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A Circadian Approach to Office Design

By wizu | 21 April 2022

Have you ever noticed that you feel energised and ready to get things done on bright, sunny days? However, on those mornings when a storm’s about to let loose, you want nothing more than to snuggle down into some warm blankets and sleep. On darker days, your energy may lag, and it’s hard to get anything done! All of this has to do with circadian rhythms and light.

Our energy levels are directly impacted by how much light we have and the quality of the light. For this reason, many offices are beginning to turn to circadian lighting. But can it really help?


What Are Circadian Rhythms? 

Circadian rhythms are 24-hour cycles that work with our body’s internal clock. You may not even be aware of your body’s circadian rhythms because they work in the background and take care of certain critical functions and processes. One circadian rhythm most of us are aware of is the sleep-wake cycle.

Just as the sleep-wake cycle is tied to the light we receive throughout the day, so are other body functions and processes. The body functions and processes are synchronised with a “master clock” that resides in the brain. It’s this clock that is directly impacted by environmental factors such as sunlight. All of our circadian rhythms are tied to the day and night cycle of light.

When our circadian rhythms are in alignment with the light, it’s possible to have a consistent good sleep. However, when the circadian rhythm is misaligned (disrupted), this may lead to sleeping problems such as insomnia.

Ongoing research continues to show that circadian rhythm plays a crucial role in physical and mental health.


How Do the Circadian Rhythms Work? 

Here’s an example of how the circadian rhythms work. A person has a regular nine-to-five job. This is a standard schedule for many of us. They get up at 7:30 am each day to get ready for work. But then the weekend comes, and the person still wakes up at the regular time of 7:30 am! They would rather sleep in a bit, but their body is ready to get up and go! It’s annoying, but this is the circadian rhythm at work.

Each person’s circadian rhythm may be different depending on their schedule. For instance, a person on the night shift will have a completely different circadian rhythm than someone who works the regular 9-5 work hours.


What Influences Our Circadian Rhythm? 

Our circadian rhythm is influenced by the amount of light we receive each day. For instance, you may feel more tired on a cloudy day, but you may feel more energised on a sunny day. However, most of us work inside during the day, which can cause a problem with our circadian rhythms.

Natural light is much healthier for our bodies for this and other reasons. Artificial light also plays with our circadian rhythms. If there’s not enough artificial light when working inside during the day, you can also become sleepy.

For this reason, many companies are turning to circadian lighting for their offices.


What is Circadian Lighting? 

A circadian lighting system works to replicate the sun’s natural light in the office. The system mimics the colour, angle, and positioning of the sun throughout the day, but in the office. It works to keep our circadian rhythms in alignment with natural light outdoors.

Circadian lighting systems don’t rely on fluorescent lights. Instead, the system is dynamic and works with the photoreceptors in our eyes (eye cones and rods) that detect light and colour shifts. The rods and cones sense light and tell the brain what the light is like throughout the day. In turn, this causes the brain to make more melatonin.

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland, which regulates our sleep. As you go through the day, you become tired, especially in the evening and closer to bedtime.


How Does Circadian Lighting Impact Productivity? 

Studies have shown that circadian lighting significantly impacts employee productivity in the office. Employees who have plenty of natural light, or work in an office with circadian lighting, have better recall of memories and improved mental function.

On the other hand, employees working in a basement office or cubicles with no natural light suffered poor performance and fatigue.

While a circadian lighting system is not natural light, it mimics sunlight in a way that’s more effective than traditional office lighting.


Improving Circadian Rhythms in the Office

Now, it’s time to apply what we’ve learned! Is it possible to improve the lighting in the office to improve employee circadian rhythms? Yes! Follow these tips to boost energy and productivity in the office:

1. Improve Natural Lighting

The first place to start is by improving the natural lighting in the office space. There are several ways to do this. For instance, you might consider using reflective surfaces and textures correctly positioned near a window. These work to catch the light’s angle and “bounce” the light around the room.

Using an open-plan layout with glass partitions is another way to improve natural lighting. In addition, the window treatments in the office may need to be changed. It may be necessary to remove drapes and curtains, choosing blinds in their place. Blinds can be adjusted to regulate the amount of room that is allowed in the office at different times of the day.


2. Use a Circadian Lighting System

A circadian lighting system is another option that can improve circadian rhythms in the office environment. The system works to tune the following throughout the day:

  • Light intensity: determines the colour temperature throughout the day, controlled through a dimming system that matches the time of day.
  • Colour turning: the system uses cooler colours in the morning and warmer colours in the evening.
  • Stimulus tuning: replaces harmful blue light with good blue light wavelengths.


3. Understand Employee Work Schedules

Another crucial part of the circadian rhythms in the office is to understand the employee’s work schedule. Each employee works in a different space in the office. The office design needs to ensure that each person in the office receives plenty of natural light. What’s more, the main work areas should have plenty of natural light or blue-rich light (in the “good” blue wavelengths) to synchronise circadian rhythms.

These office design techniques combined with natural light and a circadian light system can go a long way to improving productivity and mood in the office. In addition, employees may feel better and stay healthier, leading to less employee absenteeism.

So, if your office doesn’t receive enough natural light, you may want to consider investing in a circadian light system. You and your employees will be happier and more productive with more light!


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