“I don’t want ugly fluorescents” is a phrase we often hear when asking people what type of lighting they like in the office. Fluorescent tubes, along with most artificial light sources, create a static lighting which is very different from what we are adapted to. Daylight on the other hand holds several qualities with documented and independently verified health benefits.

Michael Warwick’s article “Health Benefits of Daylighting” appeared in the February issue of Lighting.

That daylighting can affect our health and wellbeing has been known for many years. Over the last decade this has found basis in research and we are starting to understand the underlying processes.

Recent empirical studies have started replacing earlier trends and hypotheses to develop an evidence-based approach that better justifies budget expenditure in hospitals and institutions. Many of the studies did not follow strict scientific methodology and conflicting results were reported in several studies. Despite these shortcomings a programme of research outlines the key findings:

Reducing Medical Errors

Errors occurring while dispensing medications at pharmacies were found to be significantly reduced when the light level was increased from 450 lux to 1500 lux.

Reducing Pain

In 2005, patients were studied after spinal operations and those placed in sunnier wards felt less pain and used less painkillers which saved the clinic over 20% in medication cost.

Improving Sleep Patterns

Light has a direct impact on our bodies’ internal clock—the circadian cycle—by controlling the levels of melatonin, sometimes called “the sleep hormone”.

High lighting levels in the morning stop the production of melatonin and we wake up quickly but the same light levels in the evening will prevent us from falling asleep. The Lighting Research Center found significant changes in students’ melatonin production after only five days of wearing glasses with special filters.

Treating Depression

A meta-analysis of 20 studies showed that exposure to light was efficient as pharmacotherapy treatments. The effects were also seen much faster than when using traditional drugs.

Reducing Hospital Stay Time

A study in Bangladesh found that hospitalisation times were reduced with higher lighting levels in the ward. Another study found, in addition to the time, that mortality rate was lower in sunny rooms compared to dull rooms.

Light may Trigger Migraines

Many migraine patients related harsh contrasts and bright lights as triggers of migraine.

Artificial lighting can mimic some of the beneficial effects of daylighting, however advanced technologies often come with a high price tag and complexity. By optimising the building and considering the natural lighting early in the process these health benefits can be captured to a lower cost.

The full article can be found in the February issue of Lighting.