THE LATENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN LIGHT AND HEALTH

THE LATENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN LIGHT AND HEALTH

“Many functions necessary for growth and wellbeing such as breathing, sleeping, blood pressure, body temperature, appetite, moods, mental acuity, and the immune system are governed by the endocrine system, which is strongly affected by light, both natural and created.”

THE LATENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN LIGHT AND HEALTH

Our ongoing research on light and health makes inroads in widening our zeitgeist to understand the impact of electric light on the human body – its physiological and psychological effects – as well as the therapeutic properties of color in light. By developing this knowledge into patented products, we aim to implement this gleaned knowledge to our architectural projects. Consider first how light comes into play in a health-oriented society. Many functions necessary for growth and wellbeing such as breathing, sleeping, blood pressure, body temperature, appetite, mood changes, mental acuity, and immunity are governed by the endocrine system, which is strongly affected by light, both natural and created. There is also evidence suggesting that proper quantity of visually perceived light is needed for healthy functioning of the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that controls motivation, learning, and creativity; the limbic system, the part of the brain that stores emotional impressions of the world; and the motor cortex and the brain stem, the parts of the brain that coordinate body movement and the maintenance of life. As it relates to health and wellness, the key points to consider are the quality, the quantity, and the type of light being delivered within the space.

“Functional light is practical and allows people to see, and inspirational lighting is aesthetically pleasing lighting that is evocative and dramatic. The two types can also be described as being able to see and being directed to see.”

The manner in which we perceive light physiologically is one aspect that escapes culture. The reality of our body’s mediation of light is granted to control a large part of our functionality: from our ability to see through the optic center of our brain, to regulating how we sleep through the management of circadian rhythms. Light has a substantial impact on our physiological wellbeing and exploring it provides great insight into how light can be utilized or designed to make the most of these effects.

However, it is also necessary to explore the latent relationship between light and health. In understanding how the design of light can be used to manipulate the physiological condition, it must be understood that lighting installations exist in two forms: functional and inspirational.

The difference between the two is relatively straightforward. Functional light is practical and allows people to see while inspirational lighting is aesthetically pleasing lighting that is evocative and dramatic. The two types can also be described as being able to see and being directed to see. From here it is now easier to develop an understanding of how lighting designers can utilize light to instigate physiological effects. The most important effect light has on the body and the mind is through what are called circadian rhythms. These rhythms are the patterns through which the brain is able to measure relative time and, most commonly, are known to regulate sleep. Circadian disruption leads to an array of disorders (e.g., sleep disorders, impaired glucose regulation, and obesity) and decreased life expectancy. The optimal functioning of the circadian timing system is imperative for good health and can be assisted with proper lighting systems.

Circadian light (CL) differs from the generally conceived definition of visual light in that it refers to the effect of lighting on the human circadian system as opposed to light as a stimulus for the human visual system. The definition of circadian light is derived from the potential for light to suppress melatonin synthesis at night. 

Keeping all of these aspects in mind, it is imperative that healthy lighting systems be incorporated into hospital and healthcare design. The lighting design strategy, hardware, and controls must work holistically with all the other systems to optimize the level of care and developing comfort for the patient. Additionally, it is also key to develop a kit of parts across a hospital or healthcare facility, to reduce maintenance needs and provide a consistent light quality. The lighting design response should also be tailored to each space in order to meet specific patient and functional needs.

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