Firefighters and police officers. Ambulance and hospital personnel. TV news professionals and radio personalities. Restaurant and bar staffers. Road construction crews. These are just some of the people who work irregular schedules. And research shows that shift work can disrupt natural circadian rhythms that regulate sleep and wakefulness.
Studies have linked circumstances that alter the body’s internal clock to cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcers, reproductive difficulties, vitamin D deficiency, reduced productivity, and decreased safety. Now, a study found that working shifts instead of traditional office hours for 10 years or longer also impacts brain health negatively.
Odd-Hours Job Risks
A research teamanalyzed a large sample of patients who had visited occupational health doctors in three southern France regions. They conducted three cognitive ability test rounds during 1996, 2001, and 2006. For the initial testing period, subjects were 32, 42, 52, or 62 years old. Some of the employed participants had retired when follow-ups occurred.
Of the 3000 total patients, 1,197 underwent assessments for three points including general brain functioning, short- and long-term memories, and thought processing speed. Some 1,484 reported working in shifts for 50 or more days during the testing year. About one in five or 18.5 percent of employees and 17.9 percent of retirees had clocked rotating shift patterns that included switching from mornings to afternoons and nights.
Initially, the investigators wanted to know if they could associate any shift amount involving non-standard hours to cognitive ability declines. Current and previous shift members had lower test scores on all points than subjects who worked standard office hours. Participants who’d endured rotating shift patterns for 10 years or up had considerably worse overall reasoning and memory grades than people who’d never held that type of routine. Lower scores correlated to a 6.5-year age-related mental regression.
Cognitive impairment may pose safety repercussions for both employees and society because a growing number of high-hazard jobs involve night stretches. Although this study was observational without clear causation conclusions, the research team believes that shift work’s circadian rhythm disruptions could trigger psychological stressors that hinder brain functioning.
Solutions and Treatments
The researchers suggest that employees should consider measures to mitigate prolonged shift work’s impact on their mental abilities. They evaluated the outcome of switching to typical daytime hours on weakened cognition. Luckily, the adverse effects were reversible, but recovery could take up to five years after quitting shift schedules. Save up to 90 percent on sleep aids and cognitive impairment medications from this online Canadian pharmacy.
Night Shift Health Tips
Stress. Pressure. Deadlines. Workload. Meetings. Long hours. Bad habits. These job aspects can be hard on you physically and mentally. But these lifestyle tips will help you be healthy while fulfilling your late-night obligations (also see video below).
Bedtime snacks: If you’re hungry before going to bed, drink milk or eat a small snack. Consuming a heavy meal right before bedtime can cause digestion problems and inhibit your rest.
Sleep quantity: Get five to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep daily. Use thick curtains over closed windows to shut out light and noise. Keep your bedroom quiet by turning off the phone, loud music, and TV.
Breakfast: Enjoy a large, healthy breakfast after your sleep cycle. Even though you may wake up at 3 or 4 p.m., eat your biggest meal of the day then.
Lunch: Eat lunch during your work schedule. Choose a low-carbohydrate meal so you can stay alert without being lethargic while performing your job.
Snacks: Nibble on nuts and fruits frequently between meals.
Hydration: Drink adequate water for proper hydration.
Routine: Stick to this daily schedule ― even on your days off. Consistency is key because you’re following a different body clock and sleep/wake cycle than daytime employees. You’ll adapt to your next night-shift week better if your non-working days in between follow your established pattern.
Habits that Improve Cognitive Function
The brain still holds numerous unknown secrets, but balancing healthy, active lifestyle choices can improve cerebral functioning. Making slight changes to these habits may produce remarkable benefits.
Exercise:Research shows that repetitive physical activity increases brain health, cognition, and memory-boosting hormones.
New experiences: A study found that learning unfamiliar skills while being socially active promotes mental sharpness.
Social interactions: To avoid loneliness and the stress, disrupted sleep patterns, depression, and cognitive declines it can cause, socialize regularly.
Creativity: Neuroscientists discovered that musical instrument training improves brain region connectivity and function. Researchers found that writing and reading increase brain function and preserve memory.
Brain-training activities: Living in a stimulant-rich environment and problem solving can help prevent mental deterioration. Complex mental activities like brain-training games build neuron reserves while improving thought processing and reasoning speeds.
Stress reduction: High stress can trigger brain-damaging cortisol levels that may increase anxiety, depression, and mental degeneration. Meditation may slow cognitive decay and memory loss.
Sleep: Brain benefits occur during sleep when distractions are rare and extra energy is available. Restful sleep is necessary to consolidate learning and memory while avoiding cognitive impairments.