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Impact of artificial light on health and wellbeing

The correct amount of natural light in a workspace can improve productivity and reduce eye strain | multi comfort

As the days shorten and the clocks go back, we are all exposed to reduced levels of natural light. But because we have a desire to live and work in exactly the same way throughout the changing seasons, we begin to be exposed to more artificial lighting so that we can continue to go about our usual everyday activities.

Being reliant on and exposed to more artificial light however, can cause problems with our health and wellbeing.

With the advent of artificial lighting came the opportunity to remain active for far longer than our ancestors. They would have risen at dawn and stopped at dusk, working with the natural limits of the changing light and subsequent darkness.

Autumn and Winter would have found them using the natural daylight hours for outdoor activities and then taking the time to rest and recuperate at the onset of darkness.

Yet as our reliance on artificial light increased, the following physiological and psychological issues have emerged:

  • Decreased motivation
  • Increased stress and anxiety
  • Low mood to mild/moderate depression
  • Those diagnosed with depression may experience a worsening of symptoms
  • Lethargy and general fatigue
  • Finding it hard to wake up in the mornings
  • Increased appetite/emotionally driven eating
  • Eye fatigue

These symptoms often increase over the winter months and can range from the mildly inconvenient to the severely debilitating.

Lighting in workspaces

With this in mind, in our workspaces it’s vital to consider that the end users are often leaving home for work in the dark and returning in the dark. In buildings with poor daylighting design, their experience of light has the potential to be purely artificial, so the quality of the light is key

In the past, lighting has been seen to be the poor relation and an area to cut costs. Now, however, it’s becoming clear that lighting design and the quality of the light for the task at hand needs much greater consideration and an increased budget. 

Lighting can’t be prescriptive, so there isn’t one type of light that will suit everyone; no one size to fit all. Areas to consider will include the age of the end users and their use of a space, shift workers etc. The setting, such as care homes, health care and places of learning, also has an impact. In particular, studies show that lighting plays a hugely important role to those suffering from dementia. 

Studies are also looking at human circadian rhythms or how our body clocks are impacted by light. At present we don’t have the definitive answer but we know that cooler light temperatures or light that contains more blue, helps to increase creative thinking, motivation and productivity as it is closer to daylight: a time when we would naturally be more active. 

Warmer light temperatures mimic the sun at sunset and breaking dawn. This light is therefore better later in the afternoon and into the evening. It brings with it benefits to general wellbeing and stimulates the hormones that increase our ability to rest and sleep. 

The design of our homes and how they are lit for purpose is also something that will require consideration in the future. Bedroom lighting designed to evoke sleep, for example. 

Lighting design can no longer be seen just as static and something that is fixed. Natural light changes through the seasons and we believe our spaces will need to reflect this for wellbeing. 

In conclusion, we believe that there are three key areas to be considered within the built environment. 

1 Natural Light

Looking at the current lighting industry research the same conclusions continue to be drawn: currently there is no better light than natural light. This simply means that harnessing natural light and designing with this in mind is going to be the way forward 

2 Quality of Light

The general attitude to light as a cost cutter needs to change. This giver of life needs to be high quality if humans are to thrive within the built environment. It’s really that simple: we must make lighting design of paramount importance 

3 Culture change

A significant way forward may be a change in the culture of how we live and work with natural light. In the future, seeing light and having exposure to it will be vital. Replacing going to a gym with artificial light for active time outdoors may be a part the answer, plus making time for a daylight break or working outside should be the new normal 

We can learn a thing or two from the past, where natural light was prescribed. Our hope is that, in the future, lighting will be higher up on the agenda of building design to ensure the fundamental needs of humans are met.

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Disclaimer: The sole responsibility for any views expressed lies with the author(s). Any opinions shared do not necessarily represent the views of Saint-Gobain.

Jayne Cox
Jayne Cox Stress Management Consultant and Wellbein...
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