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02/13/17 The Impact of Light Color on Productivity

Article - February 13, 2016 By

40 Watt Explosion Proof Low Bay AC LED Fixture - Class I Division 1 & 2 - Class II Division 1 & 2

The Impact of Light Color on Productivity

According to a 1989 Louis Harris survey (the Steelcase Office Environment index), employees isolated eye strain problems as a leading health hazard in offices. Visual strain is closely linked with inadequate lighting systems and configurations at work. For businesses that are interested in boosting productivity, it is crucial to implement the right light color and color temperature rating in the workplace.

Effects of Light Color

Exposure to different colors of light can affect an individual’s behavior, mood and output in the workplace. The application of colors was thoroughly tested by Angela Wright, a psychologist who authored several scientific papers on the effects of light color on humans. Wright is responsible for developing the Color Affects System, which provides suggestions on the application of specific colors and its influence on people. In the system, the researcher made the following recommendations about light color:

• Yellow- inspires creativity

• Red and green- promotes balance and relaxation

• Blue- keeps the mind alert

Such fundamentals are highly applicable in offices and hazardous work environments, such as factories, loading bays and processing plants. But in most cases, choosing the right light color isn’t enough to keep employees on their toes. Businesses must also take intensity, saturation and tones into consideration. Bright and saturated colors are more effective at stimulating the mind, compared to soft or muted colors. Furthermore, when it comes to lighting systems, it’s not common practice to replace standard white bulbs with colored variants in professional work settings.

Delaying Melatonin Production

Based on Wright’s findings, it is safe to conclude that out of all the colors in the spectrum, blue is the color that is most effective for promoting alertness- thus, resulting in higher productivity levels. In particular, studies have shown that short-wavelength (450-495 nm) blue light, which is also found in sunlight and white light, can interfere with melatonin production in humans and disrupt the body’s natural circadian rhythm.

Melatonin is an essential hormone, created by the pineal gland in the brain. Its primary function involves regulating sleep and wake patterns. Light exposure is a key influencer in how much melatonin the body secretes and the timing to start such cycles. Disrupting melatonin production can lead to sleep disorders, anxiety, cancer and obesity.

Before the rise of artificial lighting systems, humans were only exposed to natural light from the sun. During sunset, changes in light intensity is detected by the retina and communicated to the hypothalamus. When this happens, the pineal gland starts creating melatonin and preps the body for sleep by lowering the body’s internal temperature. In the morning, the process is reversed and other hormones, like cortisol (also released in stressful situations), signal the body to wake up.

Artificial light can easily disrupt this natural cycle. Exposing the retina to constant, bright light at night will trick the mind into thinking it’s daytime, resulting in increased levels of stress and lower secretion levels of melatonin. According to a report from the Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, exposure to standard room lighting can suppress melatonin production by a whopping 85 percent. Moreover, one minute of exposure to white light every two hours at night can already suppress melatonin levels in humans by 65 percent.

In application, businesses can use the report’s conclusions when increasing productivity in the workplace. For example, companies could install bright lights in sections of the facility that are not exposed to natural sunlight. For businesses that conduct nighttime operations, it might be worth investing in extra bright luminaries to prevent the production of melatonin and improve reaction times in hazardous work environments.

At home, exposure to intense lighting systems should be monitored closely. Lack of sleep and restlessness during bedtime are primary contributors to low productivity levels at work. Therefore, one should limit the use of smartphones, tablets and bright television screens before going to sleep, and keep lights as dim as possible to promote the creation of melatonin. Additionally, there are sleeping aid apps available, like Twilight (only available on Android devices), that can help individuals maintain their natural sleep cycle by temporarily changing a mobile phone’s screen light from bluish white to dark red using a digital filter.

Color Temperatures and Productivity

Interestingly, the color temperature of the fixture must also be taken into consideration when boosting productivity levels. At night, the body naturally starts generating melatonin around two hours before one’s bedtime- also known as Dim Light Melatonin Onset (DLMO). During this period, humans slowly start feeling sleepy and less alert. In order to successfully disrupt melatonin secretion, one has to be exposed to a specific level of light, as well as the right color temperature rating. Slight suppression of melatonin and phase shifting of DLMO occurs at roughly 460 nm. Hence, if an individual is exposed to warm, dim yellowish light with very low color temperature ratings, i.e., a tiny night light in the corner of the room or hallway, disruption of one’s sleeping patterns will likely not occur. This is why most people can easily fall back to sleep after a short trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Flipping this practice with hopes to increase productivity, businesses should consider applying bright lights with high color temperature ratings, between 4,600K-6,500K, in the workplace to promote efficiency and consistent output. On the other end of the spectrum, warm white fixtures with color temperature ratings between 2,000K-3,000K, are simply not as effective for increasing productivity in professional settings; and may promote a cozy ambiance for employees. Such types of fixtures are ideal for bedrooms, living rooms and decorative lighting systems.

Lighting Configurations for Boosting Productivity

In order to maximize productivity using bright white fixtures with high color temperature ratings, one must adhere to a special type of configuration. A study from Cornell University, titled The Effects of Lensed-Indirect and Parabolic Lighting on the Satisfaction, Visual Health, and Productivity of Office Workers, suggests that lensed-indirect lighting systems are most effective, compared to prismatic and parabolic systems. Scientists tested their theories in a Xerox Corporation building located in Webster, New York. The group installed all three systems in different parts of the office.

The results of the study revealed that lensed-indirect configurations contributed to less complaints about eye focusing problems inside the office. Workers exposed to parabolic lighting admitted to losing over 15 minutes per day on visual strain. Lastly, the conclusion of the study uncovered that over 80 percent of employees preferred lensed-indirect lighting systems over other configurations that were tested during the trials.

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