Need a Bright Idea?

Office lighting isn't just leaving you sluggish, it may be affecting your sleep. 

Your 9 to 5 may be affecting your sleep routine.

Looming deadlines and busy schedules are not just leaving employees feeling sluggish—it is much worse. The sleep deficit epidemic is a vicious cycle in many offices, slashing productivity and leading to long-term mental and physical health conditions. The average professional clocks six hours and 28 minutes of sleep against the recommended seven to eight hours. What may seem like a negligible difference adds up to an ongoing habit that is difficult to correct with a weekend of sleeping-in. This shortage of sleep cuts into time the brain needs for cognitive functioning, behavioral and emotional well-being, hormone balance, and for restoring and maintaining our physical health. More than leaving you feeling like a zombie, borrowing from your sleep bank account withdraws from the rest our bodies and brains need to function the way they were designed. While you sleep your brain is forming new connections, building memories, and organizing information gathered throughout the day. A lack of sleep disrupts hormone levels tied to overeating and interrupts repairs made on your cardiovascular, nervous, and muscular systems and is linked to higher risks for obesity, diabetes, and several other diseases.


How lighting at work affects our sleep at home

An office with bad lighting and a lack of natural light could be making the problem worse. The constantly “on” office with harsh florescent lighting and lensed fixtures exacerbates the agitated circadian rhythms and is rarely tuned to the distinctions our body needs to signal alertness in the morning, as well as prepare us for a better sleep in the latter part of the day. Time off the clock, particularly time spent asleep, directly impacts “on the clock” performance in four key areas: attention and concentration, reaction time, decision-making, and memory. The Associated Professional Sleep Societies found that 23 percent of the workforce struggles with insomnia—each costing employers eight days of productivity per year totaling $2,280 annually per person. Missing sleep also impacts employee emotional and organizational performance, making it difficult to stay focused on day-to-day goals and in meetings, respond appropriately to unexpected challenges, or manage frustrating social situations.


Lighting the future of workplaces

So, can better lighting help? Yes. Corgan designs spaces implementing WELL concepts, a performance-based system for measuring, certifying, and monitoring features of a built environment that impact health and well-being, for office environments. Our clients have discovered the role of lighting in the workplace and the benefits of circadian tuned lighting in helping increase productivity, mitigate some of that sluggishness sleep-deprived employees come in with, and even start to prepare us for a better night’s sleep. It’s time to stop hitting snooze on the problem of sleep deprivation and explore lighting interventions that help employees sleep, work, and feel better throughout the day.


1. Back to basics: Color, quantity, and temperature

References to circadian-tuned lighting can have many meanings. The most important aspect of office lighting is to remember quantity of light or brightness. The optimal color temperature in an office environment is 3500 Kelvin for general lighting. If color is shifted, it should be in the afternoon toward a slight red or amber addition to boost alertness. Working in dimly lit space keeps the body confused into producing melatonin at the time it should not, morning through afternoon. Quantity of light should feel as though it tracks the natural daylight: ramping up to greater quantity in the morning until afternoon, then decreasing as the day goes into late afternoon and early evening.


2. Circadian tuned lighting

Synchronizing indoor lighting to provide more appropriate lighting for instinctive physical and psychological rhythms better facilitates rest during “off” hours and can encourage alertness during traditional work hours. Start the morning with warm dim light that becomes brighter as the day’s routines begin. Do not work the entire day in low light levels—doing so will inhibit the body’s natural cycles. Take breaks in bright natural light or work early into the afternoon facing an exterior exposure. Afternoon light with a higher percentage of red light increases alertness without affecting melatonin production. In the later hours of the workday, opt for lower light levels or daylight views avoiding harsh light on work surfaces. Lighting that mimics the sun in intensity helps the body respond by producing melatonin as natural daylight begins to fade—signaling our mind and natural hormones to follow the logical path of preparing to relax and unwind. The natural reaction is to wrap up for the day and prepare for sleep.

Proper lighting in the office increases bright ideas and decreases afternoon slumps. (Source: Corgan)


3. Customization options

Lighting should be matched to the task at hand, but personalization of lighting levels can often prove challenging for the whole office. That doesn’t mean you have to settle for a one-size-fits-all approach. Shades can be adjusted throughout the day or for specific areas—offering the option for less light during presentations or more light for those who need it without having to commit to extended periods of very low light levels. Individual desk lights can help personalize spaces without disrupting the entire department. These task lights could have a warmer color temperature than the overhead lights to help provide an extra boost of alertness for the job.


4. Hidden light sources

Light sources are not always the most obvious—in fact, we can’t escape the effect of light on our well-being. But a few proactive measures can help mitigate or prevent the potentially negative impact hidden light sources or even seasonal shifts can have on our physical and mental health. The cumulative effect of lighting from mobile devices, televisions, and screens can add up, so keep a distance between you and the monitors at your workstation and, if possible, try a warmer temperature setting on your desktop or cell phone as the evening approaches. Task lights should be warmer in color than the overall office settings especially as the afternoon sets in.

Seasonally, light therapy can help combat the “winter slump.” Providing the option of very bright light source for employees to use during the morning hours can help clear the hormones and give a burst of energy mid-day. Daylight exposure is the best treatment for mood and sleep deprivation—increasing melatonin levels naturally with bright sunlight in the daytime and darkness at night.


5. The most common mistake?

Too little good light and too much bad light. Glaring fixtures and overly illuminated surfaces may seem bright, but they actually cause discomfort and tiring eyestrain. Lower light levels with better control and source shielding in combination with daylight views, actual daylight, and localized task lighting create a much more invigorating space while providing the healthiest long-term environment.


The bright idea

After designing over 50 million square feet of workplace interiors in the past five years including the first WELL Certified building in Texas, Corgan is empowering clients with the research and expertise they need to prepare for the next generation of healthy, more human buildings. With employees spending 90% of their time indoors, Corgan and WELL help clients identify common shortcomings and practical, budget-friendly interventions to care for their building’s biggest asset—the people inside.

About the Author

Michael Janicek
Senior Lighting Designer

Michael has practiced in the field of lighting design for over 30 years. Working with internationally recognized architects and interior designers across the country, he has completed projects as large as national monuments to as fragile as the da Vinci manuscripts. Having won numerous national and international awards for creativity, innovation and energy efficiency, Michael brings broad experience and a novel approach to each project. In addition to working on the first WELL Certified building in Texas, his experience includes work at Toyota North American Headquarters, 7-Eleven Headquarters, and American Airlines’ DFW Administration Building.

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