Author: Sergio van Pan
Not only does light allow us to see the world around us, but it also affects our productivity. This usually happens automatically, but modern science knows how to put it into manual mode. This is Part II of our Ideal Work Environment Guide.
Light doesn’t only affect vision-related parts of the brain. As light rays penetrate the retina of the eyes, they send signals to the parts responsible for producing hormones – signaling molecules that determine the levels of activity, concentration, energy and the acuity of perception. Therefore, what is easy in the morning can become unbearably difficult in the evening.
The specific hormones the body produces depends on the color and intensity of the light. This is what happens: bright morning and midday light, from bright white to blue, stimulates the production of ‘energy hormones:’ cortisol, adrenaline, and serotonin. Muted evening light, from yellow to red, stimulates the production of ‘fatigue hormones:’ adenosine and melatonin. This usually happens automatically, but it can be switched to manual mode. To have a productive day, light can be managed at two levels: micro and macro.
Micromanaging light is about creating the most natural lighting conditions in the workplace. The performance of the brain is associated with circadian rhythms, the body’s internal clock, which is in sync with sunlight. Productivity increases in the morning when light changes from bright white to blue and decreases in the afternoon when yellow and red light begins to take over.
If the lighting in your workplace cycles in the same way, you can more or less accurately calculate the period of peak productivity. And then, you can schedule the most difficult task for this time. So, if you have the chance, follow the natural cycle of light. Try to follow the sun during the day to get as much natural light as possible.
The problem is that not all workplaces always have windows that can provide natural light all day. And even if they do, the natural light cycle can be interrupted by weather conditions. In this case, you can use a natural light simulator, a lamp with several bulbs in different color temperature ranges that can be switched on and off independently. Here, the general rule is simple: as you move from morning to evening, the light in the room should become warmer.
Manipulating light helps to solve unforeseen challenges that require a dramatic shift from the usual schedule and a drastic change in working conditions. In these cases, light can work as a contrast shower. Cool blue light is great for quickly switching to productivity mode or brainstorming. Studies show that cool blue light limits the production of the sleep hormone melatonin and is often more effective than coffee. While warm red light can be used to quickly relax and recover during periods of peak activity.