The idea that light can have a biological effect on humans first appeared with research on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). People living in northern parts of the U.S., where hours of daylight are significantly reduced in winter months, reported tired, depression-like symptoms. When sufferers of SAD made an effort to get least 20 minutes a day of daylight in the morning, they reported improved symptoms. Even being exposed to electric light with full spectrum characteristics, had a positive affect.
Subsequent studies showed that blue spectrum light played a role in suppressing melatonin which, at elevated levels, produces drowsiness and sleep.
The concept of “therapeutic lighting” has emerged as more is learned about the positive effects of light on humans, and, more specific applications undergo testing and analysis. The National Lighting Bureau recently sponsored a panel discussion of how therapeutic lighting is being used in long term care facilities.
In one example, electric light levels are modulated inside the care facility to simulate sunrise and sunset. Patients remain better oriented to the time of day – especially those suffering from Alzheimer’s. Sleep patterns improve, as well as the quality of sleep which translates into more alert and engaged interactions by the patients.
Because of the positive results of using light for therapeutic purposes in long term care facilities, the panel suggested less expensive ways to bring these concepts into more institutional settings. Instead of expensive retrofits of ceiling mounted light fixtures, use of plug-in devices such as illuminated tables show promise.
Another area where therapeutic lighting is being researched is in the hospital. In one example, simulated daylighting in intensive-care units resulted in faster recovery.
View the entire two-part National Lighting Bureau panel discussion on therapeutic lighting.
Image © Daneel Ariantho / Flickr Commercial License
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