ACCORDING to a new study, long-term shift work ages the brain, amounting to a brain decline of 6.5 years, over a decade of working staggered hours.
The scientists, who included British researchers from the University of Swansea, discovered that changing shift patterns, ‘chronically impairs cognition’ and the problems increased with the amount of time people worked on shifts.
The age-related brain decline became ‘highly significant’ after a 10-year period, impairing the ability to think and remember.
The mental assessment, which used 3,000 shift workers, aged between 32 and 62, from Southern France, tested their mental abilities three times over a 10-year period. The disruption of their body clock, which is based on natural day and night cycles, caused stress that affected brain activity.
Shift workers also had a lower average score for memory, processing speed and overall brain function than those working normal office hours.
A lack of vitamin D and reduced sunlight hours also led to poorer mental ability.
The international team concluded that, ‘Shift work chronically impairs cognition, with potentially important safety consequences not only for the individuals concerned, but also for society.’
Scientists also revealed that stopping shift work led to a gradual brain recovery, taking at least five years to recover the ageing effect.