The Results Are In!

Shift Work DOES Impair Our Cognitive Function.

Sleepy Brain character

As we get ready to close the door on 2015 and make way for 2016, I’m in a bit of celebration mode right now and it’s not even New Year’s Eve!

If you’re wondering why it’s because my end of semester University results have been published, and I’m happy to report I managed to pass everything.

Phew! A major relief.

This means I’m officially about to head into my final year of my Nutritional Medicine degree and I could not be happier – be it a little bit nervous at the same time.

However I’m even more proud of myself (and I’m sure you will be able to relate to this one), because for years I struggled to remember things – which I put down to a life of continual sleep-deprivation.

After a string of early shifts, I would often struggle to concentrate and make decisions, and even felt a little “forgetful” at times.

Not ideal for someone who, at the time, was only in her 30’s.

However as I was scrolling through a pile of research papers, I stumbled across a study of 1484 shift workers which confirmed a strong association between working 24/7 and impaired cognition, particularly if you’d worked shift work for more than 10 years (*).

Bingo! That was definitely me.

How about you?  How many years have you worked 24/7?

Interestingly enough, another study in the Annals of Medical & Health Sciences Research noted how after periods of extended reduced sleep, electrical and chemical activity in the brain was visibly altered as the neurons began to malfunction (**).

“Malfunction?”  That word certainly doesn’t sound all that uplifting – particularly when it comes to the functioning of our brain.

The good news however, is that cognitive function is able to recover (upon leaving shift work), but it can take at least 5 years to return to normal.

Not ideal, but encouraging at least to know that the damage is not permanent.

So don’t beat yourself up each time you forget things.

You’re not going crazy.  Your body is just doing the best it can despite running on little sleep.

You only have to work a string of early shifts in a row to feel the impacts, which is why it’s incredibly important for shift workers to make sleep their BIGGEST PRIORITY.

Whilst the harsh reality is that we may never be able to completely catch up or pay back our “sleep debt”, taking regular naps can certainly go a long way in helping to reduce those feelings of brain fog  so many of us experience when working 24/7.

Napping essentially helps to restore our mental alertness and improve performance, so what ever you do – don’t ever feel guilty for taking a well deserved nap!

 

*Marquie, J, Tucker, P, Folkard, S, Gentil & Ansiau D 2013, ‘Chronic effects of shift work on cognition: findings from the VISAT longitudinal study’, Occupational & Environmental Medicine, vol. 72, no. 4, pp. 258-64.

**Ezenwanne, E 2011, ‘Current concepts in the neurophysiologic basis of sleep; a review’, Annals of Medical & Health Sciences Research, vol. 1, no. 2., pp. 173-179.

 

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