The struggle to get more and better sleep seems never-ending for many of us, and increasingly the sleep-deprived are opting for chemical relief. In 2012, 60 million Americans filled prescriptions for sleeping pills, up from 46 million in 2006 (as reported in The New York Times).
But considering the potential dangers of taking sleep meds, natural alternatives are definitely worth considering. A recent study suggests that one of these alternatives—perhaps one of the best we can get—is available just outside your window. Sunlight could be the cure for what ails millions of insomniacs.
The study focused on the sleep quality of 49 day-shift office workers (27 in windowless workplaces and 22 in workplaces with windows). Researchers wanted to find out if more natural light exposure during the day resulted in more restful sleep at night. Using an evaluation tool called the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) and a monitoring technique known as “actigraphy,” they were able to determine if office workers with windows fared better in dreamland than their walled-off counterparts.
The results showed that they did. Compared to workers in windowless offices, those with windows received 173 percent more natural white light exposure during work hours and slept an average of 46 minutes more per night.
Workers who get more sunlight also tend to be more physically active according to this study. And an additional analysis of overall quality of life suggests that they’re generally happier, too. Office workers without windows reported more physical ailments and lower vitality, along with lower sleep quality.
The difficulty with studies like this, of course, is that many people aren’t just without windows, they’re without options. If you work in an office dungeon designed without sunlight in mind—perhaps sequestered in a cube farm—you're likely limited to getting outside during breaks and maybe working in a few daily strolls by perimeter offices that do have windows (at least the offices of folks who don’t keep their doors shut).
However you can do it, the results of this admittedly small study indicate that you should get as much natural light exposure during the day as possible given the confines of your workplace. You can also try getting more sunlight first thing in the morning before you arrive at work; research suggests that morning sunlight exposure is linked to sounder sleep (more on that at this Discovery Health article).
The research findings were presented at the 27th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC, and were published in an online supplement to the journal Sleep.