Find the Right Light: How Lighting Can Affect Your Mental Health

Medical professionals emphasize the importance of daily sunlight exposure for our mental health, but did you know that indoor lighting can also have a significant impact on mental health?

We tend to spend the majority of our day surrounded by artificial lighting, whether it be at the office, at school, or at home. All this time spent inside does not provide us with ample opportunity for sunlight exposure.

In the winter months, when the days are darker, and the opportunity to spend time in sunlight before or after work is rare, developing seasonal affective disorder is common. Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that typically comes and goes around the same time each year, and is associated with lack of exposure to natural light. Exposure to sunlight is important for our mental health because it triggers the brain to release serotonin, a hormone that helps with mood regulation among other bodily functions.

With seasonal affective disorder affecting about 5-10% of the American population each year, small changes, such as instituting better lighting in the workplace, can help decrease levels of stress, anxiety, and physical problems, and increase worker productivity and happiness.

Staples conducted research on the correlation between bad lighting in the workplace and worker productivity. After surveying about 7,000 office workers in various European countries, they found that 40% of workers have uncomfortable lighting in their workplace. Findings also indicated that 80% of the people surveyed report they value good lighting in the workplace. Additionally, 32% of participants reported better lighting at work would help them feel happier.

Research demonstrates that bad lighting is associated with physical and mental concerns such as headaches, fatigue, and anxiety. Therefore, ensuring we are surrounded by comfortable lighting is important.

The following are ways in which we can create better artificial lighting:

  • Cleaning windows and skylights to allow for as much natural light to pass through
  • Changing flickering bulbs
  • Using blinds and matte paint to reduce the amount of glare
  • Using lamps rather than overhead fluorescent lights
  • Ensuring the lighting is appropriate for the specific type of workspace

Though good artificial lighting cannot serve as a replacement for the benefits we gain from exposure to natural sunlight, making changes to lighting in the workplace can have a positive impact on mental health and lead to greater worker productivity.


Written by: Mary Anne Short