5 Ways Working Overtime can Ruin Your Brain

5 Ways Working Overtime can Ruin Your Brain

Our work defines our lives, pretty much everywhere in the world. The huge strides we have made in technologies, and the increasing demand of the global economy means that we humans are expected to put in more and more hours of work – for work is supposedly far more convenient now.

But do our brains think that way? Turns out, no. Recent research seems to indicate our evolutionary rate as humans are much, much slower than the speed with which technology and economy is progressing.

Know who takes the toll of this disparity? That’s right, your brain.

So the more technology enables you to find more time for work, the more you are stretching your brain’s natural capacity of work.

June 3rd is celebrated as Leave the Office Early Day in the USA. It’s a holiday to remind ourselves to prioritize the life outside work that you are missing out on. It is also a time to think about the impact your work life is having on your brain.

So what does working overtime do to you?

A 2009 study published in The Journal of American Epidemiology concurred that working 55 hours or more in a week could result in impaired cognitive abilities like memory and decision-making. A 2016 study found similar effects in people over 40 who work about 40 hours a week. A whole host of factors are thrown out of balance when you work past your brain’s capacity, including sleep, physical exercise, lifestyle habits etc. All of these factors can contribute in a steady decline in your cognitive functions as you age.

  1. Your brain gets saturated with information

You receive stimuli and information from all sides when you are at work; your brain is instinctively receiving and processing those. The longer you spend at work, the more information your brain has to receive and process. But it can only process so much. So after a point, knowledge processing gets slower, and your brain is riddled with information you don’t know what to do with. This contributes to significant impact on your working memory and thought processing.

  1. You get stressed

Work requires us to stay alert and focused. This means no matter what stress-relieving measures we take, we are still in the fight-or-flight mode for long hours. Large part of our alertness comes from the hormone cortisol. But an excess of cortisol can put you in a state of chronic stress, which can lead to myriad other health problems.

  1. Sedentary lifestyle

Unless your work requires physical skills, spending long hours at work can severely cut down on your physical movements. One of the biggest problems assailing the global workforce today is the pitfalls of a sedentary lifestyle, which is ironically a direct result of all the convenience-based technology we have invented to save time. Less physical exercise is just as bad for your brain as it is for your body. A sedentary lifestyle limits blood flow to the brain, throws the natural flow of stress-relieving hormones like serotonin and dopamine off-balance, and contributes to obesity and heart issues – both of which have direct consequences for your cognitive performance.

  1. Lack of sleep

Lack of sleep is the single-most common issue in today’s workforce, and working overtime just compounds it. We live in a very fast-paced world and try to cram in as much as possible in 24 hours. Since there’s always more to do, we make that extra time by cutting down on our rest. Doctors advise at least 7 hours of sleep in general, but a lot us are making do with 4-5 hours each night. The brain needs to recover from all the grinding of the way. And more importantly, there are several important cognitive processes that take place only when we are deeply asleep and fully at rest – for example, our learning abilities and long-term memory.

  1. Affects long term memory and learning

Our long-term memory is formed over a long time, and the consolidation process takes place when we sleep. When we don’t rest our brain properly, this consolidation process gets hit. The information we have received throughout the day and has not been processed fully, now just gets discarded because we are not giving our brains enough time to consolidate in memory. Naturally, our learning capacities get hindered in the process. We easily forget things we learn because our brain is not able to fully process them.


Work is important – no argument there. But what if it costs you the very thing that makes work possible – your brain? This Monday you may leave the office early for a day, but also think about the effects overworking can have you in long-term.




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