Circadian lighting should not be a luxury feature

Circadian lighting
Photo: Circadian lighting

Experts say healthy lighting is as critical as diet or exercise. The challenge for humans is that we often have little to no access to daylight in an office – it’s time for the built environment to help that.


Circadian lighting plays an important role in healthy workspaces – exposing the human body to wavelengths that support its biological clock can boost creativity, efficiency and happiness. There are many ways to support people’s circadian rhythms in the office. Like seating as many people as possible near windows or applying special light bulbs imitating the daylight following the position of the sun in the sky.


However, many of us have already experienced a sluggish mood on a cloudy day, there is still a reluctance to believe in the positive effects of natural daylight. Still, circadian rhythms control physical, mental, endocrine and behavioural responses, and basic functions such as digestion and body temperature – argues.


Good lighting means a healthy workforce 

“Circadian systems are so fundamental that even single-cell creatures possess them. The challenge for humans is that we often have little to no access to daylight in an office setting. Healthy lighting is as critical as diet and exercise—it’s time for the built environment to intentionally support that,” – dr. Mark Rea, professor of Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai pointed out.


Humans depend on the timely rise and fall of our sleep hormones. Circadian lighting helps the body transition to its evening sequence – low lighting and darkness signal the body to produce melatonin, which induces sleepiness.


Layering light can help

As the professor explains, the human circadian system is quite simple—it needs bright days and dim nights. The core problem is that too many employees aren’t positioned near windows and are stuck under low overhead lighting. But the sun is only directly overhead for a small portion of the day. Ceiling light doesn’t reflect the path of the sun’s arc. 


When investing in office lighting, keep in mind that proper circadian solutions shouldn’t rest on a single attribute, such as colour tunable or white light. Circadian lighting is all about layers – overhead lights counteracted with something as simple as a task lamp with comfortable horizontal illuminance is a good start.  


Results take time

Even in spaces with optimal circadian lighting, occupants won’t notice spontaneous energy leaps – warns and explains: The circadian system responds to light at certain intervals, especially in the two hours before bed and the one hour before rising. It takes time for the body to suppress or release melatonin. The goal of good workplace lighting should be to work with, not against, this natural flow.


Good planning can cut costs

The good news is that while bulbs, fixtures, sensors and controls can increase expenses, they may not be necessary for every single room. We should not think of circadian lighting as a whole building solution. There might be a handful of areas that truly benefit, such as a team located in the building core or a subterranean level.


Circadian lighting solution might even be a behavioural change, such as encouraging employees to work outside or permitting people to rotate where they work so they can be near windows for a portion of their day.


The ROI of proper lighting

There’s a temptation to expect that circadian lighting will directly impact productivity. But what does a productive employee look like and how would you know if their performance improved? Output can hinge on many factors that are difficult to measure: concentration, memory recall, fatigue perception, mood, creativity and morale.  


Experts say that we should shift the emphasis to sleep as we can concretely measure what good rest is. We also know that sleep quality can affect conditions such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, depression and anxiety. Circadian lighting is one way to support good sleep habits, which in turn promote a healthier workforce


You might also like