Shift work and cognition in the Nurses' Health Study

Am J Epidemiol. 2013 Oct 15;178(8):1296-300. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwt214. Epub 2013 Sep 27.


Rotating night-shift work, which can disrupt circadian rhythm, may adversely affect long-term health. Experimental studies indicate that circadian rhythm disruption might specifically accelerate brain aging; thus, we prospectively examined shift-work history at midlife as associated with cognitive function among older women in the Nurses' Health Study. Women reported their history of rotating night-shift work in 1988 and participated in telephone-based cognitive interviews between 1995 and 2001; interviews included 6 cognitive tests that were subsequently repeated 3 times, at 2-year intervals. We focused on shift work through midlife (here, ages 58-68 years) because cognitive decline is thought to begin during this period. Using multivariable-adjusted linear regression, we evaluated mean differences in both "average cognitive status" at older age (averaging cognitive scores from all 4 interviews) and rates of cognitive decline over time across categories of shift-work duration at midlife (none, 1-9, 10-19, or ≥20 years). There was little association between shift work and average cognition in later life or between shift work and cognitive decline. Overall, this study does not clearly support the hypothesis that shift-work history in midlife has long-term effects on cognition in older adults.

Keywords: circadian rhythm; cognition; nurses; shift work.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aging / physiology
  • Aging / psychology
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Middle Aged
  • Nurses / psychology*
  • Occupational Health
  • Work Schedule Tolerance / psychology*