Not Getting Natural Light at Work May Be Bad for You

Cubicles in office --- Image by ? 2/Noel Hendrickson/Ocean/Corbis
Photo: Noel Hendrickson/Corbis

We already know that sitting is very bad for you. Now there’s another silent office menace to worry about: a lack of natural light. A new study (PDF) in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine examined 49 office workers, about half of whom said their desks were in windowless offices (or far enough away form windows so that they got no natural light), while the other, luckier half sat near windows and therefore got natural light. The authors had the workers answer a variety of self-report measures on sleep and physical well-being, and also outfitted some of them with devices that measured their activity levels, light exposure, and sleep patterns.

The results? The group that had access to natural light slept about 46 minutes more per night, had fewer physical problems, felt more vital, and appeared to engage in more physical activity (although this last difference wasn’t statistically significant). Now, this was a pretty small study built off of a “convenience sample” of workers who volunteered to be studied, which isn’t a totally ideal setup, and the researchers didn’t look at certain other characteristics of the workers that could explain the observed differences (they did, however, check to see if there were any notable differences between the light and no-light groups, and there weren’t). 

But it’s far from crazy to think that a lack of natural light could have negative health effects. As the researchers put it, “[e]xposure to light-dark patterns is one of the main environmental cues for circadian rhythms that influence approximately 24-hour biological, mental, and behavioral patterns such as sleep and activity.” So if you don’t get any light at work, try to at least get outside for a few minutes, at least until we know more about how this stuff works.

Oh, and happy Monday!