Feb 2017

BY David Bach, MD


Illuminate Peak Performance

In 1998, astronomers in Australia discovered perytons, mysterious radio signals that had no discernible cause. Seventeen years later, they discovered the source of these signals was not something unknown in the atmosphere but instead was a microwave in their office. For those of us who’ve spent similar time investigating the elusive cause of fatigue, headaches, and visual discomfort at work, the answer may also be right in front of our eyes.

The problem could be as simple as our lighting.

Traditionally, light sensitivity was seen only as a recurring symptom of ailments like migraines. But now scientific studies are increasingly showing that workplace lighting has a profound impact on both mood and performance.

For example, the flickering of conventional fluorescent lights (at ~120 Hertz, which is not consciously detected), significantly reduces visual performance, problem solving skills, and subjective pleasantness of the test environment.

Equally detrimental to performance; excessive glare from a computer screen can cause Asthenopia, the clinical term for eyestrain. This condition is associated with headache, difficulty concentrating, blurring or double vision, and increased light sensitivity.

Why Should I Care

The problems that arise from sub-optimal lighting in your work environment are not trivial. Scientific testing environments are not the only locations that require optimal mental functioning.

To better prepare yourself for hard cognitive work, reduce your fluorescent light’s flickering using electronic ballasts. This simple change, which also saves electricity, will substantially enhance cognitive performance and mood. Similarly, LCD displays, which don’t flicker under most circumstances, should always be used instead of CRT displays on computers.

To combat eyestrain, the easiest solution is to reduce the glare hitting your eyes. One useful approach is to put shades over exposed light so the light from the bulbs doesn’t directly hit your eyes. Another option is to attach an anti-glare screen to your computer monitor. In addition, the 20-20-20 rule suggests you should take a break from any electronic device at least once every 20 minutes… to look at something at least 20 feet away… for at least 20 seconds. Lastly, lubricating the eye by consciously blinking or using preservative-free eye drops will help avoid this common ailment.  

What If?

Eyes are frequently referred to as windows to the soul, an appropriate statement when thinking of how close and interconnected they are to the brain, the master controller of the body and mind. So it makes sense that the eye’s only stimulus – light – would have a profound effect on performance, affect, and well-being.

What if you could avoid midday fatigue, headaches, and slumps in your performance just by changing the lighting in your office? It’s such a simple idea, but as they say, the simplest ideas are sometimes the best ones.

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