A very recent study out of Northwestern Medical School’s Department of Neurology and The School of Architecture at University of Chicago at Urbana proved that a window in your office or work space can make a world of difference. A study of 49 people with approximately half working with windows and half without showed that workers with windows slept an average of 46 more minutes at night, had greater vitality, fewer physical problems, and were more active. Their overall mental health score was higher as well. The difference in sleep length was a surprise to all. And they had a better sleep “efficiency score,” meaning fewer awake times during the night.

But we all know that light controls circadian rhythm so it shouldn’t be a surprise that better light during the work day meant a better night’s sleep and more energy during the day. Some might say this is just one more example of “the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer.” What are you supposed to do if you’re expected to work in your ill-lit cubicle all day long, and you live in a place where the sun comes up after you’re at work in the winter?

One solution would be to work in France. Just yesterday morning, we were talking to a scientist who just had a French post-doc join her lab – a windowless lab in a largely windowless building. The Frenchwoman asked for a window and learned there were none. She was shocked. It turns out that French building codes require that every workstation have access to natural light. (On the other hand, maybe the unemployment rate in France would be a little lower if every job didn’t need a window.)

Our more down-to-earth advice would be to see if your employer allows rest breaks and, if they’re allowed, spend those rest breaks either outdoors or at a sunny window. You might get a little cold, but the advantage in terms of waking up your brain will be palpable. Also, if it’s possible to eat your lunch in some sunny nook (with windows), that’s always a plus. If you work from home, all this is much easier to arrange, but then you may miss the social interchange at work, so getting some time at the office is key too. If you can build in some walking or biking time on your way to work, the benefits of the extra time outdoors will accompany you all day. We try so hard to be a very productive society, but if we’re a little like small animals spinning on our wheels in badly lit cages, we may miss the productivity we aspire to.