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All the Depressing Shit That Happens to Our Bodies When We Can’t Work in Natural Light

But hey, at least you met that deadline

Among the top-rated perk North American workers long for in this day and age? Not free snacks, not a private bathroom, not even a fair wage (although, let’s be real, this is critical). It’s something far more essential. The top desired perk in an office, it turns out, is natural light and/or an outdoor view—at least according to a new survey from an HR consulting firm.

By natural light they don’t mean Natural Light, although free beer would be an amazing office perk. They mean natural sunlight — so much as a passing glimpse of the natural world where living things frolic. Given we need it to grow and survive, it’s arguably sort of critical to the human experience. When we don’t have light, the result is depression, gloom, exhaustion and eventually a population of chinless, weak-muscled, gray-skinned, red-eyed descendants suffering from lack of sunlight, like the Morlocks in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine.

But hey, at least you met that deadline!

To get to the bottom of this dark truth, HR advisory firm Future Workplace polled 1,614 North American workers about how much sunlight they get on the job. A third of those surveyed said they don’t get enough sunlight, and a full 47 percent said they feel “tired or very tired” from the deprivation. Another 43 percent said they’re legit gloomy due to working in the dark, sad, lonely cave we call an office.

When asked to rank how much they valued sunlight, the decrepit, barely living human zombies gasped, A little patch of sun, please. They wanted it more than outrageously nice work perks such as an on-site cafeteria, a fitness center or even onsite childcare. More than Taco Tuesday or Hawaiian Shirt Thursday or Free Prostate Exam Every Blue Moon, or whatever. Sunlight. We need it.

Exacerbating the lack of natural light is the increase in artificial light. It’s not just the Vitamin D–sucking flicker of the fluorescent beams overhead — excessive computer and mobile phone use creates a greater need for peeping the actual light our eyes were made to absorb. Future Workplace also found that 73 percent of those surveyed said the longer they’re hooked to a phone or computer, the more they need that light. Workers whose natural light quotient is increased report significantly less drowsiness, headaches and eye strain as a result.

And it’s not just an issue of headaches and bad eyesight. Other research has found that workers with that sweet window perk sleep 46 minutes longer at night on average because they’re exposed to 173 percent more light.

This is basic science: We operate on circadian rhythms, and those rhythms — your body temperature, your hormones, when you sleep and when you pop up in the morning — are all cued by light. We disrupt it at our peril. It’s part of why graveyard-shift workers are screwed, and it’s part of why first-shift workers who sit in a windowless cinder-block cell are, too.

The news isn’t all bad though. More companies are aware of the role daylight plays in worker well-being and are starting to design office space with this in mind.

And there are things you can do to improve your own light exposure even if your employer won’t. Among them: Step outside for small breaks to get some light. Eat outside every chance you get. Increase foods with Vitamin D in them (eggs, mackerel, mushrooms) to boost what you’re not getting from the gas ball in the sky. Take a D supplement. Set your desk up with a light therapy box that recreates natural light (they’re already in use for jet lag and seasonal affective disorder). There are a number on the market, but the better-reviewed ones are recommended by scientists.

Or perhaps send your boss the research on this that he or she may not be aware of, the kind that would make a boss let you expense those light boxes. Exposure to natural light increases output by anywhere from 3 to 40 percent in productivity or sales.

And if all that fails, ask to move seats. The window seat or corner office isn’t just a promotional badge of success — it’s usually where the most daylight beams in. That means it could be the hardest-working seat in the house.