Local | Mind, Body & Spirit

Humidity in workplace can impact health

Esther Sternberg

A new study suggests that relative humidity levels in the office can affect stress and potentially sleep quality, and cost employers in terms of productivity and sick leave. The study is by Esther Sternberg, M.D., director of the University of Arizona Institute on Place, Wellbeing and Performance and research director of the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the UArizona Health Sciences, and researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and the U.S. General Services Administration.

The study is part of the “Wellbuilt for Wellbeing” project, funded by the GSA. The project uses real-time wearable human health and environmental sensors to monitor federal workers’ heart activity, physical movement, and sleep quality and measure multiple characteristics of the indoor environment. “People spend 90% of their time indoors, and 50 million U.S. workers spend almost 25% of their time in an office building. Knowing how the office environment affects measurable physiological health outcomes will help design and health professionals work together using data to create healthy workspaces where people thrive,” says Sternberg.

Researchers have found that participants in the dry and humid groups (less than 30% or more than 60% relative humidity) experienced 25% and 19% higher stress responses, respectively, compared to those in the comfort-level (30-60% relative humidity) group. Strategies to alleviate the effects of dry air: take “micro-breaks” every 15 to 20 minutes and spend 30 seconds looking away from your computer; blink repeatedly to maintain and rebuild the tear film on your eyes; drink water regularly throughout the day — small changes in the body’s water balance have been associated with increased fatigue and reduced concentration.