How the Use of Natural Light Can Improve Office Health

Office employees with access to natural light slept for more hours each night than those without access, according to a study released by Northwestern University and the University of Illinois. Daytime light exposure also led to more effective sleep, more regular exercise, and higher life satisfaction ratings. The study was published in June by the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. The findings, said the researchers, suggest that windows are a critical component of interior design plans for the maintenance of office health.

How far is too far from a window?

Those who worked in windowless offices absorbed 37% as much white light during their work shifts and slept 46 minutes less than those whose workplaces had windows. Those without windows also more commonly reported ailments and lack of energy, and the sleep they did experience was of lesser quality and involved more interruptions.

The office health study evaluated a total of 49 employees, 22 of whom had access to windows and 27 of whom did not.

According to one of the senior authors, Phyllis Zee, M.D., the study bolsters the body of evidence that health is positively impacted by light – especially in the morning. Co-senior author Mohamed Boubekri mentioned that a specific concern when designing an office is to place workstations no more than 20 feet from windows. This advice can be used alongside knowledge from the field of ergonomics to create an office environment optimized for health.

Integrating office design with biological rhythms

The core findings of the Northwestern/Illinois studywere first released last year, and Christopher Bergland of Psychology Today complemented the report with a discussion of light in the context of circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms, the focus of chronobiologists, are adaptations in the thoughts and activities of living organisms that are synchronized with the 24-hour clock. The brain's control center for these daily cycles is the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), a bundle of 20,000 neurons within the hypothalamus without which a normal sleep-wake cycle cannot exist.

The primary influencing factor for circadian rhythms is light, which signals our bodies that it is time to be awake. In addition to controlling sleep and wakefulness, the SCN regulates temperature and manages the release of certain hormones.

These cycles are fundamental to health. If environmental conditions – such as windowless office design – interfere with the circadian rhythms, insomnia and other abnormal sleep conditions result.

Going beyond ergonomics in your office

Given the neuroscience on circadian rhythms, it's easy to see why the sleep study findings were so heavily in favor of windows. Light is just one of the many intricate components of space planning, part of a conscientious approach that is standard at Beaux-Arts Group. We continually refine our methods as new research emerges, providing cutting-edge solutions for our clients.