How Can Ill-Lighting Syndrome Affect Worker Health?

basement office with no windows

Everyone knows that the only thing more annoying than sitting in an office without a window is sitting in an office with a window next to someone who eats wonderful smelling food but doesn’t share! And not surprisingly, the government has made it a practice of shunting inconvenient employees into windowless, basement offices.

But is a windowless office a greater health hazard than even the overly-talkative co-worker? Recent studies suggest yes.

A team made up of architects and medical researchers at the University of Illinois conducted a study on the affects of windowless work on health. And the findings were incredible, reports FastCoDesign. People who are exposed to natural daylight at work sleep an average of 46 minutes more per night than workers without a window, and score higher on a self-reported health survey.

In fact, the participants who were exposed to natural daylight scored higher on all dimensions of the Short Form 36 health questionnaire. SF-36 is a self-reported survey of a patient’s health, consisting of eight sections. These eight sections include vitality, bodily pain, mental health, and a number of other related factors.

Sleep quality and quantity were both impacted on work and non-work days for the participants. People exposed to natural light at work slept 8 1/2 hours per night on off days, compared to 6 1/2 hours of sleep for people who are not exposed to natural light during the workday.

The workers exposed to daylight at work, despite sleeping more overall, were also found to be more active, spending even more time in natural light outside of work. The researchers speculate that people who are exposed to daylight during work may have more energy to engage in outdoor activities before or after work.

SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, mainly affects people during the winter months when the sun is out for fewer hours per day. The diminishing of daylight reaching the eyes can disrupt the circadian rhythm.

Working in a windowless office or on the night shift, though, may be a sort of chronic form of SAD. The term proposed for the condition, Ill Lighting Syndrome, has yet to catch on with researchers or the general public, but a number of studies have been done on it. At least one study argues that, “Creating healthy indoor lighting can be a simple form of preventive medicine.”

With all of the new legislation and debate over public healthcare, and the government’s willingness to impose efficiency standards on the lighting industry, are health standards next? Could lighting design and retrofits for improved health begin to be overseen by OSHA, Obamacare, and the Department of Energy?

Employees in windowless offices and whistleblowers in the basement of government offices around the country can only hope.

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Nick Heeringa

Nick is a writer, publisher and editor for the Topbulb blog. Check back often for more of his writing on lighting applications and announcements for the Topbulb website and blog!