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40-Hour Work Week Is Linked To Cognitive Decline, Study Says

40-Hour Work Week Is Linked To Cognitive Decline, Study Says

Earlier this summer, a study focusing on the link between 40-hour work weeks and cognitive decline was published, and it’s got a lot of people thinking.

The study, which was first reported by Science Alert and then picked up by various outlets, showed that people over the age of 40 actually suffer from 40-hour work weeks. Cognitive decline was significant in those that worked what we now consider to be the common work week of eight hours a day, five days a week. In fact, working anything more than a 25-hour work week was deemed to be detrimental to the workforce.

But before you ask for a new work schedule, let’s go over the study and find out what it all means.

The Study

The BBC reports that the study was conducted by researchers at the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research in Australia. The study had over 6,500 participants, with over 60% of them being women. All participants were aged 40 and over, held jobs, and had different work schedules. This included people who worked part time and people who worked full time.

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How the results were measured came in the form of three separate tests, all of which tested a cognitive ability. The three main tests focused on memory, reading, and perceptive ability.

What remains unclear, however, is exactly how this study was carried out. While it is assumed that the participants were given the tests at specific intervals and during different weeks, the actual method remains a mystery.

The Results

The results, however, were crystal clear — researchers found that participants in the study that worked part time, or around 25 hours a week, showed no signs of cognitive decline when compared to those who worked full time. It is also interesting to note that participants who worked less than 25 hours a week also showed low cognitive scores, which pinpoints 25 hours as the perfect work week for everyone.

This might come as a surprise to you, especially since the common work week is nearly twice as long as the new ideal work week. But it can be explained using a few key factors that I’ll share with you below.

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Stress, Lack of Sleep, and How it Affects Cognitive Function

It’ll come as no surprise that stress affects cognitive functioning, especially at work. This is because stress has been known to contribute to neuron loss in the brain. This is an important factor to keep in mind because more studies are needed to understand how stress inflames cognitive decline for people working full time.

A lack of sleep is also considered to be a factor in cognitive decline. As we age, a suitable amount of sleep is needed to keep us at our best. But studies have begun to show that pulling all-nighters or working overtime decreases the white matter in the brain, which leads to cognitive decline.

A Word on White Matter

White matter is a phrase that comes up in a lot of cognitive decline studies, and it came up in this study as well. It refers to the pathways neurons use in our brain for communication, language, memory, perception, and more. It’s a vital factor in cognitive function.

When humans age, white matter decreases as the brain shrinks. But in people who are working overtime and aren’t getting enough sleep, the white matter decreases at a significant rate. This is a preventable problem, so make sure you get as much sleep as you need in order to be your best self at work.

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The Takeaway

This study showed that people over the age of 40 are at the risk of cognitive decline when working a 40-hour work week. However, this study only focused on that age group and did not produce results for people aged 18-40, so the results are very specific.

The takeaway is this: As humans, are we willing to risk a decline in cognitive and brain function to work full time?

This is an important question to raise. In many first-world countries, 40-hour work weeks are the norm, and as many governments raise the level for retirement — which is when various social services become available — there are serious questions raised about the workforce’s ability to operate at a high cognitive function.

But it also brings up another point: If 40-year-olds are this affected by the work week, are people under the age of 40 at risk also? Professionals often have families, which gives them extra jobs, extra stress, and could lead to some sort of cognitive decline. We will have to wait and see as new studies are conducted in this area.

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As a freelance writer who works full-time, this study was interesting in that it focused on the actual consequences that working has on the brain. It’s also led me to take into serious consideration how France and Sweden are handling the new information, with both countries taking steps to lower the work-week demands for their citizens. Switzerland also has a shorter work week when compared to Western companies.

Most of all, it has caused me to look back on my own work practices. While I can control my own stress and lack of sleep, my work schedule is something else entirely. But since I’m a freelancer, I have a freedom most don’t — I can set my own hours.

For anyone who’s reading this that works 40 hours a week, it might be time to think about making a change when it comes to your career. Learn about flexible work hour options, which many organizations are introducing, and take your vacation days. You’ve earned them.

But most of all, take the time to care for yourself. No job is worth losing cognitive function.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Last Updated on September 20, 2018

How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

Being in a hurry all the time drains your energy. Your work and routine life make you feel overwhelmed. Getting caught up in things beyond your control stresses you out…

If you’d like to stay calm and cool in stressful situations, put the following 8 steps into practice:

1. Breathe

The next time you’re faced with a stressful situation that makes you want to hurry, stop what you’re doing for one minute and perform the following steps:

  • Take five deep breaths in and out (your belly should come forward with each inhale).
  • Imagine all that stress leaving your body with each exhale.
  • Smile. Fake it if you have to. It’s pretty hard to stay grumpy with a goofy grin on your face.

Feel free to repeat the above steps every few hours at work or home if you need to.

2. Loosen up

After your breathing session, perform a quick body scan to identify any areas that are tight or tense. Clenched jaw? Rounded shoulders? Anything else that isn’t at ease?

Gently touch or massage any of your body parts that are under tension to encourage total relaxation. It might help to imagine you’re in a place that calms you: a beach, hot tub, or nature trail, for example.

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3. Chew slowly

Slow down at the dinner table if you want to learn to be patient and lose weight. Shoveling your food down as fast as you can is a surefire way to eat more than you need to (and find yourself with a bellyache).

Be a mindful eater who pays attention to the taste, texture, and aroma of every dish. Chew slowly while you try to guess all of the ingredients that were used to prepare your dish.

Chewing slowly will also reduce those dreadful late-night cravings that sneak up on you after work.

4. Let go

Cliche as it sounds, it’s very effective.

The thing that seems like the end of the world right now?

It’s not. Promise.

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Stressing and worrying about the situation you’re in won’t do any good because you’re already in it, so just let it go.

Letting go isn’t easy, so here’s a guide to help you:

21 Things To Do When You Find It Hard To Let Go

5. Enjoy the journey

Focusing on the end result can quickly become exhausting. Chasing a bold, audacious goal that’s going to require a lot of time and patience? Split it into several mini-goals so you’ll have several causes for celebration.

Stop focusing on the negative thoughts. Giving yourself consistent positive feedback will help you grow patience, stay encouraged, and find more joy in the process of achieving your goals.

6. Look at the big picture

The next time you find your stress level skyrocketing, take a deep breath, and ask yourself:

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Will this matter to me…

  • Next week?
  • Next month?
  • Next year?
  • In 10 years?

Hint: No, it won’t.

I bet most of the stuff that stresses you wouldn’t matter the next week, maybe not even the next day.

Stop agonizing over things you can’t control because you’re only hurting yourself.

7. Stop demanding perfection of yourself

You’re not perfect and that’s okay. Show me a person who claims to be perfect and I’ll show you a dirty liar.

Demanding perfection of yourself (or anybody else) will only stress you out because it just isn’t possible.

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8. Practice patience every day

Below are a few easy ways you can practice patience every day, increasing your ability to remain calm and cool in times of stress:

  • The next time you go to the grocery store, get in the longest line.
  • Instead of going through the drive-thru at your bank, go inside.
  • Take a long walk through a secluded park or trail.

Final thoughts

Staying calm in stressful situations is possible, all you need is some daily practice.

Taking deep breaths and eat mindfully are some simple ways to train your brain to be more patient. But changing the way you think of a situation and staying positive are most important in keeping cool whenever you feel overwhelmed and stressful.

Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

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