After attending a talk at Eco Build 2015 ‘CPD: Lighting and health: What the research tells us’ I was inspired to look further into how the lighting systems that we install in homes and work places can be heavily affecting our quality of life and health without us even realizing it.
Florence Lam (lighting designer of the year 2013) who is an expert in lighting design for Arup introduced the relationship between light and physical and psychological factors. She highlighted that the key things people tend to look for in lighting is beauty, eco-friendliness and functionality. However people tend to disregard the health factors which should be tied under the functionality spec.
A basic human need is to have exposure to light. One of these reasons is to absorb vitamin D from sunlight, but also to enhance mood. Ensuring that you’ve had a good night sleep can enhance mood. The diurnal cycle (which is the pattern of sunlight that occurs daily due to the earth spinning on an axis) has a key part in allowing this to happen. The effect of this upon humans is called the circadian rhythm. The change in light colour and intensity has a huge effect upon our health. This is due to serotonin being converted into melatonin when the sun goes down, which allows people to sleep for longer.
Often, in this modern age where people are staring at bright computer screens etc. in the evening, we are tricking our circadian rhythm into thinking that its still daytime, so when we go to bed and wonder why we cannot fall asleep even though we've had an exhausting day, quite often this is the reason why. However, we could effectively resolve this issue through the lighting in our homes correctly to assist in allowing our bodies to act the way they were intended.
Brian Charman spoke about a case study that Philips Lighting University conducted in the German Heart Institute in Berlin. In this hospital they have installed controllable lighting in patients rooms which have been shown to have improved stress levels and sleep patterns along with hormone release.
‘It is extremely important to us that the patients in our intensive care unit feel secure, comfortable and well looked after – both medically and emotionally.’
– Prof. Dr. med Dr. h. c Roland Hetzer, Medical Director, German Heart Institute
These systems could also be installed in homes easily and at a fairly low cost through the use of colour changing light and dimmer switches. ‘Hue’ by Philips for example allows you to change the colour temperature within your home with a simple controller or phone app and a lightbulb which would fit most standard adapters.
These systems could also be extremely useful to those who travel a lot. By adapting circadian rhythm lighting systems, the body can be eased out of jet lag with minimal inconvenience, something that could be potentially very useful to hotels also. There are already alarm clocks on the market (which have been around for years now) that are designed to wake you up naturally, but what the speakers were talking about was taking this a couple of steps further.
Increased productivity has also been linked with correct lighting. Peter Raynham spoke about his research into the improvement in children’s grades within a school where the better and worse lit classrooms were compared. Although his research is not 100% accurate due to additional factors such as the teacher that the children were taught by, the improvement in mood in addition to grades suggest that daylight has a positive impact upon productivity.
Light has always been something that has fascinated me and this knowledge is definitely something that I will take into consideration when designing light in the future, as I'm sure it will be for many others also.
'We now design with light, rather than light designing'
- Joanna Wood, Interiors for Living