Why Your Office Is Making You Sleepy
According to many recent estimates, Americans spend more than 90% of their time indoors. Meanwhile a rapidly growing body of scientific research suggests that inadequate lighting in the workplace interferes with the quality of life, causing health problems, drowsiness, mood swings, and reduced productivity.
Every lifeform on the planet has its own internal clock. The subtle interaction between the amount of light available and brain centers dictates the rhythm of hormonal secretion and their interaction. For example, inadequate lighting patterns can interfere with growth hormone (GH) secretion which in adults has the predominant role in speeding up healing and restoration processes throughout the body.
What makes ideal lighting conditions?
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Exposure to inadequate working or living conditions over time causes serious health problems. Doctors sometimes refer to this phenomenon as Sick Buildings Syndrome. According to research, the leading culprit of office workers’ health woes is poor lighting and it has a clear connection to eye pain . Another study published in 2011 by Kholasezadeh showed a strong correlation between poor lightning and fatigue, headache, depression, tiredness, general discomfort and loss in productivity .
How bad is bad lighting?
When it comes to light, the mere presence of it does not mean it’s adequate. Quite often, it takes a while for building occupants to notice something is wrong in their working environment. They may notice symptoms such as drowsiness, headaches or depression but won’t necessarily attribute them to poor lighting conditions. Meanwhile the mistakes made while suffering through these symptoms can cost companies significant amounts of money, and more important, the health and even lives of their employees.
Achieving optimal lighting is much more challenging than merely turning on a few more light bulbs or using blinds. Dr. Alan Hedge is one of the most cited ergonomists in the world. His entire work is focused on answering one (seemingly) simple question: How to design a perfect working environment that will maximize workers comfort and productivity? Over the past three decades, he has published more than 250 scientific articles and wrote over 50 book chapters on the subject of the working environment. Currently, Dr. Hedge is a professor in the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis, Cornell University.
The best medicine for the office is the right amount of natural light
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During the Fall of 2017, Dr. Hedge compared two groups of workers: those who work in offices with traditional windows and those who worked in offices with self-tinting, dynamic or “smart windows”. Professor Hedge had full autonomy over all aspects of research, particularly the survey design and data analysis. Workers were surveyed about a sense of wellness, happiness, work-related performance and overall experience in their working environment. To clarify, “smart windows” tune the amount of light they let in based on outside conditions to ensure that people inside the building always have the optimal light conditions. On bright sunny days, smart windows tint more while on cloudy days they tint less, always ensuring that the indoor light levels are optimal and there is no glare.
Computer Vision Syndrome
Sub-optimal lighting for more than 3 hours a day causes Computer Vision Syndrome symptoms: double or blurred vision and tension headaches. In the offices with optimized lighting conditions, the incidence of Computer Vision Syndrome was significantly reduced.
Workers included in the study reported a 51% drop in the eyestrain and 63% drop in the incidence of headaches.
The productivity of the workers in the offices with smart windows (optimal lighting conditions) increased for the equivalent of $100,000/year for every 100 workers- that’s $2 million of additional value over the course of the expected smart window’s lifetime.
The Bottom Line
Humans spend way too much time indoor in sub-optimal lighting conditions which can cause serious health issues such as depression, fatigue, malaise, drowsiness, eye strain, headaches, skin dryness, general productivity and loss in comfort.
Photo credit Madan Babu
Despite their best intentions, companies are unwittingly detracting from their employees’ health and performance by limiting their access to natural light.
As companies increasingly look to empower their employees to work better and be healthier, it is clear that placing them in office spaces with the optimal amount of natural light should be one of their first considerations.
These findings are a wake-up call to every executive who wants to maximize the wellness and productivity of their workforce.
If you are working in an office with sub-optimal natural light and you feel tired, speak up to management and suggest they look into solutions like View Dynamic Glass. Many companies have employee suggestion programs that make it easy to do this. And until a better solution is in place, take a break and walk outside to absorb natural light – it’s medicine for your well-being.
 Jafari, Mohammad Javad; Khajevandi, Ali Asghar; Mousavi Najarkola, Seyed Ali; Yekaninejad, Mir Saeed; Pourhoseingholi, Mohammad Amin; Omidi, Leila; Kalantary, Saba (2015-01-01). “Association of Sick Building Syndrome with Indoor Air Parameters”. Tanaffos. 14 (1): 55–62
 Kholasezadeh G, Mirmohammadi Meybodi S, Mehrparvar A, Tafti F, Abedinzadeh M, Nourani Yazdi F. Assessment of sick building syndrome among office workers in Shahid Sadoughi University of medical sciences in 2008. Iran Occupational Health. 2011; 8( 1): 70– 6.
Cameron Craig, Storyteller, View Inc.