Does having too much sunlight affect your productivity?
A study in Estonian summer, where the sun doesn’t set until midnight
by Loni Klara
One of the unusual things about summers in Northern Europe is that the days are very long. The sky never really gets dark, and it’s light outside well until midnight. (Here’s a video where you can see the sun set behind the mountain for one hour, then rise back up again.)
This may be ideal indeed for staying out late to party with friends, but what about when it comes to work? Is it a blessing, or a curse?
We are now officially winding down in daylight hours after the summer solstice in June, and I have to say I’m grateful. Though this is my third summer in the Northern region, it is my first summer where I am working full-time, and it certainly takes a bit of an adjustment.
Continuous daylight may sound nice, but is it, really?
But prolonged exposure to sunlight can cause problems that you may not have thought about if you don’t live in a climate where this is the case.
For instance, if you go further up north where the sun really barely sets during the summer, you find some very interesting studies.
In Northern Norway, a study discovered that light sensitivity affected those with migraines most, making the symptoms worse, while common headaches got worse during the winter.
Meanwhile, a study in Greenland found that suicide rates peaked during the summer around June, while experiencing a dip in the winter.
From “summertime sadness,” now made even more prevalent in our culture thanks to Lana del Rey, to “winter blues,” the changing seasons have a huge effect on how we can behave (hence the artificial light therapy!). And though the existence of a seasonal affective disorder — aptly abbreviated to SAD––has been called into question, there is no doubt that light can play a huge role on the human psyche and body, for better or for worse.
Examining the effects of prolonged sunlight on productivity
Though Tallinn is not affected by a real midnight sun such as exists in the Arctic Circle (we are at 59.4370°, a little short of approximately 66.56083° where the polar region begins), we decided to do a little experiment with our team members to see whether they feel the Estonian summer is good or bad for productivity — or if it even makes a difference.
The people involved in the study are divided into 3 groups:
- 2 native Estonians who have experienced this their whole lives
- 2 in-betweeners who have experienced this a couple times before
- 2 newcomers for whom this kind of summer is a first
Maria, Copywriter: Not much, I think. I’m a very good sleeper under most light conditions. For me personally I’ve not noticed any very clear patterns. It comes and it goes. It might be easier to focus in winter, with fewer distractions. But it’s also a lot easier to be gloomy and miserable in winter.
Rauno, Data Scientist: I think it does affect me personally. Although my sleep cycles are more or less stable now it takes less effort to maintain and, after occasional hiccups, get back to it. As daylight offers more outdoor activities, which are important for me to charge my batteries, it also helps avoid burning out.
(Rauno also wrote about how productive he could be in Malaysia, where it’s sunny all year round.)
David, Customer Success Manager: I feel like it can very easily. From what I have picked up people work super hard throughout the winter and everyone takes the summer a little easier. It’s not uncommon to take a whole month off in a row during summer. Personally spring is the sweet spot, winter is gone, and everything — including your own body — feels alive.
Loni, Copywriter: I’m not sure why, but I’ve always been able to write better in the dark than in the light. The problem with sunlight is that when it’s nice outside, all I want to do is sit outside in some park with a picnic basket, a book and a glass of sangria.
Kwun-Lok, B2B Product Manager: I usually have my eye mask on when sleeping (even in HK, where the light pollution is so bad) so it doesn’t affect my sleep cycle and tiredness. It actually helps me to be more energetic the whole day because of the longer time with the sun.
Alina, Head of Talent: It has completely flipped my schedule. Where normally I am an early riser, because I can’t get to sleep until late (in some cases my own fault for not being more regimented), I end up sleeping either way longer or just not getting enough sleep. For example, I was exhausted last night at 10pm, but ended up staying up until 2am because it’s so lovely and bright that sleep doesn’t occur to me.
What about you?
As you can see, our split varied largely by individual. It’s difficult to make any solid conclusions, apart from the fact that most people seem to think their productivity is in fact affected by the long daylight hours.
If you’ve also lived in a region with continuous daylight, we’d love to hear from you! Do you agree with any of the observations above, or not at all?