Windows Improve Employee Health

August 19, 2014
Aimee Simone, Associate Editor

Exposure to daylight improved the health and mood of both office employees and nurses working in an acute care facility.

Exposure to daylight improved the health and mood of both office employees and nurses working in an acute care facility.

Work environments with plenty of windows and exposure to natural light help employees sleep and feel better, recent research suggests.

In a study published in the June 2014 issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, researchers from Northwestern University analyzed the effects of daylight exposure on the health of office workers. To do so, the study authors measured the wellbeing, sleep quality, and sleep-wake patterns of 27 employees working in windowless environments and compared them to 22 employees working in offices with significant exposure to daylight.

Individuals with windows in their offices were exposed to approximately 173% more white light during work hours than those employed in offices without windows. Those who were exposed to natural light throughout the workday slept 46 more minutes each night, on average, than those with little or no light exposure.

Employees who worked without windows also reported worse scores on quality of life measures related to physical problems and vitality, as well as poorer overall sleep quality and more sleep disturbances. Those who worked in offices with windows also tended to get more physical activity throughout the work week, although this association was not significant.

"Workers are a group at risk because they are typically indoors often without access to natural or even artificial bright light for the entire day,” study senior author Phyllis Zee, MD, said in a press release. “The study results confirm that light during the natural daylight hours has powerful effects on health.”

To support the health of employees, architectural design of office environments should focus on daylight exposure, the authors of the study suggest.

The results of a similar study, published online July 27, 2014, in Health Environments Research & Design Journal, indicated that exposure to daylight can also impact health care professionals and potentially affect the patients in their care.

The research focused on registered nurses working in a hospital—a work environment that often has limited exposure to natural light. In this study, the health of nurses working in 2 wards of the same facility was measured and compared. The nurses had similar working conditions and patient populations, but 1 group had more windows at their nursing stations.

The results indicated that nurses with more exposure to natural light had lower blood pressure, communicated more with their colleagues, and laughed more than those without significant light exposure. In addition, nurses who worked with windows were in a better mood when interacting with patients. The study also found that heart rate, caffeine intake, self-reported drowsiness, and the frequency of medication errors decreased among nurses exposed to daylight, although these decreases were statistically insignificant.

“The physical environment in which the caregivers work on critical tasks should be designed to support a high-performing and healthy clinical staff,” Rana Zadeh, PhD, said in a press release. “Improving the physiological and psychological wellbeing of healthcare staff, by designing the right workspace, can directly benefit the organization’s outcomes.”