While it may not seem obvious as to why, light can play a role in our health by disrupting our sleep cycles.
Extensive research now shows that specific light waves can directly suppress the production of melatonin, which then affects our sleep, energy, and alertness. Specifically, new research of Blue and Amber light has identified how these hues can affect one’s ability to remain alert and/or ability to fall asleep.
In an ideal world, adults would get at least 7 hours of sleep per night. However, a Center for Disease Control & Prevention study has determined that more than one-third of adults surveyed reported sleeping less than 7 hours in a 24-hour period. The average adult gets only about 6.5 hours of sleep per night, if that much, according to research statistics. That means adults are getting 20 percent less sleep on average than they did in the 1960s. This lack of sleep is associated with a greater risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, mental illness, and other chronic conditions.
There are a number of factors that can play a role in sleep deprivation: unhealthy sleep habits; too much stimulation from electronic devices; alcohol late at night; travel schedules; and workloads, among other things. To help improve and reduce sleep deprivation, many experts place an emphasis on the importance of establishing good sleep habits, such as going to bed and waking up at the same time each morning; removal of unnecessary and distracting electronics from your bedroom such as phones, computers, tablets; avoiding big meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bed; and exercising regularly. They also indicate having a good sleep environment with a bedroom that is dark and at a comfortable temperature.
The need for a dark room may seem obvious to secure a good night’s sleep, but not many think about how light affects their sleep cycles before they enter the bedroom.
TICK-TOCK — THE INTERNAL CLOCK
One of the most exciting areas of current scientific research on the human body addresses the effect of light on our Circadian Rhythm, which controls our sleep cycle. Researchers discovered a new type of photoreceptor in the eye that powerfully regulates our sleep/wake cycle. Through this photoreceptor, light resets our internal body clock, which prompts our body and organs to carry out their required functions at any time of day.
Light serves as the major synchronizer of our “Master Clock,” which synchronizes all of the other biological clocks in our bodies. Like a clock, the circadian system needs to be wound and set to the correct time every day. Maintaining a natural rhythm of exposure to natural daylight and darkness at night are key factors to maintaining a healthy balance of your circadian rhythm. However, with our exposure to the built environment, achieving that balance can often be difficult.
Historically, people experienced great light exposure during the day when the sun rose and set. Nowadays, we are exposed to a large variety of artificial light from both interior and exterior sources. Our increased exposure to more light during a 24-hour period from built environments and electronics results in a lot less darkness. This creates an alteration in your natural circadian rhythm, altering your mood, behavior cognition, plus physiological and cellular functions.
LET THE SUN SHINE IN
Exposure to the sun naturally produces the mood-elevating chemical known as serotonin, which makes us more awake and alert. To maintain and “anchor” your master clock naturally, you may want to get bright outdoor light exposure for 30 to 60 minutes a day, ideally at solar noon. New studies indicate that many light bulbs emit blue light waves and produce a similar effect in our bodies like the sun. During the daytime, we want to be exposed to light that is in the blue spectrum —
whether it comes from natural or man-made sources — to create more alertness and increase productivity. The right amount of light exposure during the day will increase melatonin production at night to regulate your sleep cycle.
Here’s where it gets tricky. The effect of blue light can often be seen as a detriment versus a benefit as exposure time can create confusion to our master clock. Light that affects our circadian rhythm is based on timing, intensity, duration of exposure, and the wavelength. Timing is essential; you want a regular schedule of awake and sleep time. Getting up at 3:00 a.m. is going to throw your rhythm out of sync. When you stay up late at night and have blue lights from electronics such as TVs, phones, and tablets, your rhythm is going to be pulled in another direction. The most common scenario is that we’re using technology late at night, and that’s causing us to basically be in this perpetual state of jetlag.
SEEING RED AT NIGHT
It is important to be aware of the wavelength of light that you are exposed to because you want to make sure that you’re using the right tone of light in the evening. Research has identified that the ideal tone of light for evening is in the Amber spectrum. Red or Amber — in other words, the absence of blue — will not affect a person’s sleep cycle, so it is ideal for nighttime lighting. The simple light output of a bedside clock needs to be in a red or amber tone versus blue or green so as to not interfere with your body’s melatonin production. Placing lights on dimmers will also aid in reducing bright light as your body tries to wind down during the evening hours. Lamps that don’t emit blue light waves allow the mind and body to enter into a relaxed state of mind, where brains can secrete melatonin (which is the body’s natural chemical that causes one to become drowsy and eventually leads to a comfortable sleep if not interrupted).
As awareness of the effects of light on our circadian rhythm are becoming more commonly known in the lighting industry, a number of manufacturers and industry leaders are already addressing the issue. The topic is gaining traction with many educational sessions recently presented at LEDucation10 this past spring, covering topics such as “Lighting for the Aging Eye” from Lauren Roberts with Visa Lighting and “Get Blue and Go Home: the Practical Applications of Neuroscience at Home” presented by Steven L. Klein. Both sessions touched on the use of Blue and Amber light and its effect on our body and mind.
“Everyone is interested in using light as a healing tool. The industry just needs more research,” commented Lauren Roberts, Healthcare Market Development Manager for VISA Lighting. “Architects and designers have heard about the effects of tunable lighting, but do not understand the technology just yet — or if they do, they are still looking for research and case studies to learn how to control it.
Tunable lighting or warm-to-cool color temperature change that mimics the outdoors and varies with the time of day gives us independent control of our surroundings and allow us to respond and adjust to the environment. Research has shown that day/night cycled lighting that varies the intensity of light with the time of day aids in giving visual cues that keep our circadian rhythms on track.
Healthcare design strategies are more commonly incorporating amber LEDs in patient room settings with simple automatic control systems that provide a soft, warm light instead of the bright, harsh white light that is often associated with a healthcare setting. The use of the amber LEDs along with dimming controls can mean all the difference in providing comfort without disrupting the patient’s sleep cycle.
“I believe at one point light therapists will be needed on staff. Controlling different wavelengths of light for a person is a very individual and custom need; everyone is different,” Roberts affirmed. “480nm for one person of blue light might cause them to be more alert, but the next might need 470nm. There’s no one way to design this yet, but we’re getting there.”
CIRCADIAN RHYTHM Lighting
There are a number of new solutions that address “circadian rhythm lighting” that were just recently introduced for both the Commercial and Residential markets at LIGHTFAIR® International in San Diego.
Visa Lighting entered the healthcare market several years ago with a variety of commercial solutions that address the need for a balance of Blue and Amber light waves particularly in patient settings. The company’s two-patient room overbed lights — Unity® and Serenity® — have been used in sleep centers, patient rooms, and senior living environments for their amber nightlight and blue spectrum options. It’s no surprise then, that the Unity & Serenity Nightlights are among the company’s top-sellers and feature an amber color option to minimize patient disturbance. The Unity Ceiling unit features a blue spectrum option for daytime use and to mimic a more comfortable daylight environment. Each of these solutions – including a new patient room exam light debuting later this year – will be outfitted with a tuneable light module that can assist with a person’s circadian rhythm and healing.
Stack Lighting was recently awarded the Product of the Year Award in the Conventional Retrofit and Replacement LED Lamp category at LIGHTFAIR® International for its Stack Light product, considered to be the first responsive light bulb that automatically adjusts light levels. The innovative lamp is controlled through a sensor and smartphone app that uses the power of sensors and natural light to adjust light settings by mimicking sunlight throughout the day. The light is fully controllable from the Stack Lighting app and learns user preferences over time to maximize energy savings and ideal circadian lighting settings.
Lighting Science Group (LSG) has been researching the effects of different kinds of light on sleep/wake cycles since it developed light therapies for NASA astronauts several years ago. The company has extended its findings to create a line of LED bulbs engineered to restore our natural circadian rhythms.
The HealthE biological light line offers 3 solutions: an Awake and Alert bulb that promotes energy and cognitive abilities; a Good Night bulb that supports the body’s natural creation of melatonin for corrected sleep patterns; and the Sleepy Baby bulb that creates the perception of darkness to help babies fall asleep.
As more research and solutions become available, people of all ages will be able to take greater