3 Tips To Enhance Your Nutrition and Sleep During Times of Stress

As the impacts of the COVID-19 continues to spread, feelings of stress and overwhelm, especially amongst those working in the health care setting, is a very real scenario right now. Prioritising your sleep, along with fuelling your body with high-quality nutrients through good food choices, is going to be essential in order to help you to function at your best.

1. Eating strategically to maintain steady blood sugar levels

Now more than ever before, you need to be ensuring that you get the most “bang for your meal break buck”, because let’s face it, you never know when (and if) you’re going to get another chance to eat!

This means ensuring that every meal contains a source of protein because it will help to maintain your blood sugar levels to keep sugar cravings and hunger levels at bay.

Examples of foods high in protein include things like eggs, chicken, fish, lamb, ricotta and cottage cheese, Greek yoghurt, lean beef, broccoli, lentils/chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, and lima beans.

Having healthy snacks on hand will also help you to avoid falling victim to the hypnotic spell of the vending machines such as a trail mix made up of cashews, almonds, and pecans, or home-made bliss balls which contain a mixture of protein and healthy fats. Other options include celery sticks topped with peanut butter and sultanas, or air-dried popcorn topped with parmesan if you’re more of a savoury person.

2. Increase your intake of foods rich in Magnesium

Whenever we’re exposed to stress, our bodies can become depleted of vitamins and minerals quite quickly because there’s a much higher demand for them. One of these includes Magnesium.

Often touted as an anti-stress mineral, Magnesium helps to balance blood sugar, relax tense muscles and calm the nervous system which is like a trifecta for those working under stressful work conditions! Foods that are high in magnesium include green leafy vegetables such as spinach, pumpkin and sesame seeds, almonds, Brazil nuts, brown rice, avocados and bananas.

I also recommend supplementing with magnesium as magnesium deficiency is often associated with chronic insomnia, something a sleep-deprived shift worker wants to avoid, especially during times of added stress.

3. Resist going on social media after your shift

It can certainly be hard to unwind and switch off a ‘busy brain’ after a pretty stressful and hectic shift, but slumping on the couch with your Smart Phone may not be the best solution – especially if you accompany it with a glass of wine. Whilst alcohol does have a sedative effect, it disrupts part of the sleep-cycle, leading to poor quality sleep.

Busy shifts also leave your nervous system in a heightened state of ‘fight or flight’, so when looking at headlines and images online that are quite stimulating, it will make it even harder to fall asleep.

If you’re on your phone at night – it’s going to be even more disruptive to your sleep because the blue-light emitting from electronic devices sends a message to the brain that it’s morning. In other words, it’s telling your brain that its daytime and now is not the time to sleep! It does so by raising the stress hormone cortisol, whilst at the same time, dampening down melatonin which is a critically important hormone for regulating sleep.

A more calming, sleep-enhancing option is to go into a darkened room and spend 5-10 minutes with your feet up the wall. Also known as Viparita Karani, this yoga pose will send a signal to your nervous system to slow down, reduce any swelling in the legs and feet, and help to quieten down a busy mind. The perfect way to transition your body into a state of relaxation, after a crazy and hectic shift.

The Healthy Shiftworker's Early Shift Brain Boosting Bliss Balls

  • Walnuts are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats which support healthy brain function.
  • Tahini is a paste made from ground sesame seeds and is high in calcium making it a great substitute for dairy, and also contains protein and healthy fats, that will keep you feeling fuller for longer.
  • The raw cacao contains traces of caffeine, so it will perk you up when feeling weary after being up so early.
  • Gelatin is the richest food source of the amino acid (building blocks for protein) glycine, which has been linked to improved memory and attention.

What you'll need

  • 1 cup walnuts (or pecans)
  • 3/4 cup Medjool pitted dates (soaked in boiling water for 10 minutes)
  • 2 tablespoon un-hulled tahini or nut butter
  • 2 tablespoons raw cacao powder
  • 1 tablespoon gelatin (I used Changing Habits)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla paste
  • ¼ cup of desiccated coconut (to coat balls)

Pulling it all together

Cut the dates in half and remove the seed. Place in a small bowl and pour over boiling water. Leave for 10 minutes, then drain.

Add all the ingredients (except for walnuts & coconut) into a high-speed blender. Blend until the texture resembles a paste.

Add the walnuts and blitz for approximately 30 seconds. The mixture should be a little sticky so that it can be rolled into balls when squished together.

Use a dessert spoon to roll the mixture into balls. Roll into desiccated coconut and store in an airtight container in the fridge. Bring into work and share them with your colleagues!

See more of Audra

To read more of Audra’s work on helping shift workers achieve great sleep and healthier lives, get a copy of her book, ‘Too tired to cook‘ on her website, The Healthy Shiftworker.

Check out Audra’s CPD webinar, ‘Shiftwork Nutrition‘ for more great information on sleeping well and eating well in spite of shiftwork.

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