Light up: why bright workplaces make people happier

The more natural light office employees are exposed to, the better they sleep, the more active they are, and the happier they feel, according to a new study from Northwestern University and the University of Illinois.

Researchers spoke to 49 office workers, 22 of whom worked in rooms with windows. They also monitored how much light exposure, exercise and sleep the workers had using a wearable device. They found that people who work in a room with windows have 173% more exposure to light during the day than those in artificially-lit workplaces.

On quality of life questionnaires, employees exposed to natural light consistently scored better when it came to physical health and mental wellbeing, reported long and better quality sleep, and overall were just more likely to be winning at life. (Excuse me one second while I drag the dining room table my desk closer to the window…)

The scientists say that this difference in scores underlines just how important light is for wellbeing. ‘There is increasing evidence that exposure to light during the day, particularly in the morning, is beneficial to your health via its effects on mood, alertness, and metabolism,’ said Dr Phyllis Zee, a sleep specialist and senior author of the study. Apparently the sweet spot for a desk is around six metres from the window.

Co-lead author Professor Mohamed Boubekri from the University of Illinois said that architects need to respond to this information by making access to natural light for all employees a priority when designing office blocks in future. Not only would this be the nice thing to do, but happier employees are more productive.

Image via Bakoko’s Flickr.

Diane Shipley