I’m writing this sitting in my office in the dark, not much natural light at the moment. Our offices are lovely, set in a 1900s heritage building, with original brick walls, high ceilings and, as is typical of the era, just one window upstairs.
There is a storm this afternoon, and the sky is black. Ominous thunder is booming in the background, and even the birds have gone quiet.
We don’t use electric lights during the day, and so I’m noticing the office is dark and still. And it’s making me feel a little bit sleepy.
For millennia, humans have lived outside according to the rhythms of the sun. We’ve woken with natural light, and gone to sleep when it gets dark.
It’s only really recently that we have discovered electricity, and with it, the ability to light houses any time of the day or night. And even more recently, we’ve discovered back-lit computers and devices. And it is wreaking havoc with our wellness.
As people, we’re both amazingly complex and wonderfully simple. Although there is some complex and amazing science to explain this in detail, the simple version about how light affects us is this; we have two inverse sets of hormones: melatonin and serotonin. Only one can be elevated at a time. Serotonin is our happy day hormone, and melatonin is our sleepy night hormone.
In the morning, we need natural light to get our daytime serotonin happening.
At night, we need darkness (and not screen time!) to get our night-time sleepy melatonin to calm us down and let us sleep.
Without natural light, it’s really hard for our hormones to know what to do. We lose the sense of time that we have evolved with based on being outdoors, and so if we’re inside and away from the outdoors all day, our bodies don’t know what to do.
Property development and wellness haven’t really been linked until recently, but when we consider how much time we spend in buildings, and how we benefit from natural light and being outside, it is clear that we need a solution.
For those of us without outdoor offices, there is an option. It’s a simple as investing, living and working in buildings that understand our human need for natural light.
Orientation and windows are the two key things here. In the southern hemisphere, the north side of a building will get the most light. Our office might have only one window upstairs, but because it faces north, and it’s on the second storey, we have an abundance of natural light. Where possible, working from natural sunlight is a lot better for our wellness than working under artificial light. It allows our work time to fit in with our natural rhythm, which is crucial for balance.
The type of window also makes a difference. In short, the bigger the better, but anything with a view of outside will do. There have been great advances in glass technology recently that allow for light and heat to be modified to trap heat, reflect heat and reflect light, which warrants a whole other article. For now, any window is great, particularly if you can open in. In subtropical Newcastle, we’re lucky enough to be able to work with our windows open most of the year, which helps us to feel fresh, energized and in sync with the seasons.
Bedrooms, bathrooms, laundries and media rooms are all more appropriate for the south side of a house, where it is practical to have less light. Rooms suited to northern light are kitchens and living areas, ideally looking out onto green gardens where plants (and edible plants) will grow in abundance.
Happy window shopping!