Increased Daylight Leads to Happy, Healthy Nurses

Studies have repeatedly suggested that when interiors are lit in a manner that replicates sunlight, a positive impact is seen in employee attitude, focus, and output. Scientific findings also reveal that the presence of windows can improve mental health. Hospital nursing units typically don’t have windows or access to white light. The Summer 2014 issue of The HERD Journal included new research related to the hospital environment, emotion, and productivity.

Previous research on office sunlight and mood

When people working in offices are provided with more sunlight or natural light, their sleep gets longer and more recuperative, their level of exercise increases, and they have better general mood than people deprived of light, according to researchers from the University of Illinois and Northwestern University.

In a June 2014 Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine article, the authors argue that humans’ natural need for daylight should be incorporated into office design. Their findings really are compelling: workers with access to significantly more sunlight – 173% – were asleep for 46 additional minutes nightly.

The sleep medicine study is just the latest evidence for the case that when natural light is added to the environment, emotion benefits. Russell Foster, a neuroscientist at Oxford University, spoke on the topic at the Cheltenham Science Festival in June 2013. His presentation summarized the wide-ranging impacts of sunlight, as indicated by the UK’s Daily Mail:

• Additional sunlight exposure can increase focus up to 100%.
• Daylight balances our circadian rhythms to allow healthy sleep, enhances attitude, and allows us to achieve tasks more efficiently.
• Regardless of office design, those suffering from a sleep disorder can reduce their symptoms by walking for a half hour each morning to realign one’s circadian rhythms.
• Senior citizens suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia experience a 10% rise in psychological clarity when they receive more daylight.
• Daylight is believed to stimulate the release of serotonin, a neurochemical often associated with happiness and contentedness.

Study of sunlight in a healthcare setting

Using the body of research briefly discussed above as its basis, the June HERD study – covered in August in Healthcare Design Magazine– focused specifically on nurses. The researchers analyzed two nursing environments. HDM noted that one of the two acute-care units had much better access to daylight and that the pair of workspaces were otherwise (structurally and medically) similar.

The report in HERD found that with more daylight, the following variables went up or down significantly:

• Blood pressure – down;
• Body temperature – up;
• Communication – up;
• Laughter – up.

In its remarks on the study, Healthcare Design Magazine suggested that the science on sunlight gives hospitals an opportunity to reconsider their staff environments, optimizing for alertness and positive mood. As providers of office interior design and space planning, we agree with that sentiment. Contact us today so that we can help you connect the power of space to patient comfort.