Hospital patients seeking the best possible care may be advised to consider the health and well-being of the nurses who look after them. New research suggests nurses who work in natural light have lower blood pressure, are in better moods when they serve patients, and show other signs of improved well-being over nurses who work in artificially lit surroundings with fewer windows.

Rana Zadeh, assistant professor of design and environmental analysis at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, and colleagues describe how they came to these conclusions in a study published in the journal Health Environments Research and Design.

Nurses work on demanding and sensitive tasks that require them to be alert – they also work long shifts and unsociable hours. Their performance underpins not only the quality of care delivered on a ward, but also patient and staff safety.

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Nurses who work in natural light show signs of improved well-being over nurses who work in artificially lit surroundings, the new study suggests.

In their paper, Prof. Zadeh and colleagues explain how there is evidence that working in environments lit by natural light improves performance, mood and alertness, and that having access to natural light and windows with views have restorative effects on people both physiologically and psychologically.

And yet, until this study, nobody had carried out a thorough investigation of the effect of daylight on health care employees’ well-being, which is somewhat surprising, given how so many hospitals have working environments with no natural lighting.

For their investigation, Prof. Zadeh and colleagues studied two wards of an acute-care unit. The wards were similarly organized and had similar environments, and the numbers and types of patients and conditions they treated were similar – but they differed significantly in the availability of windows in the nursing stations.

The team collected a range of measures so they could compare aspects of health, behavior, mood and performance of the nurses in the two wards.

The results showed that the nurses in the ward with more natural light had significantly lower blood pressure, communicated and laughed more, and served their patients in better moods than their counterparts in the ward that did not have as many windows to the outside.

The team suggests letting natural light into the nurses’ workstations resulted in improved alertness and mood restoration effects, and that the findings “support evidence from laboratory and field settings of the benefits of windows and daylight.”

Prof. Zadeh says the design of physical environments where caregivers work on critical tasks should be supportive of their performance and their health:

Nurses save lives and deal with complications every day. It can be a very intense and stressful work environment, which is why humor and a good mood are integral to the nursing profession. A smart and affordable way to bring positive mood – and laughter – into the workplace, is designing the right workspace for it.”

Where access to natural daylight and the opportunity to look out onto a nice view is not possible, then the next best thing is to optimize artificial lighting so that its spectrum, intensity and variability support circadian rhythms and work performance, she adds.

The Center for Health Design Research Coalition helped fund the study.

Meanwhile, in February 2014, The Lancet published a study that found following surgery, patient survival is linked to nurses’ workload. The European researchers found that for every extra patient in a nurse’s average workload, the chance of surgical patients dying within 30 days of admission increased by 7%.