There is a reason why every ‘feel good’ story starts with, “It was a bright sunny day”. We look at the power of light on our existence – its affect on our mood, productivity, healing and sleep.
Light is the essence of life on earth, and despite the evolution of our natural ecosystems into the modern concrete jungles we live in today, we have not evolved beyond that need for natural light. A side effect of progress is the rapid urbanisation of our habitats, which has led us to work and live in enclosed spaces often devoid of natural light. As such, we have come to depend on artificial lighting to illuminate our homes and offices.
“LED lighting is without doubt, the biggest quantum leap in lighting since the development of fluorescent lamps over 50 years ago,”
– David Clements, Managing Director, FUTURE Designs
While incredibly useful, artificial lighting cannot perfectly mimic natural light. The latter regulates our circadian rhythm, mood and even productivity, all of which get disrupted when we work in the wrong environment. Poor lighting conditions, on the other hand, can be detrimental to our health, leading to poor eyesight, fatigue and, in extreme cases, even depression.
Our cave dwelling ancestors may have called it a day at sunset, but we have learned to adapt and extend our waking hours into the night. The use of artificial lighting over time has led to a disruption of our natural rhythms. While this form of lighting is ubiquitous and necessary, we have to find a way to balance our wellbeing with our need to work.
David Clements, Managing Director, FUTURE Designs, believes that going forward, smart enabled lighting with tuneable white LED will become the next generation of solid state lighting across the globe within smart building technology.
“LED lighting is without doubt, the biggest quantum leap in lighting since the development of fluorescent lamps over 50 years ago,” says David. “Lighting is an intrinsic part of the Wellness standard, particularly the ability to ‘tune’ commercial lighting systems via LED, through the kelvin range of warm to cool lighting (2700 kelvin to 6000 kelvin).”
Below: Lighting by No Grey Area (NGA) at One, JLT in Dubai
Lighting Affects How We Sleep
The type of light that we’re exposed to is the primary regulator of our chronobiological functions, most important of which is our circadian rhythm, aka our body clock. It is that aspect of our body that regulates our sleep cycles and our most active hours. Our circadian rhythms are tuned to the rising and setting of the sun, but working in artificial, built environments with artificial light has disrupted this cycle, convincing our bodies to maintain high levels of activity when it should be resting.
Enter Human-Centric Lighting (HCL), a new approach that uses specific wavelengths and intensities of light to affect our wellbeing and productivity. Through smart systems and intelligent controls, the wavelengths of light emitted can be tuned to provoke physiological responses.
There are Human-Centric Lighting solutions that manipulate colour and brightness, and mimic the daylight cycle to align circadian rhythms. These systems operate by emitting light that gradually shifts from warm white to cool white, peaking at midday. The high intensity, blue hued light mid-morning stimulates serotonin and cortisol production, making us more alert. The shift towards warmer tones of lower intensity light towards the end of the day signal the beginnings of melatonin production, readying us for rest and sleep.
Doing this over time could help our circadian rhythms get back on track, ensuring a productive day and a good night’s rest.
Below: Dyson’s CU Beam suspended lighting comes with heat pipe technology to cool LEDs, allowing them to throw powerful light, precisely where you need it
We spoke to Dr. Neil Stanley, sleep expert and consultant to Future Designs, who also warned us of HCL’s potential negative impacts.
“Human-Centric Lighting is seemingly promising a workplace utopia, however the scientific underpinning of these claims is just not there at the moment,” he says. “Essentially, just because we can do clever things with light doesn’t mean that we should in fact be doing them. We still have very limited data on the effects of human-centric lighting on sleep and wellbeing, and the few studies that exist are predominantly laboratory based, rather than real world examples. This is particularly important given our different innate chronotypes and the wide variation in our individual circadian and ultradian rhythms, as well as the demands of our job. For example, using warmer light in the afternoon to prepare the workers for their evening would not be optimal for the person working to a tight deadline, yet colder light in the late afternoon on a winter’s day may have negative effects on circadian timing, and consequently on sleep. We still do not know the unintended effects that artificial light during the day may have on sleep at night, nor other aspects of our health that are tied to our circadian rhythms. More research is needed into the real life effects of using HCL. In the meantime it should be used wisely with an awareness of both its positive and its potential negative effects.”
“Human-Centric Lighting is seemingly promising a workplace utopia, however the scientific underpinning of these claims is just not there at the moment. Essentially, just because we can do clever things with light doesn’t mean that we should in fact be doing them.,”
– Dr. Neil Stanley, Sleep Expert at The Sleep Consultancy
Below: Humanscale’s Horizon LED Task Light has a light throw powered by Thin Film LED Technology, producing an ultra wide, glare free footprint that is smooth and even
Lighting Affects Mood and Performance
There have been numerous studies proving that the colour of lighting can have an effect on a person’s mood and work performance. Natural light has been proven to be, without a doubt, the best and most enriching form of light. But there’ve been interesting studies that note differences in response among different age groups to light. Older adults displayed negative moods in cool bluish lighting, whilst younger adults showed a more negative mood in warmer, reddish/yellowish light.
In simpler terms, dim or inadequate lighting has a high correlation to a decrease in motivation and increased fatigue amongst workers. But what’s interesting is how variations in colour can be used to enhance a particular type of activity.
Researchers found that light produced by blue enriched light bulbs led to workers feeling happier, more alert and reporting less eye strain. Other benefits of blue light include lower melatonin, the hormone responsible for sleep. The results imply that the best of use of blue light would be in brainstorming rooms that require people to be active, alert and motivated throughout. On the other hand, warmer tones have been found to be soothing and tend to create a sense of comfort, which is why this kind of lighting is used in more homely or intimate settings where you would want people to feel calm and relaxed. Think lounges or social areas. The basic approach here is to sequence light in a manner that best suits the user’s performance needs.
Effects of Lighting on Student Wellbeing
Schools would benefit tremendously if they paid attention to light conditions in their learning environments. A study supporting the relationship between improved lighting conditions and better wellbeing and performance, showed a slight decrease in aggressive behaviour within younger age groups (8 to 12), and an increase in positive social behaviour. The results also showed better reading comprehension, faster reading speed and fewer errors.
Given that lighting is a dominant factor in our brain’s ability to focus on a task, it now makes total sense that students in brightly lit classrooms scored better on tests than those seated in dimly lit ones. Plus, overall improvement in behaviour, and decreased anxiety and stress levels, also led to improved student health and wellbeing.
Natural Light and Patient Recovery
Research out of the UK on cardiac surgery patients indicated that their length of stay post op was reduced by 7.3 hours per 100 lux increase in daylight. Simply put, patients exposed to increased sunlight recovered better and faster than those in artificial lighting conditions.
Studies like these are a signal to healthcare facilities to consider light as an important element in patient recovery. Smart LED systems are being explored by hospitals. These systems can be programmed to vary in intensity and brightness to stimulate melatonin levels so patients can sleep better. Furthermore, getting the right light composure is critical not just to patients but to visiting family and friends as well. An appropriately lit room maintains the overall mood, suggesting a calm environment that helps the patient, as well as the family, deal with the stress associated with being in a hospital.