Natural Daylight – Lighting Design
Lighting to Make You Feel More Alert
Lighting that changes throughout the day to mimic natural outdoor light can benefit individuals that spend large amounts of time inside by syncing with the body’s natural circadian rhythm. Recent innovations in natural daylight lighting design allow light sources to change in response to the time of day. These fittings are designed to alleviate feelings of tiredness, low energy and concentration.
Our Exposure to Artificial Light Sources
I seems like we spend too much time inside and as a result, our exposure to artificial light sources is ubiquitous. In 2001, the Journal of Exposure Analysis and Environmental Epidemiology published findings from the National Human Activity Pattern Survey. The study sought to understand how humans are affected by indoor and outdoor airborne pollutants, however the survey revealed incidentally that the average time the study group spent indoors was 87% of the day. If we take this as the norm, this means humans in developed countries spend almost 21 hours a day under artificial light — the majority of which is set to a constant intensity and colour output. This is significant, because it distances us from the natural fluctuations of light which allow our bodies to carry out biological processes. To support health and wellbeing, what we actually need are light sources that more closely follow fluctuations in natural light.
The Solution? Big Sky Lighting
Early this year, I met with the designers at Ideaworks in Great Portland street to see a new innovation in lighting design called ‘Big Sky Limitless’. Designed in Finland by specialists Light Cognitive, the fitting is a large screen that emits light levels and colour reproduction to replicate an outdoor natural light environment. Daylight is made up of a wide gamut of wavelengths but peaks in the blue part of the spectrum. During the day cycle, Big Sky emits high intensity light enriched in the blue portion of the spectrum. The effect of blue enriched light (when the body is expecting it) is an increase in alertness and a feeling of wellbeing. Towards the evening and after dusk, the blue part of the light gives over to warmer light associated with the end of the day.
Light Cognitive are advised by Dr. Steven Lockley at Harvard Medical School and currently looking at uses in the home, corporate, and hospitality although this could be hugely beneficial in learning environments including complex sensory needs, and care homes. A 2014 paper in Dovepress Journal reported that their study showed that lighting intervention can reduce depression and improve wellbeing in people with dementia.
Post blog note: The Circadian Rhythm
The circadian rhythm in human beings (from the Latin circa, meaning “around” and diēm, meaning “day”) is the internal biological mechanism responsible for maintaining homeostatic health across the 24 hour or diurnal cycle each day. Commonly known and as the ‘body clock’ it is, in fact, made up of many ‘clocks’ or processes that regulate everything from hunger, tiredness, energy levels and mood. A healthy circadian rhythm allows us carry out essential body functions such as sleeping, eating or interacting during the most appropriate times of the day. Coordinating activities with each other allows us to act and work together as a community of human beings.
Perhaps the most well known environmental triggers to coordinate circadian rhythm is the diurnal cycle of the sun across the day, and to a lesser extent the annual cycle of light as it changes throughout the year, especially at latitudes further away from the equator. Most travellers of long haul flight will be familiar with jet lag and the associated symptoms of fatigue, disorientation, and insomnia that accompany it.
Disruptive symptoms can also be replicated by disrupted sleep patterns, inadequate time spent asleep or the consumption of drugs such as alcohol that have detrimental effects on the biological processes that occur during ‘quality’ sleep. The brain does not simply ‘switch off’ when it is asleep — it carries out essential repair processes and removing toxins built up during the ‘awake’ part of the cycle.