The Positives of Natural Light
A primary function of sunlight is to regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycle, known as circadian rhythm. Our bodies produce the hormone melatonin when the sun goes down, which helps us fall asleep and we stop producing Melatonin when the sun rises. While disrupting this rhythm can have negative consequences – think Daylight Savings Time… a regular circadian rhythm offers many health benefits, such as:
- Exposure to sunlight in the morning sets your clock for your entire day and helps you sleep better at night.
- Sunlight helps the body produce & regulate vitamins. Vitamin D for instance, promotes bone growth, gives the immune system a boost and helps people maintain a healthy weight.
- Daily sunlight can help fight a form of depression called Season Affective Disorder (SAD).
Lack of sunlight has negative consequences for our health and well-being — not to mention our ability to work! There are many reasons workers perform better under the stimulation of natural light.
- Better sleep patterns increase mental alertness, focus and energy
- Vitamin production prevents colds and flu, reducing absenteeism
- Less SAD equals better moods and increased productivity
Many studies have shown, when working in an office, daylight is essential for employee well-being, engagement and productivity. Research from Human Spaces, for example, demonstrated that proximity to natural elements, such as greenery and sunlight, was associated with a 15 percent increase in improved well-being and creativity, and six percent higher productivity.
There is also the strong economic benefit of natural light in the workplace: there are claims it can result in a two-to-16 percent productivity gain in office environments. In addition, The Carbon Trust, experts on resource efficiency and carbon reduction, have found that up to 40 percent of a building’s electricity use is due to lighting. Clearly, substantial savings can be made if businesses reduce the use of artificial light, using the power of natural lighting. Using daylight sensors to adjust the artificial lighting, according to the amount of natural light in a room, can reduce electricity use by up to 40-60 percent!
Of course, knowing that you need natural light is one thing, knowing how to get it is another. There are many ways to increase the amount of sunlight that enters your workspace. The most obvious way is to find an office that has more windows and/or bigger windows. Unfortunately, for many businesses, that’s not an option.
Daylight can also be “retrofitted” into existing facilities, making a sunny work area for more employees. Removing blinds and moving desks around can all help increase the amount of daylight. Many companies now place meeting rooms and lesser occupied offices towards the middle of a building to allow natural light for the main office space where most people will be working. Placing workstations within 20 to 25 feet of the peripheral walls containing the windows offers the best results. However, watch out for glare which can be as much a negative as no light at all. This can be managed with methods such as solar shading or window film.
Using appropriate materials and colors for furniture and interior finishes has a great impact on maximizing daylight. Light colored, reflective interior surfaces reflect light, while dark or textured items will absorb light. The best daylighting results were reported in spaces with light-colored interiors, smooth surfaces, and finished ceilings. Cubicle walls, furniture, and carpeting should also have light colors and reflective surfaces. Replacing drywall or fabric panels with partial or full glass allows daylight to flow into other spaces.
If all else fails, walking meetings are another great way for all staff to get a healthy dose of daylight, along with the numerous health and wellness benefits that come with a more active workforce.
Having work environments that bring out our best is becoming increasingly important. Getting daylight distribution right could be the key to creating workplaces brimming with creativity, productivity and wellbeing.