
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Melatonin is a hormone that your body uses to regulate the sleep-wake cycle. The University of Maryland Medical Center explains that your body naturally produces more of this sleep-inducing hormone in response to darkness. If you work the night shift, however, your sleep-wake cycle can be disrupted, leading to insomnia and subsequent fatigue while working. The UMMC adds that some research supports the use of melatonin for night shift workers, in order to fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer and have more energy when awake. The exact beneficial dosage of melatonin has not been determined. However, the UMMC recommends that night shift workers take 1 to 3 milligrams an hour prior to going to sleep.
Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)
Individuals who engage in shift work have a higher incidence of medical problems, explains a 2005 article published in the "Journal of Circadian Rhythms." This article also included a research study that found that men who worked a rotating shift schedule that includes night shifts have more evidence of oxidative stress in their blood. Oxidative stress is associated with cellular damage and certain types of cancer. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that can neutralize free radicals that are produced by oxidative stress and cause the damage. Vitamin C also can reduce the duration of a cold or flu, according to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University.
Your body produces vitamin D when you are exposed to sunlight or consume vitamin-D-enriched foods like milk. Vitamin D plays an important role in the absorption of calcium in the body. Night shift workers may be at higher risk for thinning of the bones from inadequate vitamin D. A 2009 study published in "Osteoporosis International" found that female nurses who engaged in night shift work for more than 20 years had a higher incidence of wrist and hip fractures. The researchers suggest that the results may be attributed to inadequate vitamin D stores that subsequently impede the absorption of calcium.
The adverse effects of chronic antioxidant stress include an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Like vitamin C, vitamin E is an antioxidant in the body that can reduce this risk. A 1995 study published in "Circulation" found that women who worked night shifts as nurses had a higher incidence of heart disease. In addition, the University of Maryland Medical Center explains that vitamin E provides your body with protection against damage caused by toxic substances. These substances, which include cleaning chemicals and industrial solvents, are often present in night shift work environments, particularly those that are performed indoors.
- Cleveland Clinic: Shift Work Sleep Disorder
- "Western Journal of Medicine"; Health Effects of Shift Work; Joseph LaDou, MD; 1982
- "Journal of Circadian Rhythms"; Shift Work as an Oxidative Stressor; Akbar Sharifian, et al.; 2005
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Melatonin
- Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University: Vitamin C
- "Osteoporosis International"; Night Shift Work and Fracture Risk: The Nurses' Health Study; Diane Feskanich, ScD, et al.; 2009
- "Circulation"; Prospective Study of Shift Work and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in Women; Ichiro Kawachi, MD, et al.; 1995
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Vitamin E
- Texas Department of Insurance: Shift Workers