Shift work linked with worse memory and cognition: Canadian study

Working the late-night or rotating shifts can be exhausting, but a recent study conducted from researchers at York University has found that shift work might also have a negative impact on the memory and thinking abilities of middle-aged and older adults.

The peer-reviewed study, published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, involved nearly 50,000 adults who worked outside of the traditional 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The dataset included self-reported details about employment and work schedules, along with the results of cognitive function tests.

The study also found that 21 per cent of participants had experienced some form of shift work during their careers. However, higher rates of cognitive impairment were observed in individuals who reported current exposure to night shift work or had worked night shifts in their longest job when compared to those who had only worked daytime shifts.

When examining specific areas of cognitive function, the study found that night shift work was linked to impaired memory function, while rotating shift work was associated with impairment in executive function.

According to the study authors, messing with our body’s natural sleep patterns through shift work could hurt how our brains work as we get older.

“The study findings suggest a potential link between shift work exposure and cognitive function impairment,” the authors stated. “We speculate that disruptive circadian stimuli may play a role in neurodegeneration contributing to cognitive impairment; however, additional studies are needed to confirm the association between shiftwork and cognitive impairment as well as any physiological pathways that underlie the mechanism.”


Reporting for this story was paid for through The Afghan Journalists in Residence Project funded by Meta.

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