How Lighting Can Affect Your Work

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What kind of lighting is around you right now? If you are on a desktop computer, is there a light on your desk or a light above your head? If you are on a laptop or a tablet, is your room illuminated or are you relying on the screen’s lighting?  Are you near a window or another form of natural light?

The lighting in our workplace can have a surprising effect on our well-being and, as a result, our productivity. A recent study by the American Society of Interior Design found that that 68 percent of employees feel that the lighting in their offices is a problem, and they usually specify it as either too dim or too harsh. Poor lighting can cause a myriad of symptoms, including eye strain, headaches, fatigue and even depression.

Here are seven ways you can improve your workplace lighting:

Use natural light. Scientists with Northwestern University’s Interdepartmental Neuroscience program conducted a study that reveals a strong relationship between workplace daylight exposure and the workers’ sleep and activity levels. Compared with people who worked in offices without windows, workers with windows received 173 percent more white light exposure and slept an average of 46 minutes more per night. Those workers without windows reported lower scores on questions about their quality of life, including questions on physical problems and vitality.

Another study conducted in England found that windows were the number one determinant of employee satisfaction with a work location. The study showed that light not only affects how well we are able to see, it also impacts mood, behavior and even hormonal balance.

Scientists have discovered that our bodies are governed by circadian rhythms — biological, mental and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle and respond to light and darkness within our environment. Light is a major factor in these rhythms, effectively turning our internal clock off and on Disruptions of our circadian rhythms have been linked to sleep disorders, as well as other factors such as obesity, diabetes, depression and bipolar disorder. Many of these problems are grouped under the medical heading “seasonal affective disorder” or SAD.

Morning light helps us wake up and feel alert, while dimmer light evening night cues us to relax and go to sleep. In other words, our bodies need exposure to natural changes in light in order to run effectively. The conclusion of the Northwestern study recommended that office architects and designers take natural daylight into careful consideration for employee wellness.

Add a light box. If working near a window is not an option, consider investing in a light box. Light boxes, available from various brick and mortar and internet retailers, produce different types and intensities of light to mimic outdoor light. Most light boxes are designed to be used in the early morning to help your body wake up and become alert. Many SAD patients report noticeable improvement in their moods by using light boxes for a minimum of 30 minutes each morning. The amount of time and the strength of the lights can be adjusted on an individual basis, since everyone’s light needs vary.

Improve existing lighting. Dim lighting can cause workers to feel drowsy and can lead to eye strain. Examine the light fixtures in your workplace to see if the proper strength bulbs are being used.

By the same token, when lighting is too harsh, it can be difficult for our eyes to focus properly and can be a contributing factor to headaches.

If you are bothered by the flicker of fluorescent blubs in your workplace, try placing a full spectrum light filter over your fluorescent bulb. Another option is to ask your optometrist about wearing glasses with a light rose tint on them to counteract the effects of fluorescent lights.

Spend time outside. Try to get outside for a period of time each day. Even on cloudy days, natural light can give your mood a boost. Take a walk during your lunch break or park further from your train station if you commute to work.  Sunlight is between 50,000 and 100,000 lux (measurements of light), as compared with a standard light bulb, which has 250 to 500 lux or a light box, which reaches 10,000 lux.

Cut down on bright light at bedtime. Spending time on your e-reader or laptop in bed may seem relaxing, but the light may be keeping your body awake longer. In fact, our brains tend to react to bright light by staying awake. In addition, using bright artificial light at bedtime decreases our production of melatonin, a natural hormone that helps to regulate the sleep-wake cycle. Without enough melatonin, we not only can experience sleep problems, but our mental functions can be impaired as well.

Eliminate shadows and glare. Shadows and indirect or direct glare from lamps, windows skylights and even computer screens windows can make it difficult to work.  Here are some ideas:

  • change the position of your light source
  • change the position of  your desk
  • use more than one light source to mix direct and reflected light
  • add a lamp shade to reflect light upwards, since light reflected from the ceiling provides good visibility
  • hang lamps high over a relatively large surface area
  • use blinds, curtains, and shades when necessary
  • combine natural light from windows and skylights with ceiling and desk lights

Clean fixtures. Sometimes we forget to dust light fixtures and to clean windows and skylights and as a result, dirt and dust can accumulate on them. After three months without cleaning, the light coming from windows can be reduced 30 to 40 percent and after six months that amount can increase to 45 to 55 percent. In addition to cleaning, it’s important to regularly check office lamps and fixtures for bulbs that need to be replaced.

Finally, if you are experiencing eye strain, headaches or mood swings that go away when you are not at work and can’t be explained by other factors,  it’s time to take a close look at your office lighting.  With a few simple corrective measures, you may find yourself feeling better and getting more done.




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