Supplements Every Nurse Should Take
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Supplements Every Nurse Should Take

Switching between shifts can take a huge toll on nurses, both mentally and physically. While a few things are commonly recommended, such as rotating your shifts clockwise and buying blackout curtains, supplements are an often overlooked aid. Supplements can be just the extra push you need when it comes to inducing fatigue at the end of shifts to sleep during the day while still feeling alert at night. Here are a few of our favorite supplements to help you feel your best on a rotating schedule.

Melatonin

Perhaps the most widely known sleep supplement, melatonin really is tried and true. Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the body (specifically the pineal gland) that helps to regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Your body produces more melatonin when it’s time to go to sleep and reduces production to wake you up. For shift workers, this natural cycle can get disrupted and make your body and mind feel out of wack. There are many over-the-counter forms of melatonin, such as pills, gummies, and powders to mix with water. However, it is important to be careful with melatonin as taking too much very regularly can lead to your body being dependent on it. We recommend starting with a very low dose (about 3-5mg) and working up to higher doses if necessary.

Magnesium

In our books, magnesium is an essential supplement for all nurses working rotating shifts. Magnesium is a powerhouse vitamin, as it assists with nerve and muscle function, healthy digestion, heart health, blood pressure, mood stabilization, energy production, blood sugar, resisting the development of chronic diseases, and helps control our body’s response to stress. This last function is especially important for night shift workers as switching waking hours puts a huge stress on the body.
When the body becomes stressed, magnesium stores become depleted and it can leave nurses feeling fatigued, mentally foggy, and more inclined towards mood fluctuations, chronic pain, and unhealthy food and lifestyle choices. By taking a magnesium supplement, the body is more able to react to the stresses of shift working without affecting your other biological systems.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is important for healthy functioning, and low levels of Vitamin D have been linked with an increased risk of certain cancers and chronic inflammation, as well as decreased bone density and immune function. Vitamin D is not produced naturally, and the most direct (and easiest) way to get much-needed Vitamin D is through direct sun exposure. As you may imagine–or have already experienced–getting direct sunlight can be difficult, if not impossible, for shift workers. Because of this, taking high-quality Vitamin D supplements is important. We recommend taking 2000-5000IU per day of Vitamin D3 in supplement form, however other methods and amounts are widely available online or at your local pharmacy/grocery store. Feel free to experiment and see what works best for you!

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is important for your brain to maintain balance and for you to feel energized and clear-minded. Taking B6 will help your body produce serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that plays a vital role in positive moods and maintaining emotional stability. Vitamin B6 also helps the body produce norepinephrine, which helps you better be able to handle and respond to stress without feeling out of control. When working shifts and putting an increased stress load on the body, having adequate (or even higher) levels of B6 becomes even more important. We recommend taking this supplement first thing in the morning for the best effects and to help the body wake up and feel alert.

5-HTP (and GABA)

5-HTP is a supplement that helps the body produce serotonin. Serotonin can be converted into melatonin, which as we previously discussed is important for promoting sleep-wake cycles so you feel tired when you fall asleep and alert when you wake up. While the effects of 5-HTP are beneficial on their own, taking 5-HTP in conjunction with gamma-aminobutyric acid (also known as GABA) has been shown to have an even more profound effect on sleep duration, quality, and the time it takes to fall asleep. GABA is a chemical messenger that helps you to feel relaxed, so joining this with increased melatonin from 5-HTP helps the body to sleep and stay asleep. While this sounds (and often is) great, it is important to pay attention to how you feel after a few days of taking this supplement combination. Some people feel side effects of anxiety or jitters and prefer to directly take melatonin supplements or pursue other avenues. However, many shift workers swear by this combination, so it definitely may be worth a try!

Beyond these supplements, taking a multivitamin is important to ensure your body is getting the nutrition it needs to function well. The night shift can disrupt normal eating and sleeping patterns, both of which are essential for you to feel your best. However, by taking supplements to counteract the negative effects of shift working, you can take charge of your sleep and wake cycles so you can go into work feeling alert and enjoy a nice restful sleep afterward, no matter what the rest of the world is up to!

Sources

https://www.ibtimes.com/essential-vitamins-those-who-work-night-shift-or-stay-late-2786605

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/5-htp-benefits#TOC_TITLE_HDR_7

Josie Burridge

Josie Burridge

Author

Josie is a college graduate from the University of Michigan in biomedical engineering. She is currently studying for a graduate degree in public health and is focusing her education on population health sciences and improving health care systems in our communities. She loves the way in which the medical field is constantly evolving as new discoveries are made, and she hopes to one day contribute her own research!

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