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How shift working affects brain power

Working weird hours is bad for brain power

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If you or your employees tend to work in shifts or at abnormal hours of the day, new research has found more about the extent of the damage this can to do your long-term intellectual and cognitive abilities.

Irregular work patterns have long been behind disruption of the body’s internal clock and a host of health problems, but this study suggests the impact is more widespread.

It found that rotating shift patterns start to impact brain power strongest after a period of 10 years or more of exposure, thus impairing memory and the brain’s processing speed.

The researchers tracked the cognitive abilities of more than 3,000 people who were either working in a range of sectors or who had retired, at three points: 1996; 2001; and 2006.

They were aged exactly 32, 42, 52, and 62; and just under half had worked shifts for at least 50 days of the year.

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The first set of analyses, that looked at whether abnormal working hours could be linked to lower cognitive abilities, found shift workers had lower scores on memory, processing speed, and overall brain power than those who had never worked shifts.

The second set of analyses studied the impact of working a rotating shift, and found that those who had done so for 10 years or more had lower cognitive and memory scores. That translated to the brain aging worth six-and-a-half-years, compared to those who had never worked in shifts.

Finally, the researchers looked at whether stopping shift work could be linked to a recovery in brain power. They found it was possible to regain cognitive abilities, but the effects took at least five years to reverse.

“The cognitive impairment observed may have important safety consequences not only for the individuals concerned, but also for society, given the increasing number of jobs in high hazard situations that are performed at night,” said the researchers.

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