Erratic shift schedules linked to 'brain aging'

Working irregular shifts could be damaging an individual's everyday life, internal body clock and social life, a recent study shows.

The "Chronic effects of shift work on Cognition" study, published Monday, found that working irregular shift patterns for at least 10 years can age the brain by up to six and a half years, with the recovery period taking up to five years.

While many reports have studied the short-term impacts of shift work, such as tiredness, this study wanted to "analyse the long-term consequences of shift work on cognitive abilities," Dr Philip Tucker, part of the research team told CNBC via email.

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The findings suggest that working shifts will wreak havoc on your body, as it increases the chance of particular illnesses including metabolic syndrome, ulcers and breast cancer.

The study concluded that irregular shift work can negatively impact upon 'cognition, with potentially important safety consequences not only for the individuals concerned, but also for society', according to the journal's website.

According to a 2011 report by the Health and Safety Executive, a study over 1999 and 2009 showed that people aged between 16 to 24 years were 'most likely… (to engage) in shift work patterns'.

In 2004, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that nearly 15 million Americans work full time in shift work or on irregular schedules.

The study has been in the works since 1996, with the researchers analysing over 3200 employed and retired workers, The first batch of results took place in 1996, then five years later in 2001, and then its final measurements taken five years later in 2006.

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The study was jointly undertaken by researchers from Swansea University and Université de Toulouse, which published its findings in a journal by the Occupational & Environment Medicine.

In terms of advice, Dr Philip Tucker recommended that companies should make sure "shift workers… receive regular health checks that include assessments of mental performance, especially those who have remained in shiftwork for more than 10 years."

From the U.K.'s largest trade union, Unison's General Secretary Dave Prentis told CNBC via email that the effects of shift work "can be negated by giving employees a greater say over their shifts through flexible working, more breaks and more frequent health checks. If the Government is serious about wanting people to work longer then it must get serious about taking notice of the potential implications of shift work."