The Effects of Daily Work on Cognition

Most people do not have the benefit of a regular 9 to 5 work schedule.  The average person has shifts that vary from week to week in their particular occupation.  According to a VISAT longitudinal study, long-term shift work can have chronic effects on cognition.  Shift work, very similar to chronic jet lag, can disrupt the normal circadian rhythms of our bodies.  Circadian rhythms are our mental, physical, and behavioral rhythms in a given 24-hour cycle which can effect our hormone release, sleep-wake cycle, body temperature, and other crucial bodily functions.  These effects can impair our productivity at work, our social life, and can have an increased risk of health problems that can lead to ulcers, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, breast cancer, and reproductive difficulties.  
  Data from a 2004 Bureau of Labor Statistic reported that “Almost 15 million Americans work full time on evening shift, night shift, rotating shifts, or other employer arranged irregular schedules.”  This report is a decade old, bringing this figure up considerably for 2014.   The VISAT study, which was led by Dr. Jean-Claude Marquie of the University of Toulouse, took over 3,000 employed and retired workers from different parts of southern France, their ages ranging from 32, 42, 52, and 62 when they were first examined, and 5 to 10 years later when they were studied again.  Around half of the participants at some point, either currently or in their past, had some type of experience with shift work experience, and the other half did not.  The study’s aim was to gauge the chronicity and reversibility that shift work had on their cognition.   The results showed that shift work did indeed have an effect on cognition, particularly for participants that had worked irregular shifts for 10 years or more.  However, the time for normal functioning cognitive abilities to restabilize was 5 years, making recovery possible.   “The cognitive impairment observed in the present study may have important safety consequences not only for the individuals concerned, but also for society as a whole given the increasing number of jobs in high hazard situations that are performed at night,” wrote the researchers of the study.   “It may also affect shift workers’ quality of life, with respect to daily life activities that are highly dependent on the availability of cognitive resources.  The current findings highlight the importance of maintaining a medical surveillance of shift workers, especially of those who have remained in shift work for 10 years or more.”

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