Scientists are warning that working antisocial hours can prematurely age the brain and dull intellectual ability- that’s according to a new report published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

The Sleep Council circadian-rhythm_lo-res-300x134 Shift Work Dulls Brain  It’s suggested that a decade of shifts aged the brain by more than six years. There was some recovery after people stopped working antisocial shifts, but it took five years to return to normal.

This latest research only confirms what we’ve long known – that shift work is harmful to sleep. Our body’s internal clock is designed for us to be active in the day and asleep at night. The damaging effects on the body of working against the body clock, from breast cancer to obesity, are well known.

Daytime sleep is less efficient that night time sleep as you’re constantly battling against disturbance factors – such as light, noise etc – and challenging your body’s natural circadian clock.

The Sleep Council sleep-pattern_lo-res-300x173 Shift Work Dulls Brain  It’s important that those who work shift work understand the importance of sleep and do what they can to achieve better daytime sleep. Lack of quality sleep can lead to all sorts of issues from sleepiness and fatigue in the work place to poor concentration, absenteeism, accidents, errors, injuries etc.

Here’s our top sleep tips for shift workers:

  • You can help keep your biological clock tuned in to your sleep with anchor sleep. Aim to have at least four hours sleep at the same time every night/morning (e.g. 3-7am). This seems to help keep your sleep clock regular.
  • Use the weekend or days off to get in some extra “recovery” sleep.
  • Make sure the sleeping environment is as conducive to rest as possible. A comfortable bed in a dark, well-ventilated room, is essential. And when we say dark, we mean dark – invest in some black out curtains. If you work shifts, you really need to re-set that biological clock. Also, aim to cut out as much extraneous noise if possible: install double glazing; use ear plugs.
  • Avoid stimulants (eg caffeine), large meals or vigorous exercise for at least 3-4 hours before going to bed. Also, avoid over-the counter sleeping aids which may make you over sleepy when you need to be alert (driving home, for example)
  • If you have trouble getting to sleep, lavender, passion flower, hops, orange blossom, Scot’s pine, chamomile and peppermint all claim to promote sleep. And milky night time drinks really do help bring on the Zzzs.
  • The Romans thought that lettuce was good for sleep, but the crème-de-la-crème “sleep sandwich” has to be a banana, marmite and lettuce buttie: the banana and marmite contain natural substances that help induce sleep.
  • If you’re an owl, you usually go to bed late and get up late, so shift work will be less of a problem than it is for larks, who prefer to get up early and go to bed early. Bright light in the evening (you can get light bulbs with a much higher lux value than ordinary, domestic bulbs) and avoiding the dawn light by wearing sunglasses can help.
  • Maximum sleepiness occurs when your biological clock temperature is at its lowest – usually around 4am. Your personal level of alertness is controlled by your biological clock and by how much sleep you have had. Remember sleeplessness leads to poor concentration, thinking, memory, increased irritability and hostility. Alcohol magnifies these effects.
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