On the sunny side, nurses dispense better care

Rana Zadeh

For the health and happiness of nurses – and for the best care of hospital patients – let the sunshine in. Day-shift, acute-care hospital nurses who had access to natural light enjoyed significantly lower blood pressure, communicated more often with their colleagues, laughed more and served their patients in better moods than nurses who settled for large doses of artificial light.

In a forthcoming Cornell study published in the August 2014 edition of Health Environments Research and Design, Rana Zadeh, assistant professor of design and environmental analysis, examined nurse stations in hospitals with and without natural sunlight. She measured the nurses’ physiological attributes, including blood pressure, heart rates, oxygenation and body temperature. She also observed levels of communication and the incidence rate of mistakes in the two environments.

Letting natural light into the nurses’ workstations offered improved alertness and mood restoration effects. “The increase in positive sociability, as measured by the occurrence of frequent laughter, was … significant,” noted Zadeh in the paper.

For the nurses who experienced the sunny side of work life compared with those working in windowless workspaces, the greatest positive effects were measured around 10 a.m.

Because alertness is connected to both staff and patient safety, maximizing access to natural daylight and providing quality lighting design in nursing areas may be an opportunity to improve safety though environmental design and enable staff to manage sleepiness, work in better mood and stay alert, according to Zadeh.

And good design promotes laughter as the best medicine. “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,” Zadeh said. “As a nurse, it’s an art to keep your smile, which helps ensure an excellent connection to patients. Designing affordable space that is conducive to the work is a smart way to bring positive mood – like laughter – into the workplace.”

Access to natural daylight should be provided for clinical workspace design, said Zadeh. In situations where natural light is not possible, she suggests optimizing electric lighting to support circadian rhythms and work performance. “The physical environment in which the caregivers work on critical tasks should be designed to support a high-performing and healthy clinical staff,” she said.

In addition to Zadeh, this study, “The Impact of Windows and Daylight on Acute-Care Nurses’ Physiological, Psychological, and Behavioral Health,” was authored by Mardelle Shepley, Texas A&M University; Cornell doctoral candidate Susan Sung Eun Chung; and Gary Williams, MSN, RN. The research was supported by the Center for Health Design Research Coalition’s New Investigator Award.

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