The bad news: if you have worked as much as 10 years on shifts, you may suffer age-related decline and chronic cognitive impairments. The good news: this study cannot conclusively prove that this is the case, and further research is needed to prove this hypothesis.

Researchers may have found an association between working long shifts for years and becoming dumber – slow of mind and body, and this raises concerns about work safety and medical surveillance for those that work morning, afternoon, and night shifts.

The researchers were studying the effects of work shifts that have lasted 10 or more years on memory loss and brain power, and how this disrupts the body’s internal clock system. They also wanted to know if prolonged work shifts has any links to health problems like ulcers, cardiovascular diseases, and certain types of cancers.

Over 3,000 workers and retired workers aged 32, 42, 52, and 62 were tested in various work industries in Southern France in 1996, 2001, and 2006 for effects of work shifts on memory and overall cognitive abilities. The researchers found that after some time, an association between shift work and chronic cognitive impairment could be observed.

They noted that “the association was stronger for exposure durations exceeding 10 years (of shift work)” and that “recovery of cognitive functioning after having left shift work took at least five years”. Furthermore, “the current findings highlight the importance of maintaining medical surveillance on shift workers, especially those who have remained in shift work for 10 years or more.”

As published in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine, this raises a number of “potentially important safety consequences not only for the individuals concerned, but also for society”, especially as they relate to “the increasing number of jobs in high-hazard situations that are performed at night”.


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