Stuck in a Windowless Cube? Why You Should Let the Sunshine In
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In the 1960s, the musicalHairfeatured a song titledLet the Sunshine In. Little did we know that it might become a clarion call against modern-day architecture. According to a recent study, poorly lit and windowless work environments can have significant adverse outcomes on mental and physical health. The key appears to be that lack of exposure to daylight inhibits our sleep.
The researchers studied 49 workers for a period of two weeks. Half were in a windowless work environment and the others were in workplaces with significantly more daylight. They were studied with an actigraph, which is a motion detector that differentiates sleep from wakefulness. The researchers also administered questionnaires that monitor quality of life and quality of sleep during this period.
The results were striking. Workers in windowless environments scored poorly on quality-of-life measures. They were more likely to complain of physical problems and fatigue. Most importantly, they demonstrated shorter sleep duration as measured by the actigraph. Similarly, other studies have demonstrated that short sleepers have more physical ills and are more fatigued than normal sleepers. What is most interesting is the influence of workplace lighting on their sleep.
Why does light exposure affect sleep? It probably has to do with our circadian clocks. Light is the strongest stimulus of all in maintaining a stable sleep/wake schedule. Specifically, light exposure during the day, especially in the morning, helps us to fall asleep at a regular time each night. It would appear that workers in poorly lit environments do not have this stimulus, and that affects their sleep.
Poor sleep results in elevation of stress hormones such as cortisol, impairment of glucose metabolism, and increased appetite, as well as increased fatigue and decreased mental alertness. All of these, the authors point out, can lead to increased error rates and injury in the workplace environment.
Why is this important? This is the first study to accurately reveal the negative effects of a poorly lit environment on sleep, and thus health. It should motivate architects to bring more light into office buildings and might encourage workers to avoid poorly lit cubicles. If you are stuck in such a building, you might consider increasing the amount of artificial light in your workspace. Alternatively, if weather permits, go outside for your morning coffee break or lunch. Like the song says,Let the sunshine in.
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