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America’s 40-Hour Workweek Is Dumbing You Down

by
author image Hillary Eaton
Hillary Eaton is a writer and editor living in Los Angeles whose work has appeared in VICE, Refinery29, LA Weekly and Complex. She loves writing about food, entertainment, travel and style.
America’s 40-Hour Workweek Is Dumbing You Down
Work may be affecting your cognitive functions. Photo Credit littlehenrabi/iStock/Getty Images

For hardworking Americans, the 40-hour workweek is largely a thing of the past. More and more people are working longer hours. And while you may think extra stress is the only negative impact of working more, there’s actually another, more surprising effect on your health as well: It will actually dumb you down.

According to a recent study put out by the Melbourne Institute, people that work less than 40 hours per week are brainier than their harder-working counterparts. So all those hours you’ve been slaving away on the job may actually have been taking a toll on your brain.

The study, which looks at the way work influences cognitive ability, tests the idea that if you don’t “use it, you’ll lose it” when it comes to your brain. But instead of proving the age-old adage, what the study found from observing and testing a series of workers was actually quite surprising. If you are working more than 25 hours per week your cognitive abilities and functions will be negatively impacted.

Such negative cognitive impacts include inability to maintain attention, decreased ability to remember, lowered scores of crystalized intelligence (the ability to use learned knowledge and experience), decreased attention to detail and decreased motor function, just to name a few.

In fact, the cognitive function in subjects who worked more than 40 hours per week took a sharp dive. An alarming thought considering the average American workweek is now at 47 hours, which equates to roughly six days a week. Translation? We’re collectively dulling our brains.

And it doesn’t look like the trend of overworking ourselves is slowing anytime soon. According to CNN, four in 10 workers report working more than 50 hours a week. If that wasn’t enough, Americans also receive the least amount of vacation time, with an average of about 15 days a year. For comparison, Europe received an average of about 28 days of vacation time a year.

The study does, however, point out that not working is not the answer. In fact, for those who worked up to 25 hours per week, cognitive abilities enjoyed a significant improvement. So there actually is an upside to clocking in.

Conversely, working 60 or more hours a week showed extremely detrimental results on cognitive function. Meaning that if you have to choose between being overworked and not working at all, not working at all is actually way better for you.

Is it just us, or is dropping everything and taking that “Eat, Pray, Love”-style trip around the world sounding really good right about now?

What Do YOU Think?

How many hours do you work per week? Do you feel like your cognitive abilities suffer on busy workweeks? What do you do to stay sharp? Let us know in the comments!

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