Over the last few decades, we have increasingly left natural light and fresh air out of our lives. Humans have constructed buildings with no windows at all for adults to work in. Schools have classrooms with no windows and our children are studying in artificial light and artificial ventilation. We have hospitals where the sick are supposed to get well with no fresh air and sunlight whatsoever.
The windows we do have are covered with blinds, shades, shutters, and curtains that many people keep closed during the day and at night. We are crawling into dark human-made holes and wondering why we don’t feel up to par.
Sunshine is essential for your overall health, and it can boost creativity in the workplace. Doctoral candidate Ivy Cheung, has been studying the effects of sunshine with Dr. Phyllis Zee in their laboratory at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Cheung and Zee’s most recent study found that workers who had a window in their office had a much better sense of health.
Stuck with a windowless office or room?
Check out these tips from Forbes for working without a window!
Exposure to natural light during the workweek tended to inspire people to exercise more. Workers with a window were also better rested: Those with windows got 46 more minutes of sleep a night on average, and the ones without windows had more sleep disturbances.
Without sleep, people tend to suffer from all sorts of other problems that could hurt their performance at work such as memory loss, slower psychomotor reflexes, depression and shorter attention spans.
Ivy Cheung and her colleagues at Northwestern believe, “the architectural design of office environments should take into consideration how natural daylight exposure may contribute to employee wellness.” (from “Impact of Workplace Daylight Exposure on Sleep, Physical Activity, and Quality of Life,” by Ivy Cheung et al in Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24932139).
In another recent study from Cornell University, researchers looked at the performance of nurses who worked long shifts during nonstandard hours. The study was published in the journal Health Environments Research and Design.
Researchers found that nurses who had access to natural light communicated better with their colleagues. They laughed more at work. They were nicer to their patients. And even their own physical health was improved.
These studies add to a growing body of evidence that suggest exposure to light and dark patterns is one of the most important aspects influencing a person’s natural circadian rhythm. These circadian rhythms affect everything from sleep and physical movement to mental well-being. Your body also uses direct sunlight to absorb required vitamins. The sun can help you jump-start your morning – if you are struggling to wake up, get some direct sunlight for a few minutes and it will help your body adjust. When it is break time, go outside into the sun or, if you’re taking a business call on your cell phone, do it outside.
A word of caution: as with anything, too much of a good thing (direct sunlight) can be harmful, especially with how powerful the sun can be in Southern California. To keep safe (according to some experts), go inside or into the shade after half the time it takes for you to turn pink– that will be enough to get some Vitamin D and help prevent skin cancer.
Enjoy the sun however you can and embrace your next best friend at work!