The journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine has released a study pointing to the damaging effects on memory and brainpower from long-term shift work. The study goes further, to point to serious safety concerns in high-risk jobs posed by working nights.

The article believes many of the detrimental effects can be reversed over time. The time to recoup the lost power, they suggest, may be up to half the amount of time worked as a shift worker.

This study is the latest in a long line of highly damning studies into shift work. Disrupting the body’s internal clock has been linked to serious health problems including ulcers, cardiovascular disease and some cancers. However, until now, little was known about shift works impact on brain function.

Researchers carried out extensive studies on 3000 current and retired workers across a broad range of sectors in southern France. They tested their subjects for short and long-term memory, processing speed and general cognitive abilities in 1996, 2001, and 2006.

Half of the subjects worked night or rotating shift work.



Researchers compared the changes in the two groups over time. They found an association between shift work and “chronic cognitive impairment.”

The authors said, “The association was stronger for exposure durations exceeding 10 years (of shift work)”. This, they said, could add an equivalent of 6.5 years to age-related decline.

However, the study could not conclusively prove that shift work was the sole cause of the cognitive decline. However there were strong indicators for this – strong enough to merit further research at least.

A more urgent message from the data was the “potentially important safety consequences, not only for the individuals concerned, but also for society.”

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