Long-term shift work could impact the brains ability to think and remember, scientists have found.
The study found that people who were currently working shifts, or had previous worked shifts had lower scores on memory, processing speed and overall brain power compared to those who had never worked shifts.
Researchers from Swansea University found that it can take at least five years to regain cognitive abilities after stopping shift work.
The cognitive abilities of more than 3,000 people who were working in a wide range of sectors were analysed in 1996, 2001 and 2006.
Half of the sample (1,484) was drawn from the patient lists of occupational health doctors, and had worked shifts for at least 50 days that year.
Participants were aged 32, 42, 52 and 62 at the time of the first test, which aimed to assess long and short-term memory.
Around one in five of those in work (18.5%) and a similar proportion of those who had retired (17.9%) had worked a shift pattern that rotated between mornings, afternoons, and nights.
The second set of analyses looked at the impact of working a rotating shift pattern and found that compared with those who had never worked rotating shifts, those who had, and had done so for 10 or more years, had lower global cognitive and memory scores—equivalent to 6.5 years of age related cognitive decline.
Dr Philip Tucker, Professor of Psychology at Swansea University said: “The study shows the long term effects of shift work on the body clock are not only harmful to workers’ physical health, but also affect their mental abilities. Such cognitive impairments may have consequences for the safety of shift workers and the society that they serve, as well as for shift workers’ quality of life.”
Chronical Effects of Shift Work On Cognition: Findings From The Visat Longitudinal Studycan be found online.