If you have ever battled your co-workers to get a desk by a window, you know the truth research has proven: The sun perks us up. Employees without access to natural light report feeling gloomy and tired at the end of workdays.
But you do need to balance your light. Too little, and you force your eyes to work overtime to help you see. Too much, and you may find yourself with a recurring headache by the end of each day, prompted by sunlight on your computer screen.
“The biggest mistake is that [people] think that the more light, the better, and sometimes it’s a little bit overkill,” said Karen Loesing, owner of The Ergonomic Expert, a firm that evaluates ergonomics for businesses. “If you have too much light and then [you] add the light of your computer screen, then you’re probably really messing with your eyes.”
Here are lighting and ergonomic experts’ tips on how to best optimize the power of the sun at your work station:
If you work near a window, sit perpendicular to it.
If you are currently straining your eyes to read this, consider your light source. Are you working while facing a bright window, or with a window at your back? Neither position is ideal.
When a window is directly behind your computer screen, your monitor is surrounded by light and this causes eye strain. If you are seated with the window behind you, the sun will reflect on your screen ― and that can create a headache-inducing glare, too.
That’s why experts recommend sitting perpendicular to the window while working, because there’s less glare on your screen. “Having it at your side will give you the best lighting,” Loesing said.
“What you’re trying to do is balance the brightness of your screen with the background behind the screen,” said Deborah Gottesman, the founder and principal lighting designer of Gottesman Associates.
If you can, go one step further and choose a window facing north or south, “so that sunlight doesn’t cast shadows at different times of the day,” Loesing said. That way, you get consistent light throughout the day. If you’re not sure which direction you’re facing, use an analog watch or shadows to figure it out.
If you can’t change where you sit, use fabric and shades.
If you have no choice but to stare at a window while you work, you can still mitigate the daylight by hanging “a sheer fabric, something that is somewhat translucent,” Gottesman said.
If you are getting direct sunlight that’s uncomfortable, you don’t need to close your blinds completely. Angle them up to create an indirect light source, Gottesman said.
“I actually tip them up when the sun is coming through, rather than down, so the light goes up to the ceiling and then reflects down,” she said.
Remember to take advantage of task lights.
If you multitask between taking notes or reading papers while also using a computer, you ought to be using a dedicated task light, experts say.
Whatever task light you choose, get one with full adjustability, so that you can angle it to your ideal height, Loesing recommends.
But before you start adjusting task lights at your desk, consider how you’re sitting. A fancy task light that does everything is useless if you pair it with poor posture. Loesing said that, ideally, you are always sitting with your back touching the back of your chair. “Then you can determine your light,” she said.