Working an irregular shift pattern may be causing long-term damage to people’s memory and mental abilities, new research has shown.

Shift work can disrupt the body’s internal clock in a similar way to jet lag, and has been linked before to an increased risk of health problems such as heart problems and even some cancers.

However, scientists have now found a link between working shifts and a decline in brain function – especially among those whose shifts rotated between morning, afternoon and night.

In a study of 3,000 people living in France, scientists found that those who worked rotating shifts performed significantly worse in memory and cognitive speed tests than people who had worked regular hours.

The level of cognitive decline seen in people who worked irregular shifts for 10 years was equivalent to six and a half years’ worth of natural, age-related cognitive decline, said researchers from the universities of Toulouse and Swansea.

Precisely how shift work might have an impact on brain function is not fully understood.

Disruptions to the body clock – or circadian rhythm – are known to affect the body and the mind. People who regularly fly long-haul have been shown to suffer from poorer brain function, thought to be caused by the breakdown of some brain structures, caused by the over-production of stress hormones.

A similar mechanism may be occurring in people working alternating night and day shifts for a prolonged period of time… see more

source: independent UK