There’s a reason we often feel happier in the summer: the sun is life-giving, literally and figuratively. Sunlight also happens to offer many advantages when it comes to boosting your work performance. In this month’s installment of The Productivity Box, we will dive into the physical and mental health benefits of sunlight—and why it should be a fixture in your office.
The physical wellness benefits of sunlight
Your productivity is not solely the result of your ability to sit down and force yourself to work. If your body is physically healthy, it is likely easier for you to work because you aren’t also juggling pain, sickness or other physical dysfunction.
The sun is critical to your productivity because it is an optimal source of vitamin D, which is an essential nutrient for the human body. According to Frontiers in Nutrition, spending anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes in natural sunlight twice a week can create enough vitamin D absorption to yield the following benefits:
- Promote bone and muscle growth
- Increase cardiovascular strength
- Lower risk of metabolic dysfunction
- Produce nitric oxide to boost circulation
- Regulate cholesterol and insulin levels
- Maintain natural circadian rhythms
- Protect against autoimmune issues
It’s also worth noting that if you have a dark complexion, you might need more than 30 minutes of sun exposure (still with protection, of course). Higher amounts of melanin can act as a shield between the skin and sunlight. This means it could take longer for vitamin D synthesis to occur in the body.
The mental wellness benefits of sunlight
Moderate exposure to the ultraviolet B (UVB) rays in sunlight can increase serotonin levels. As this hormone releases into the brain, it helps calm the nervous system and improve your mood. In turn, this mitigates depression and increases productivity and overall happiness.
It has been determined that high levels of intense UVB radiation can worsen a depressive state. But when you stick to that 5 to 30 minute exposure, sunlight has the power to be a remarkable therapeutic intervention.
Another study found that exposure to sunlight in the daytime hours can optimize your circadian rhythm. This is the internal mechanism that tells the brain when to be fully awake and when to start unwinding. It results in higher focus, alertness, and energy levels, while also promoting more restful and restorative sleep.
A stable circadian rhythm can even help delay the onset of cognitive decline, this research continues. Finally, there’s a direct correlation between natural sunlight and lower stress or anxiety markers. And both of them can increase emotional regulation and mental resilience in and outside of the workplace.
The influence of sunlight in your workspace
According to a survey of more than 1,600 North American professionals, access to sunlight is the number-one attribute of productivity and well-being. Another study from the Ergonomics International Journal examined how office employees respond to natural sunlight in their work environment.
The findings of both research polls reveal that sunlight increases:
- Employee well-being by 78%
- Job satisfaction by 73%
- Quality of deliverables by 72%
- Work performance by 70%
- Alertness by 57%
- Organizational commitment by 54%
All of these impact productivity in a variety of ways, both indirectly and directly.
Harness the sun for maximum productivity
As you can see, it’s crucial to infuse your workspace and your life with sunlight. This can be as simple as reorienting your desk to face an exterior window or taking a short walk outside 2-3 times during the day.
If you don’t have access to natural sun exposure, you can mimic those benefits with a light therapy box. This device is capable of emitting 2,500 to 10,000 lux (measure of brightness), which has been found to lower the effects of seasonal depression by 36 percent and non-seasonal depression by 30 percent.
If you’re new to light box treatments, the journal advises starting with an emission of 10,000 lux for 30 minutes each morning, ideally before 9:00 AM, to acclimate yourself to this concentrated light. From there, you can adjust both the timing and intensity to maximize its effectiveness. That early exposure will activate wakefulness, refresh your mood state, stimulate executive functions in the prefrontal cortex, and suppress melatonin (the hormone that causes tiredness). Talk about a jumpstart to the workday!
Get out (of the Productivity Box) more often!
Whether you choose direct sunlight or find an alternative source to produce similar results, don’t overlook its influence on your productivity. The sun is a vital resource—harness that power to succeed on the job.
And keep following The Productivity Box series for more small hacks that greatly improve your performance at work and beyond.