Study: Staff sleep better when they get more natural light at work

New research has found that people who work in offices that get high levels of natural light sleep for an average of 37 more minutes each night and are better at decision making.

The study, which was carried out by researchers at the University of Illinois, saw 30 workers spend a week in an office with windows mostly covered by a fabric blind, followed by a week in an office that had electronically tinted glass, which can be adjusted to maximise daylight. The office spaces were identical in layout and furnishings, with the only difference being the lighting.

After working in both environments, the participants were able to sleep better after working in the office with more daylight. They found that they were able to get an average of 37 minutes more rest after a day in the office with natural lighting when compared to the space with artificial lights.

The findings also highlighted the fact that those that already had poor sleep habits benefitted most from the exposure to natural light when compared to those with healthier levels of sleep.

In addition, the subjects undertook strategic thinking tests to compare their decision-making ability in both environments. When spending time in the office with lots of natural light, they scored 42% more on average than when they were in the space with artificial lighting.

It was also discovered that performance benefits increased through the week as workers received more light exposure, with the highest scores being recorded at the end of each session.

The 30 volunteers were split into two groups of 15, with care taken to balance the demographics of each set. One group began in the artificially lit office and the other in the one with plenty of natural light, swapping after one week. Researchers used wrist-worn devices to track the sleep quality of each participant, ensuring that the data collected was as accurate as possible.

When published, the paper indicated that sleep and cognitive functions were affected after just one day in each office space. The impact then grew over the week, with improvements visible in almost all of the participants.

What do the findings of the study mean?

One of the key recommendations to come out of the study is that businesses should look to design their workspaces with access to natural light in mind. If workers can get higher levels of exposure to daylight, then they will benefit from better sleep and better performance on the job.

This will come full circle for companies too, as they will be at the advantage of having a happier and more focused workforce. And, because sleep is intricately linked with better health in the long run, a business could benefit operationally, with better mental health for staff and less sick leave taken.

What about during lockdown for COVID-19?

While the study is important for highlighting the benefits of light in the workplace, it takes on a new significance in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

As we’re still at a point where many people are having to work from home and are being advised to stay indoors, the study is useful as it shows the importance of getting as much sun as possible. But, for many, this might be more difficult when not working in a purpose-built office environment or having to stay inside as much as possible due to the risks outside.

To help you enjoy the benefits found by the study, here are a few lockdown tips to help you boost the amount of natural light you are getting:

  • Choose a room with plenty of light: Try to work in a room that has plenty of natural light, such as a space with big, sun catching windows or a conservatory.
  • Sit near to a window: If your home doesn’t get a lot of light, try to work in a spot that really maximises the amount you get. Try sitting directly in front of a window that gets some sun.
  • Consider working outside: If you have access to a garden or balcony, try to spend some time working outdoors in the sun. This should be easier to do as the British weather improves.
  • Add more reflective surfaces: By adding reflective surfaces, such as a mirror or glass table, to a room, you can ensure that any light you do get is amplified around the space.
  • Invest in a SAD lamp: A medical-grade SAD lamp is usually used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder but, as it’s designed to simulate daylight, it may prove beneficial during lockdown.
  • Get outside more (if you can safely do so): If you can, try and increase the amount of time you spend outside, preferably when you’re getting daily exercise.

Hopefully this new study has highlighted the benefits of getting as much sun as possible when you are working. You can stay up to date on the latest sleep related developments on the Dormeo blog or in our advice centre.

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