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Are You in the Dark When it Comes to Workplace Lighting?

Are You in the Dark When it Comes to Workplace Lighting?

As a mother, I often find myself switching on a lamp when I see one of my kids reading in a dimly lit room. Most of us know that poor lighting can cause eyestrain and headaches. But did you know that improper lighting could impact your work productivity as well?

Lighting not only affects how well we are able to see, but it also plays a role in our moods and behaviors, according to researchers. For example, a research study by the American Society of Interior Design found that nearly 70 percent of employees surveyed classified their office lighting as either too harsh or too dim. In addition to eyestrain and headaches, these extremes can negatively affect your overall sense of wellbeing and can lead to fatigue and even depression.

When you work in a dimly lit space, your eyes must work harder to see. This strain can lead to a lack of focus and then to drowsiness. Harsh lighting, especially florescent lighting, can also cause eyestrain and discomfort and can trigger migraine headaches.

So what can you do to make sure you have optimal lighting conditions at your workplace? Here are four steps.

Use as Much Natural Light as Possible

You may stress over the type of fixture and the type of bulb, but the best lighting is natural lighting. In fact, research from Northwestern University’s Neuroscience program found a strong relationship between workplace daylight exposure and employee wellness.

People working near windows received 173 percent more white light exposure and slept an average of 46 minutes more per night than people who worked without windows. According to their responses to a series of questions, those windowless workers also were less satisfied with their quality of lives than people who worked near windows. Workers with windows reported fewer illnesses, less absenteeism, and greater job satisfaction.

Scientists have found that, like many other animals, we humans follow circadian rhythm, a 24-hour light and darkness cycle. Morning light helps us feel alert, while evening night helps us wind down in preparation for sleep.

When this natural rhythm is thrown off by unnatural light, the internal clock that regulates our sleep cycle can be disrupted. For some people, when this disruption continues, serious health problems, such as diabetes and depression, can be the result. These problems are part of what is known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Try positioning your desk near a window to get as much natural light as possible while you work. If that is not an option, consider investing in a light box. Light boxes, which come in a variety of styles and price points, mimic morning light and are adjustable since everyone’s light needs vary. SAD patients have reported an improvement in how they feel with a minimum of 30 minutes of light box exposure each morning.

Improve Existing Lighting

Now that you have maximized your natural light, it’s time to look at your artificial sources. Full spectrum light filters can reduce the harshness and glare of fluorescent light blubs in your workplace. Here are some other ideas:

  • Change the position of your desk, your light source or your computer to eliminate or at least cut down on shadows and glare. Shadows and glare from lamps, skylights, windows and computer screens windows can cause eyestrain.
  • Mix direct and reflected light by using more than one light source for your work area.
  • Reflect light up towards the ceiling with a lampshade.
  • Hang lamps from the ceiling to cover a large surface area.
  • Space your light fixtures evenly for uniform coverage and to avoid shadows.
  • Use blinds and curtains to reflect light in a different direction and/or to reduce glare when necessary.
  • If your business has areas with sudden light changes, such as rooms that need to be kept dark next to bright hallways, try to change those levels gradually to limit eyestrain.
  • Add skylights in areas that do not have windows.
  • Replace missing bulbs in lamps and fixtures.
  • Dusty and dirty light fixtures do not give proper light. Be sure to clean your fixtures on a regular basis.

Get Outside During Daylight Hours

Your mother was right. Fresh air and sunshine are good for you. Aim to get outside each day for some time in natural light. Even the natural light on cloudy days can boost your mood. Consider taking a walk at lunchtime or parking your car farther away from your place of business.

Be Aware of These Lighting Tips at Home

Do you spend time on your tablet or laptop just before bed or while you are in bed? You could be disrupting your sleep cycle. The bright artificial light from your phone or computer screen can decrease your body’s production of at melatonin, the hormone that helps regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycle. Without enough melatonin, the brain’s cognitive function can suffer as well. Aim to turn off the electronics at least 20 to 30 minutes before you go to sleep.

Lighting matters. Too much or too little can make a big difference in your workday. With a few adjustments, you may be able to add to the productivity of your team and make your workplace more inviting at the same time.

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by Tricia Drevets // Regular Contributor to Businessing Magazine. Tricia Drevets is a freelance writer who specializes in business and communication topics. A community college speech and theater instructor, Tricia lives in beautiful Southern Oregon.

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.