Your Lightbulbs Could Use Some Natural Light

by Holly VanLaar

Human Connection

A lightbulb often represents ideas and creativity. But just how important is light to one’s creative process? 

With the summer sun (finally!) making an appearance in West Michigan, the Navigate team has begun frequenting the picnic table outside our building to escape our windowless basement office. But beyond the myriad physical and mental health benefits of sunlight, I’ve also begun to notice and conclude that sunlight increases creative productivity.

This is not just my conclusion, by the way. I’ve got cold, hard science to back me up! First, let’s talk about some of the studies done on mental and physical benefits. The University of Illinois monitored individuals who work entirely in windowless environments against a control group that worked in windowed rooms with outside views. The findings were bleak for the windowless group. Individuals with no natural light on average get 46 minutes less sleep on work days, less exercise and higher levels of depression, delirium, anxiety, and even psychosis — not exactly a recipe for great creative productivity.

Moreover, a National Renewable Energy Laboratory study concluded that natural light reduces the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (the acronym is SAD… I mean come on!). They also found that sunlight increases visual clarity and color perception: two pretty important elements for graphic designers! Sunlight also stimulates the pineal gland, which helps to regulate sleep patterns, increases mental alertness and improves mood. So, even beyond creativity, imagine how much better your workplace would be with a team of alert, energetic, and more friendly coworkers!

How serious is this lack of sleep and mental drag? An easy example to point to is those who never get any natural daylight: individuals who work the graveyard shift. Messed up circadian rhythms and fatigue directly correlate with higher rates of heart disease and cancer. There’s no two way to sugar coat it: these individuals have shorter lifespans. 

Here are some more “dark” facts from the NREL study:

  • 200% higher employee turnover rate in workplaces without natural light. 
  • 15% less absenteeism when a company switched to natural light. 
  • Total product output increased 25%–28% when switched to natural light.

Now, before you go install a simple skylight or purchase a bunch of sunlamps for your team, keep in mind that the sun isn’t the only necessary source for a more creative environment. A window to the ENTIRE natural world is where the impact is truly felt. A Human Spaces study published by international carpet manufacturer Interface revealed:

proximity to natural elements, such as greenery and sunlight, was associated with a 15 percent increase in improved well-being and creativity, and six percent higher productivity.”

It’s clear that finding or creating those spaces with natural light and other natural elements makes people mentally and physically healthier, happier, and more productive. And don’t just take it from the team (here at Navigate); We are not the only ones who desire windows. A study done in 2018 by HR Research firm Future Workplace surveyed 1,614 full-time employees who work across different sectors and in organizations of different sizes. What “perk” did respondents choose over foosball machines, treadmill desks, and nap pods? Access to sunlight and natural views.

So, what does the view look like from where YOU are? Is your creativity being stifled by flourescent lights and grey walls? If so, do a little test for your next creative project. Find a windowed spot that gives you access to natural light and surroundings for a week and see what great ideas you come up with in that small amount of time. The results will no doubt be enlightening.