Working Rotating Shift or Jet Lag Can Negatively Impact Memory

Do you know how you feel after a long airplane trip — a little disoriented and it takes a little longer to get your bearings? Most people call it “jet lag,” but there may be more to it. A study of chronic jet lag found that long after daily routines were back to normal brains were affected in ways that cause memory and learning problems.

Psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley, tested hamsters for signs of   memory and learning decline after undergoing the equivalent of a New York-to-Paris airplane flight – six-hour time shifts, twice a week for a month. The study was not just about jet lag, but to see if a shift in schedule would have any effect on memorizing, memory and learning as well.

There was no surprise hamsters in the jet lag (shift change) group had trouble learning simple tasks, while the control group (regular day shift) had no problem, but they were surprised that the problems still persisted when they were rechecked a month later, after the jet lag group had returned to a regular schedule.

The report, published in the journal PLoS ONE, showed the hamsters in the shift change/jet lag group had half the number of newly matured neurons in the hippocampus a month after the month-long exposure to jet lag. The hippocampus, part of the brain critical to memory processing, is known to constantly add new neurons that are important for learning. In addition, the reduction in cell maturation of the new neurons in the hippocampus is directly related to memory problems.

The jet lag effect occurs when our internal clock, that runs on a 24-hour,circadian rhythm is reset, like when a person enters a time zone as a result of East-West jet travel, that is not synched with his or her internal clock. The longer the disruption, the longer it takes to reset this daily rhythm, until the internal clock gets re-synched.

The study suggests that people who regularly alternate between day and night shifts, or rotate shift work – like flight attendants and medical residents, have been found to have decreased reaction times, learning and memory problems, reduced fertility, and higher incidences of diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and cancer.

This article was shared by two time USA Memory Champion and memory speaker, Ron White

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