The Future of Lighting is Mental Health
The world of lighting is always changing – we are constantly seeing new fixture technology, new processes, and new controls.
Keeping up with what is new and what’s next is one of my favourite parts about being an EECOL Lighting Specialist.
When we think about the future of lighting, there is no doubt we will continue to see a drive toward lowering energy consumption via automation and light-emitting diodes (LEDs).
What you may not know is that LED (light emitting diodes) technology – along with the right digital controls – can also create a lighting design that improves workplace productivity, mood, and even mental health.
This connection between lighting and mental health is what many believe will drive lighting innovation for years to come.
Current Research on Lighting and Health
One way I keep up to date about lighting innovations is through my volunteer committee role on the Edmonton chapter of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IES). With members that include engineers, lighting designers, scientists, manufacturers and more, the IES establishes and shares scientifically based lighting recommendations.
We’ve seen many presentations at the IES about circadian rhythms – the 24-hour cycles that make up our internal clock. These cycles take cues from our environment and are constantly running in the background without us even being aware of them.
One of the most powerful of the circadian rhythms is the sleep-wake cycle, which is heavily influenced by sunlight and darkness. When we are exposed to darkness, our brain produces melatonin – the hormone that helps us sleep. Likewise, exposure to sunlight suppresses melatonin production, making us more alert.
Unfortunately, it is estimated that humans spend about 90% of their time indoors. This means that far too often; we find ourselves working inside environments where we receive less light during the day and too much light during the night. Then there’s Canada in the winter – where we sometimes do not see daylight at all.
Disruptions to our circadian rhythms – for example, shift work that changes the time you’re asleep and awake – are linked to many negative health impacts including poor sleep quality, depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and even cancer.
As we dive deeper into the connection between lighting and our health, however, we also see the positive effects lighting can have on our mood, productivity, and overall well-being.
How Lighting Can Improve Mood and Workplace Productivity
While research warns about the dangers of poor lighting, it also shows us how daylight has a positive impact on our mood and our ability to sleep well.
For example, numerous studies by the Lighting Research Centre (LRC) show a strong connection between lighting and alertness and better workplace productivity when we use lighting that supports our circadian rhythm. Likewise, many studies examine how good lighting can positively affect student performance in schools. One study even showed how blue-enriched white light can support faster cognitive processing speed and better concentration in students.
Knowing that we can control lighting to support better functionality challenges us to think about our designs and what types of products we can use to support our health.
Applying what we know about the benefits of blue-toned light on alertness, we can see the advantages of using LED technology in new ways. LED isn’t just energy-efficient – it can help support our natural circadian rhythms.
One article that stood out described this best: “No other light source does a better job mimicking the sun’s broad colour spectrum than the LED.” In other words, when we want to mimic the natural sunlight that promotes alertness, LED is where we turn.
We can use the Correlated Colour Temperature (CCT) of LED lights to greatly impact the human body: warmer, yellow-toned LED lights can welcome and relax us while cooler, blue-tone lights can help us feel more alert, focused, and productive. All of this can be used to support our natural circadian rhythms.
Many manufacturers, like Cooper, already offer products like Colour Selectable Lighting to help increase alertness during the workday by using cooler-toned lights. Of course, products like this go hand in hand with field-selectable and smart technology, which allows us to control everything from the lumens to the colour temperature of lights in our spaces. We can even create customizations based on an individual’s preference or need (such as to help address a visual impairment).
The products and technology that support lighting and health are not out of our reach – they are available right now.
The Future of Lighting is Health-Centric
If we understand the powerful impact that lighting has on our health, and we can access lighting products that can support our natural circadian rhythms – then we can start designing lighting systems that go beyond the basic function of illumination.
This health-focused approach to lighting design that prioritizes the well-being and health of individuals is called Human-Centric Lighting (HCL).
This type of design considers the natural variation of light throughout the day and recognizes the crucial role light plays in regulating our circadian rhythm, which as we’ve mentioned above, affects our health, energy levels, and overall mental well-being.
How Human-Centric Lighting Can Help
There is no doubt that the science is there to support the connection between lighting and health. Here is a summary of the key points to consider when approaching this type of design with a client:
Circadian Rhythm Regulation: As we have noted, our bodies are naturally tuned to the variations of natural light, with bright, blue-enriched light in the morning and warmer, dimmer light in the evening. By mimicking these lighting conditions in indoor environments, human-centric lighting can help regulate our circadian rhythm, promoting better sleep quality and overall mental health.
Mood Enhancement: Proper lighting can positively influence mood and emotions. Brighter light with cooler colour temperatures can increase alertness, focus, and productivity, making it ideal for morning and midday hours. In contrast, warmer light with lower colour temperatures promotes relaxation and can be beneficial during the afternoon and evening, helping individuals wind down and reduce stress levels.
Productivity and Alertness: Studies show lighting has a direct impact on cognitive performance and alertness. Exposure to bright, blue-enriched light during working hours can enhance productivity, attention, and concentration. It helps suppress melatonin production, the hormone that regulates sleep, keeping individuals more awake and engaged.
Biophilic Design: Biophilic design attempts increase an occupant’s connection to nature. Integrating natural elements into the workplace environment, such as daylight and views of nature, can have a positive impact on mental well-being and productivity. Human-centric lighting can support biophilic design by simulating natural daylight.
Individual Customization: In an ideal world, human-centric lighting systems would be personalized to cater to individual preferences and needs. Some individuals may require brighter or warmer light based on their specific tasks, visual impairments, or personal preferences. Customizable lighting systems would allow individuals to adjust their
Shift Work and Flexible Schedules: We know the negative impacts that shift work can have on circadian rhythms and our health. Human-centric lighting could help workers maintain proper light exposure, especially during night shifts. It could mitigate the negative impact of artificial light on circadian rhythms, promoting better overall well-being and work performance.
Implementing human-centric lighting requires a holistic approach that combines appropriate lighting fixtures, control systems, and an understanding of individual needs. By prioritizing the well-being of individuals and applying our knowledge about lighting and our circadian rhythms, we can create healthier, more stimulating, and more productive work environments as well as more inviting and relaxing home environments.