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Your Dimly Lit Office Might Be Making You Dumber

Topics: Data & Research

If you work in a dimly lit office, your brain may be changing — and not for the better.

Recent research from Michigan State University suggests that spending time in poorly lit rooms may affect subjects’ abilities to learn and remember.

Per Science Daily:

The researchers studied the brains of Nile grass rats (which, like humans, are diurnal and sleep at night) after exposing them to dim and bright light for four weeks. The rodents exposed to dim light lost about 30 percent of capacity in the hippocampus, a critical brain region for learning and memory, and performed poorly on a spatial task they had trained on previously.

Rats exposed to bright light performed much better on spatial tasks. Exposure to bright light also helped rats recover from the effects of dim lighting.

Joel Soler, a graduate student in psychology and lead author of a paper on the research, says that long-term exposure to dim light reduces a peptide that maintains neurons in the hippocampus and reduces dendritic spines, which facilitate communication between neurons.

“Since there are fewer connections being made, this results in diminished learning and memory performance that is dependent upon the hippocampus,” says Soler. “In other words, dim lights are producing dimwits.”

What Does This Mean for Workers?

dimly lit
Saya Kimura/Pexels

The researchers note that their study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health, could have implications for patients with eye disease or elderly people with cognitive impairment. But it could also mean something to knowledge workers bound to desks in dimly lit cubicles and office spaces.

A study from the American Society of Interior Design found that 68 percent of employees are dissatisfied with the lighting in their workspace.

“It’s no secret that dim lighting can strain the eyes and cause headaches, lowering productivity and resulting in employee fatigue,” writes Jeff Pochepan at Inc. “Dim lights also result in drowsiness or lack of focus.”

This latest study may offer one explanation why — and a rationale for advocating for more natural light in offices. You might even convince the boss to let you work from home once in a while.

Just make sure to set up your home office near a window.

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Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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