In my days working in an office, I was always most content when I worked by a window. It wasn’t the view I loved (usually all I could see was the building across the street or a garbage-cluttered alley); it was the natural light. I recall in the colder months in New York, when I was experiencing minor flare-ups of Seasonal Affective Disorder (unaware I even had it), I practically worshipped my little corner of a window. When, one day my boss decided to move everyone around, I lost that little piece of glass that had come to mean so much to me. It always seemed obvious as to why I was bummed; after all, who doesn’t like a window? But new research highlights the science behind the benefits: natural light can actually boost our wellbeing and our productivity.
The Daylight and Workplace Study conducted by Cornell University’s Dr. Alan Hedge, a professor in the department of design and environmental analysis, and commissioned by View Dynamic Glass, found that workers seated by a window that optimized natural light reported an 84 percent drop in symptoms of eyestrain, headaches and blurred vision — all symptoms associated with computer vision syndrome (aka, digital eye strain) caused by prolonged screen use. The study also found that these workers noted a two percent boost in productivity, and a 10 percent decrease in drowsiness. The research focused on workers who are in buildings that use Views’ auto-tinted “smart” windows, making the case that what your window is made of is a distinguishing factor, but the essential point stands: we thrive in natural light, a difficult fact when you consider that the average American spends 90 percent of their time indoors.
This Research May Be New, But Science Has Long Understood The Value Of Natural Light On Worker’s Health
Dr. Ashwini Nadkarni, an associate psychiatrist and an instructor at Harvard Medical School, says that the effects of light on work productivity were first noted in an experiment conducted in the mid-20th century, called the Hawthorne Effect.
“In this experiment, two groups of workers in factory were studied to determine whether light affected productivity,” says Dr. Nadkarni. “The group that had greater illumination was found to be more productive in terms of work effort and task completion.”
More light has been shed on the issue in recent years, including a 2014 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine which concluded that “architectural design of office environments should place more emphasis on sufficient daylight exposure of the workers in order to promote office workers’ health and wellbeing.”
It makes perfect sense on a neuropsychiatric level, Nadkarni reasons, because of the role the sun plays in our circadian rhythms and our sleep cycles. Natural light “helps to regulate our sleep-wake cycles, improves amount and quality of sleep — which in turn ensures that circulating levels of stress hormone are down, our glucose metabolism is normal and our fatigue levels are controlled. So performance and concentration improves.”