Researchers come up with all kinds of crazy studiesal, all in the spirit of solving complex medical and scientific challenges that expand our knowledge and can potentially lead to curing disease. Sometimes however, all the research in the world seems to only take us back to what we already know. A recent study by psychologists at University of California Berkley found that performance on learning and memory tasks are compromised by jet lag. The impact of jet lag has been closely correlated with the consequences of working shifts in research on the body’s circadian rhythms. But, learning and and memory problems can be avoided…..
This study has a new twist. It measured what happened after the jet lag conditions were discontinued, and found that it can take up to month after returning to the regular day to night schedule for the learning and memory deficits to subside. Even though the study subjects were Syrian hamsters, the study helps us re-confirm many of our past recommendations to help shift workers deal with the complex challenges arising from working shifts. The study report specifically address night shift workers, saying that they should sleep in a room with light-tight curtains shielded from outside noise in order to properly adjust to an altered sleep schedule. Reconfirming our recommendations that shift workers should maximize the use of recovery days, the study says that people should allow one day of recovery for every one-hour time zone shift days.
The study found that acute disruption of circadian rhythms resulted in persistent changes in the brain, specifically in the part of the brain that plays a key role in memory processing. Compared with the hamsters in the control group, the jet-lagged hamsters had only half the number of new neurons following regular exposure to jet lag for a month. New neurons are constantly being added in the brain; memory problems are associated with a drop in cell development and maturation in the brain.
The study researchers also point out that significant circadian rhythm disruptions can result in general malaise and gastrointestinal problems because the body’s hunger cycle is out of sync with meal times. The irritable and gloomy feelings often experienced by shift workers can be helped by maintaining connections with family and friends, especially when working odd hours. Shift workers need to focus on what they eat, particularly when working nights. For more reading on ways to mitigate the effects of working shift work read the following WorkingNights articles:
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