We all know how great it feels to wake up on a Monday morning to the sight of sunlight streaming through the bedroom curtains. We are instantly more energised for the day ahead compared to the dark and cold mornings of the winter and the feeling of doom and gloom! Over the years numerous studies have been conducted into the impact of natural light or the lack of it on our wellbeing. The impact is often underestimated when buildings are designed, leaving workers, visitors and employers suffering as a result.
Before the 1940s, daylight was the primary light source in buildings with artificial lights supplementing the natural light. Over the past 20 years, electric lighting has transformed the workplace by meeting most or all of the occupants’ lighting requirements. In modern times, environmental and energy consumption concerns have made daylighting a rediscovered aspect of building lighting design. The physics of daylighting has not changed since its original use, but the building design to use it has. Daylighting is often integrated into a building as an architectural statement and for energy savings purposes. However, benefits from daylighting extend beyond architecture and energy consumption. The psychological and physiological aspects of natural light should also be considered.
No one wants to turn up at work to find that their desk is situated in a room with no natural light and even worse no windows at all but being purely reliant on artificial light, which some may describe as working in a cupboard. The thought of spending the majority of your day in a dark and drab environment is depressing enough just thinking about it.
Researchers at the Interdepartmental Neuroscience program at Northwestern University in Chicago, reported in 2013 that the detrimental impact of working in a windowless environment is a universal phenomenon. A study titled, “Impact of Workplace Daylight Exposure on Sleep, Physical Activity, and Quality of Life,” concluded that there is a strong relationship between workplace daylight exposure and office workers’ sleep, activity and quality of life.
The study showed that compared to workers in offices without windows, those with windows in the workplace received 173 percent more white light exposure during work hours and slept an average of 46 minutes more per night. Workers without windows reported lower scores than their counterparts on quality of life measures related to physical problems and vitality. They also had poorer outcomes in measures of overall sleep quality, sleep efficiency, sleep disturbances and daytime dysfunction.
The research highlights the importance of exposure to natural light on employee health and the priority architectural designs of office environments should place on natural daylight exposure for workers.
Co-lead author Mohamed Boubekri, an Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign stressed that “Architects need to be aware of the importance of natural light not only in terms of their potential energy savings but also in terms of affecting occupants’ health”.
“A simple design solution to augment daylight penetration in office buildings would be to make sure the workstations are within 20 to 25 feet of the peripheral walls containing the windows”.
Exposure to natural light has been directly linked to greater workplace performance, with the absence of windows positively correlated with workplace stress. A study into the psychological aspects of lighting by B.L. Collins found that 35% of employees instantly identified the absence of natural light as the major concern associated with their office environment, resulting in feelings of isolation, tension and claustrophobia.
So it would seem that having access to natural daylight is a necessity if you are to have a happy and productive workforce and therefore should be considered in the design of any building. With the growing popularity of bi-fold doors and the trend of outdoor-indoor living, maybe it is time to treat your employees to a daily dose of daylight in order to keep the doctor away.