A study, published this week in the journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, suggested that a decade of shift work aged the brain by more than six years.
But it’s not all bad news, there was some recovery noted after people stopped working shift hours – but it took up to five years to return the brain to its original normal function.
Researchers believe the findings are important to our understanding of dementia and its causes, as many sufferers have disrupted sleep.
the reason that working antisocial hours affects the body and the brain is because of our body’s internal clock. it is designed for us to be active during daylight hours and asleep during the night.
Some of the damaging affects of the body working against its internal clock range from breast cancer to obesity.
Now the study has shown how much of an impact such work can have on the brain.
three thousands participants in france were asked to perform tests on their memory, speed of thought and wider cognitive ability.
While researchers admit the brain naturally declines with age, working anti-social hours was shown to accelerate this process.
Startlingly, those who had worked more than a decade of shift work had the same results as someone six and a half years older.
“It was quite a substantial decline in brain function, it is likely that when people trying to undertake complex cognitive tasks then they might make more mistakes and slip-ups, maybe one in 100 makes a mistake with a very large consequence, but it’s hard to say how big a difference it would make in day-to-day life,” said Dr Philip Tucker, part of the research team in Swansea.
While Dr Tucker said he would not do night shifts “if I could possibly help it” he acknowledged that they were a “necessary evil” that society could not do without.
“There are ways to mitigate the effects in the way you design work schedules and regular medical check-ups… should include cognitive performance tests to look for danger signs,”Dr Tucker added.