No other medium has as big of an influence on our bodies and minds as light. A flurry of studies in the past decade have proven that sunlight and other natural elements boost the physical and mental health of the human body. However, as individuals spend more and more time in workspaces with little to no exposure to natural sunlight, our health and well-being are negatively impacted. The deterioration of our body’s health, in return, negatively influences how well we are functioning in a professional environment. In order to keep workers healthy, energized and productive, it is essential that employers are aware of the positive effects of daylight and set out to maximize their exposure to it. Below we will explore the wealth of positive effects that natural light brings and how offices can capitalize on its benefits.
Let the Light In
When was the last time you spent an extended period of time in a windowless room? After a few hours under harsh fluorescent lights and no sign of the sun, did you start to feel disoriented? While it comes as no surprise that daylight exposure has benefits, most may be unaware of the extent to which it positively impacts their health. Take that thought one step further and consider the degree to which daylight exposure specifically affects office life, where the population spends a majority of their week. Are employees obtaining a healthy dose of natural light in their workspace?
Researchers at the Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program at Northwestern University in Chicago set out to measure just how influential daylight exposure is on the health of office workers. Their study, “Impact of Windows and Daylight Exposure on Overall Health and Sleep Quality of Office Workers,” was reported in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine in June 2014. It concludes that there is a strong relationship between workplace daylight exposure and employees’ sleep, activity and overall quality of life. Employees with windows in their workplace received 173% more white light exposure during office hours and slept an average of 46 minutes more per night in comparison to their windowless colleagues. Without access to windows and natural light, workers reported poorer scores on quality of life measures related to overall sleep quality, sleep disturbances and daytime dysfunction.
Natural light deprivation can play a detrimental role in employee performance. Memory loss, slowed psychomotor reflexes, depression and shorter attention spans lead to decreased productivity and engagement, as well as unnecessary absenteeism and “presenteeism.” Presenteeism describes the phenomenon in which workers are physically present in the workplace, but mentally removed. Both absenteeism and presenteeism result in labor-related financial losses for companies, but these losses can be reduced by incorporating biophilic design strategies and increasing the availability of natural light within an office space. Natural daylight not only increases productivity and alertness by reducing stress and boosting moods, but also supports the regulation of Vitamin D, serotonin and melatonin, all of which prevent colds and flu and thus reduces absenteeism.
Daylight and Circadian Rhythms
In addition to the aforementioned benefits, light plays a pivotal role in the human body’s circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are a body’s biological, mental and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle and respond to light and darkness within its environment. They dictate sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, body temperature and other important bodily functions. While circadian rhythms are affected by numerous environmental signals, light is the main influence. The eyes and brain receive signals from the external day and night cycles, telling the body when to be awake and when to sleep.
As employees spend an increasing amount of time indoors and in the presence of artificial light, our connection to nature can be lost along with the spectrum of daylight that maintains a normal circadian rhythm. Natural light triggers our brain to produce serotonin, a hormone that helps us stay awake and alert. In the same fashion, natural light helps our bodies convert serotonin to melatonin at night, helping us sleep soundly. In order to guarantee top performance at work and a consistent sleep schedule at home, our bodies need exposure to daylight. With an estimated 50-70 million people reporting nightly sleep loss associated with daytime impairment, it is imperative that architects, interior designers and employers remain conscious of how they incorporate biophilic design and daylight exposure to keep these statistics from increasing.
Maximizing Exposure for Healthier Workspaces
According to the Question & Retain (Q&R) Happiness in the Workplace Pulse Check, which surveyed 250,000 employees in 69 countries, over 75% of workers stated that natural light is important to them. However, only 56% of those surveyed felt satisfied with their workplace’s offering. So how do we obtain more natural light exposure within our workplaces? Regardless of design or building type, businesses can utilize several practical solutions to capitalize on the benefits of natural light.
Building orientation, window design, interior design and furnishings are just a few methods of building design that can more effectively incorporate natural light. Integrating expansive windows into a floor plan is one of the simplest solutions to maximizing natural light. For existing facilities that are unable to make drastic changes to their office structure, consider breaking down or lowering cubicles to allow natural light to flow freely within the space. Relocating employees closer to existing windows and using interior spaces for shorter meetings is also an effective tactic.
Bring Your Office to Life
Health and well-being have taken center stage in the workplace. As awareness around well-being grows so, too, will the awareness around daylight and the critical role it plays in employee productivity. The physical and mental benefits outlined here merely skim the surface of the positive effects that biophilic design can bring to the office. Maximizing the power of daylight through office design requires thought and planning by architects, interior designers and employers, but ensures employees are provided an environment that keeps them healthy, motivated and productive.
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CDI is a cutting-edge commercial furniture dealership that believes thoughtful design and strategic planning are critical components in the success of every project. We can help companies achieve their business vision and goals and help maintain your workplace investment. CDI creates functional and inspiring interiors designed to foster employee well-being, productivity and engagement.
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