By Marc Sorenson, EdD. Sunlight Institute
There are few things that improve our wellbeing like arising early in the morning and walking outside on a bright, sunny day. Our attitude improves, our serotonin and endorphin levels increase and there is an almost immediate feeling of exhilaration. We also become less confrontational, and our minds seem to click on all cylinders. Later on, around midday, if we are fortunate enough to have time to safely sunbathe (with lots of skin exposed), we produce large quantities of vitamin D, and our nitric oxide levels increase. This gives us a delicious feeling of relaxation and an almost instantaneous lowering of blood pressure as the cares of the day melt away.
Regrettably, most of us live in a society that has been robbed of sunlight, being confined to artificially lighted buildings and poor little cubicles—prison cells for the happiness inside that is struggling to manifest itself in the light.
More scientists are recognizing that modern humans suffer from the sterile lives they live; these scientists are advocating a return to natural light. One of the best studies on the subject of light and mood was published in the Health Environments Research and Design Journal, and measured the impact of windows and daylight on the physiological, psychological and behavioral health of nurses.[i] The study used biological measurements, behavioral mapping and analysis of archival data in a nursing unit that had two wards with similar conditions—with one exception—one ward had more windows and more natural lighting than the other. In the ward with more windows and natural light, the nurses had lower blood pressure and higher body temperature, less sleepiness and a better mood. Communication and laughter also were increased.
Heart rates were also lower with more natural lighting, as was caffeine intake. There was also a decrease in the frequency of medication errors by the nurses, although that difference was not considered significant.
Rana Zedeh, the lead researcher, made the following statement:[ii] “Research has shown a range of different outcomes are impacted by sunlight, including regulation of the circadian rhythm, shorter length of stay for patients, reduced perception of pain for patients, and reduced anxiety and agitation among elderly patients with dementia. Improved outcomes for patients also help staff manage their patients better.”
One can only imagine what the changes might have been if unencumbered sunlight had been allowed to flow into the building. Vitamin D would have increased, and it is likely that that patients as well as the nurses would have improved their health. Dr. Zadeh also made this declaration: “Intelligently designed clinical workspaces could lead to higher safety and quality levels…” “By default, when we think of a healthcare workspace, we may think of a large, deep building with no windows for staff, little access to greenery or outdoors, an institutional feel, complex wayfinding, and monotonous color and lighting. Knowing that the human brain receives stimuli from the environment and constantly changes neural hormonal responses that control cognitive performance and alertness, we might be able to improve outcomes by creating more vigilant and restorative elements in environments.”[iii]
My plain-English translation of the above statement is “get out of the little dark boxes and get back into the sunlight.”
[i] Zadeh RS1, Shepley MM, Williams G, Chung SS. The impact of windows and daylight on acute-care nurses’ physiological, psychological, and behavioral health. HERD 2014 Summer;7(4):35-61.
[ii] Katy Mena-Berkley. Mood: the Science of Letting the Sunshine In. MD News
[iii] Katy Mena-Berkley. Mood: the Science of Letting the Sunshine In. MD News