October 11, 2015
Biodynamic lighting is an artificial light source that replicates the dynamic variations of daylight and sunlight through a light management system. Up until recent times, it was commonly believed that light was only needed for seeing. However, in 2001, an American scientist, G. C. Brainard discovered a circadian photoreceptor in the retina, which receives a specific quality and quantity of light, and sets the biological clock.* He discovered that light not only provides us with the ability to see, but that light enters the eye via the ‘fourth pathway’, which has a vital non-visual or biological effect on the human body. His studies showed that a certain quantity and quality of light stimulates the biological clock, also known as the circadian rhythm, which regulates hormone levels, particularly melatonin and cortisone, in the body and so plays a vital role in our physical and mental wellbeing.
Thanks to biodynamic light, the same biological effects of natural sunlight can be recreated in working environments. The artificial light can vary in quality and quantity (of artificial light) to mimic the rhythm of natural light, offering a lighting solution that has a positive impact on vision, the biological clock and health. Another key discovery behind biodynamic lighting shows that we are all, effectively, fitted with a blue-sky detector: special receptors in our eyes react to the blue content in daylight, see it decreasing as the day goes on, and prepare us accordingly for activity or rest. Our daily cycle takes its cues from the rising and setting of the sun, but artificial lights don’t usually send the right cues to keep our daily rhythms in check. The lack of a good light source can lead to lower productivity, weight gain, and can increase our risk of other health problems such as depression. This is especially true in the darker months of the year.
What about working at night – a real challenge to the human circadian system? I recently took a taxi at night from Gatwick airport to London and the driver told me that he can only work night shifts as this is what his body clock is used to. He mentioned daylight and sun are too bright and upset his senses. However, research proves that messing too much with our body clock alters melatonin levels and can damage health in the long term.
This suggests that exposure to intense light boosts employees’ feelings of alertness. At the very least it can counteract feelings of tiredness, although this may depend on the duration and timing of the exposure to light. This leads to the fact that lighting manufacturers and designers are focusing on energy and safety when designing their products, but more and more with the human in mind. It is as important to create energy-efficient lighting to save energy whilst increasing productivity and well being.
Exposure to bright light (1000 lux) can help employees to feel alert after a short night’s sleep. Dim light (below 5 lux) on the other hand, increases sleepiness. Light pollution is another often overlooked topic. Nocturnal lighting harms the wellbeing of some animals, interfering with reproduction, orientation and hunting. Exposure to light at night has been associated with cancer and lower cognitive performance. Human beings need the downtime of darkness to restore their bodily health during the night.
*G.C. Brainard, et al., (2001), Action Spectrum for Melatonin Regulation in Humans: Evidence for a Novel Circadian Photoreceptor, The Journal of Neuroscience, August 15, 21, (16), p. 6405–6412.
Peter Young is the Managing Director of Waldmann UK. firstname.lastname@example.org