Light is essential to our existence. Whether to a prehistoric caveman, warming himself by the light of a fire in a cave, or a modern-day adventurer, exploring uncharted territories, light has always given us comfort and reassurance. Light allows us to understand the world we live in; it shows us things we thought we would never see.

Living with the pandemic can translate into outdoor activity restrictions for most of us, living is mainly about the indoors for now. While artificial light is a technological advancement, it has changed our lifestyle and well-being. Our bodies are not evolved to respond well when we experience different types or amounts of artificial lights 24/7, compared with our ancestors did with natural sunsets and sunrises throughout their days.

This responsiveness to natural light is known as the circadian rhythm or cycle that affects the daily biological cycle of almost all living beings. In fact, it’s not just humans who experience a circadian rhythm. All living beings, from plants, animals to even bacteria have these rhythms that determine their daily behaviour. 

When we are exposed to light, it triggers a series of responses in our body that help us maintain an internal clock. The part of your brain where this happens is called the hypothalamus which is linked to photoreceptors (such as the retina) that are responsible for synchronising our internal clock with the light we absorb during the day. The circadian cycle dictates the rhythms of our body and influences sleep, mood, wakefulness. It also affects how we digest food, body temperature control, and even cell renewal!

© PARK ASSOCIATES, Project Photography by Edward Hendricks, Chris O’Grady, Fabian Ong

 

Research shows that the right amount of light can improve mood, appetite and energy levels, while poor lighting contributes to depression and other deficiencies in the body. 

As a way to promote healthier living, architects should design homes with lighting that helps people have an adjusted circadian rhythm. Fluorescent lights are often used in offices and restaurants because they produce very little heat. The downside is the blue light these lamps emit tricks your body into thinking it’s daytime which disrupts sleep patterns by making you feel less tired after staring at screens all day long. On top of this, there has been increasing evidence showing how using mobile devices before bed leads not only to health problems like depression or anxiety but also physical ailments such as chronic back pain

A study from the University of Toronto demonstrated the significance of light intensity, showing that bright lights “heighten our initial emotional reaction to a stimulus and this means that its effects can be both positive and negative. Researchers recommend that artificial lights should be used to emulate natural daylight cycles. Brighter and stronger light is suggested for the morning, day time while dimmer lamps are recommended at night or when it’s dark outside

The colour temperature of light likewise dramatically affects the human body. Typically depicted in Kelvin (K), higher colours will produce a brighter and cooler effect on our bodies when compared to lower ones. The warmth or ‘cold’ does not necessarily refer to physical heat but rather an emotional tone or feeling one may have after being exposed for long periods.

Taking advantage of sunlight during the day and avoiding direct exposure to cold or blue light at bedtime can improve sleep quality and positively affect people’s well-being and productivity.

Warm lights make our environment feel more welcoming and relaxing. The warm tones correspond to dusk and dawn when the body is generally more relaxed. Weak, indirect, and warm lighting makes people more relaxed. Although this may not be a good choice for a work environment that requires efficiency and productivity, it may be beneficial for a restaurant, a rest area, or a bedroom.

In contrast, cooler lights make the environment more stimulating – they make us feel more alert, more focused and increase productivity. It’s also believed that blue light reduces the sleep-related hormone melatonin levels, which make us feel more awake at night. On the other hand, blue lights have been proven as an effective tool in boosting concentration levels which is perfect when we need our minds focused on tasks like meeting deadlines or completing difficult projects!

By knowing the importance of proper lighting within our living, working or playing spaces, lighting design should not be taken as an after-thought. Being aware of the crucial impacts of lighting on our emotions, energy and our body, we need to always reconsider our lighting-related decisions, whether to get a lamp that is on sale, check the phone one last time before bed, or to create a de’light’ful living space that truly matters to us.