Light Up Your Life In A Better Lit Office

Your work environment can make a big difference in your well-being.
Marsha Lewis, Contributing Producer

(Inside Science TV) – Your boss, the paperwork, long hours, the stress … all of this affects your health. But there's something else at the office that could impact your well-being: the kind of light exposure you experience.

"When you're exposed to bright light … You're more awake. More energetic," said Phyllis Zee, a neurologist and sleep specialist at Northwestern University in Chicago.

"Light really impacts all of those. It will impact your snacking behavior, your productivity, your sleep ... so it has impacts even beyond the workplace," said Ivy Cheung, a PhD candidate in neuroscience at Northwestern University.

But the kind of light you're getting can be the difference between night and day.

"What we found was those individuals that had a window in their office [meaning that they were exposed to more natural light], versus those who did not [meaning they relied on indoor light fixtures], that their self-reported health, how well they felt about their health quality, was improved, was higher with those with windows," said Zee.

The people who worked near windows also reported getting about 46 more minutes of sleep per night and having an overall better mood than people who worked away from windows.

"And what I thought was fairly surprising, was that they were also more likely to be physically more active," she remarked.

But how much of the right kind of light are you getting?

The intensity of the light in an area is measured in something called lux.

"If you're outside on a sunny day, it's about 100,000 lux. If it's a cloudy day and your outside and you're looking at the sky, it's about 10,000 lux," said Zee.

When it comes to indoor lighting, even well-lit offices only emit about 200 lux.

Neurologists and sleep experts at Northwestern University used special watches to track office workers' light exposure, movements and sleep patterns.

"We found that workers who had windows in their workspaces had about 173 percent more light exposure during work," said Cheung.

These employees got more and better quality sleep and were more physically active. Light exposure even affected their weight.

The researchers also found that the time of day  individuals were exposed to light made a difference in their health.

"Those individuals who had a light exposure of a lux level of intensity of 500 lux or higher, if they got that more in the morning, they were leaner than those who had the light exposure later in the day," Zee said.

So even the timing of your light exposure is important.

"If you had to choose a time … morning light is the most important light," said Zee.

What do you do if you don't have a window in your office? Fake it! With a light box or light emitting goggles.

Using either the light box or goggles just thirty minutes a day can trick your body into thinking you're getting the light it so desperately craves. But if this isn't your style … take your next conference call outside, or eat lunch near a window.

"One of the key messages that increasing exposure to light, whether it's natural or artificial, can be beneficial to one's overall physical health and mental health and also work performance and productivity," said Zee.

Get Inside The Science:

Natural Light In The Workplace Increases Health

Phyllis Zee, Northwestern University

Ivy Cheung, Northwestern University

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Author Bio & Story Archive

Marsha Lewis is a freelance producer based in California.  She has won 11 National Telly Awards and nine Regional Emmy Awards for her work in local and national syndicated news.

I’ve dedicated my time to reporting and producing stories focused on medical, science and technology. I created a nationally award winning series dedicated to promoting women and their great accomplishments.  Now I’ve taken that expertise outside the traditional TV news format and broadened the viewership to people around the world.