How Office Lighting Can Support Circadian Rhythm and Increase Worker Productivity

| By Liz Alton

Did you know that office lighting can impact employees’ circadian rhythm and change their overall productivity, mood and health?

Everyone has a circadian rhythm: an internal clock that responds to lighting and signals your body and brain when it’s time to wake up and go to sleep. Daylight is made up of numerous light spectrums, and as natural light varies from morning to night, individuals’ melatonin levels correspond with exposure. Ideally, levels of melatonin should be low during waking hours but increase closer to bedtime.

BuildingGreen notes that people spend an average of 87 percent of their time indoors. As people spend less time outdoors, they have less exposure to the natural rhythms of daylight. However, technology has evolved to allow indoor lighting to mimic the effects of natural light in an office, helping to optimize people’s circadian rhythms and improve mood and productivity. With an increasing number of corporations paying more attention to employee health and well-being, this aspect of office design has become a greater priority.

It’s important to provide the right lighting (in terms of both intensity and color) during business hours. Here’s how the cutting-edge amenity of circadian lighting systems can support office workers throughout the day.

Waking Up: The Energy of Natural Light

Gradual changes in lighting intensity, color spectrum and temperature (that mimic the changing sky during sunrise) can help maximize feelings of alertness when a person is first awake. Fortunately, there has been a surge in products that create this experience and allow people to wake up without the shrieking of an alarm clock or ringing of a cellphone.

As New York Magazine reports, tabletop lamps like the Philips Wake-Up Light provide the experience of “a private sunrise” by creating naturally changing light levels. For office managers and those responsible for design, providing office light that changes throughout the day (using a lighting kit like Philips Hue White Ambiance) can be a great way to keep a team feeling focused, comfortable and motivated.

Focusing: The Power of Cool Light

Time.com notes that the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has found that office workers often focus better under lights with a cooler color temperature, which has shorter wavelengths and suppresses melatonin production. Individuals exposed to cooler lights were more alert, more productive and performed better on tests. Cooler lighting can help workers focus while they’re in the office, whether they’re working on computers, taking client calls or collaborating on intensive projects.

The Huffington Post interviewed industry experts who noted that study participants sensed the changes directly; it wasn’t just an empirical change in productivity levels. Those who were involved experienced mood and energy changes as a direct result of altering the lighting. Replacing harsh fluorescents with LED lights not only saves energy, but can help create an environment that energizes a team and optimizes performance in line with natural circadian rhythms.

Winding Down: Warm Lights and Creativity

Warmer light can put people at ease and help them relax. As the day winds down and the lighting changes to a warm glow, people naturally begin to shift into a different mindset. This could be an optimal time to use lighting to help employees solve creative challenges. Warm lighting can promote creativity during brainstorming meetings or client pitches and support problem solving as employees think through complex challenges.

Researchers at the Cologne University of Applied Sciences found that university employees exposed to warm lighting were able to solve challenges more creatively. As a company considers the issues it faced during the day and discusses how to tackle the challenges of tomorrow, subtle shifts in lighting may instill innovative solutions. Some offices are even creating “thinking spaces,” with specialized lighting that helps reinforce creative ideation and supports recharging activities, like meditation.

When designing a space for optimum productivity, it’s not uncommon to focus on the colors of the walls and the layout of the office — but lighting can be critical to supporting a team’s natural circadian rhythms. The right lighting changes (in the right place and at the right time) can result in workers who are more focused and productive during the day and experience fewer sleep disturbances at night.

Liz Alton
Liz Alton is a freelance writer specializing in technology and business. Building on her work in management consulting, she writes about the retail and commercial real estate markets for Philips. She develops content strategies and original content for national brands, and has published her writing in Forbes, USA Today, The Progressive Grocer, and many other publications. Connect with her on Twitter @beinglizzie.

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