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At the Pulse of Human-Centric Lighting in Healthcare

Lighting has the power to affect human health, performance and well-being.

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illustration showing patients being taken care of during different light levels during the day
Published on: 9/24/2020
Updated on: 4/26/2023

The Cadiant™ Dynamic Lighting Experience illuminates the nursing station of this healthcare facility, keeping its staff and patients connected with the rhythm of the day.

For millions of years, humans woke up, lived, learned and thrived outdoors under the reliable and natural movement of the sun. We thus evolved our circadian cycle – a biological clock exquisitely calibrated to align our physiology to the different phases of a 24-hour day.

However, in modern society, many of us are spending over 90 percent of our time indoors—far from natural sunlight, and it can have a profound effect on human health, performance and well-being.

Although understanding this connection has far-reaching implications, this is particularly relevant for healthcare. In hospitals, long-term care and assisted living facilities, health and well-being is paramount—and yet, patients may spend days, weeks or years primarily indoors, disconnected from the rhythm of the day.

Faced with this reality, healthcare facilities have the opportunity to use what we know about the impact of artificial light to install human-centric lighting solutions. But this brings us to a crossroads. With what we know today, are we ready to apply this knowledge wisely—or not?

What Is Human-Centric Lighting?

Human-centric lighting is a type of lighting that mimics daylight and follows the natural circadian rhythms. It has been proven to enhance human performance, comfort, health, and well-being.

What We Know About Human-Centric Lighting

Three scientists won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for work uncovering the molecular mechanisms controlling our circadian clock, including light’s powerful role. Their work identified a nonvisual type of photoreceptor in the human eye named intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGCs) which have a different function than rods and cones.

This confirmed decades of previous research suggesting that a circadian rhythm synchronized to natural light helps us feel more energized during the day and sleep better at night. This circadian entrainment also improves our immune system, lowers our stress and even reduces our risk for diseases like diabetes, obesity, cancer and mood disorders.

In contrast, if our circadian rhythm is misaligned – that is, if we get too little light from the blue end of the visible spectrum during the day, or too much of it at night – a host of negative consequences can arise, including agitation, chronic fatigue, an inability to concentrate and an increased risk for various diseases.

Through research like this, our industry is coming to more fully understand the profound biological, functional and emotional effects that lighting has on people. With that, intense interest in the science of lighting is revealing exciting new ways to use the next best thing to sunlight—artificial lighting that emulates the spectral properties of natural light and the 24-hour cycle of day and night.

Some lighting solutions offer automated or manual tuning of correlated color temperature (CCT) to change the ratio of blue light to the rest of the visible spectrum to mimic the gradual spectral shift of daylight from morning to evening. Factors such as the intensity and duration of the light at various wavelengths, the shift in light distribution across the day, glare and visual comfort must all be considered as well for their impact to circadian entrainment or other physiological effects.

What This Means for the Healthcare Industry

Virtually every patient – from premature newborns in PICUs to seniors in long-term care facilities – live, sleep and convalesce under inflexible lighting. Their caretakers – doctors, nurses and other staff – work day and night under the same lighting. Can human-centric lighting directly improve patient outcomes? What about medical staff performance?

Though evidence is insufficient to claim unequivocally that patient outcomes and medical staff performance are among the benefits often associated with human-centric lighting, ongoing research findings and anecdotal reporting on pilot programs are promising.  

A few examples include:

  • A Department of Energy (DOE) report cited that target behaviors such as yelling, agitation and crying were reduced by an average of 41% for senior patients participating in a trial installation of LED lighting systems within the ACC Care Center in Sacramento, CA. 
  • Researchers at Yale University explored the use of circadian light to reduce delirium in patients admitted to the intensive care unit after cardiac surgery. After 14 days, patients who received light/dark-patterned light reported better sleep and reduced fatigue.
  • A study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that employees with windows in the workplace received 173 percent more white light exposure during work hours and slept an average of 46 minutes more per night than employees who did not have the natural light exposure.
  • For nursing homes and assisted living facilities, lighting intervention tailored to maximally entrain the circadian system has been shown to significantly improve sleep quality, depressive symptoms, and agitation behavior in patients with Alzheimer's and dementia.

For environments just like these, we developed our Cadiant™ Dynamic Lighting Experience to bring a realistic feeling of the outdoors into spaces where it was not otherwise possible to put windows or a real skylight. This product, along with other intelligent lighting solutions we offer feature the dimming, color tuning and spectral content needed to positively impact human performance and well-being.

Most of us are familiar with the consumer categories used to classify buying behavior when embracing a new technology or industry shift:  early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards.  There are risks and benefits associated with each and making the right choice for human-centric lighting will largely depend on your specific goals, priorities and values. 

Healthcare is among the industries expected to take an early lead in adopting human-centric lighting, along with education.

The best advice is to ensure the lighting choices you make today are “future-proof” – flexible, intelligent lighting solutions that are configurable and programmable, so you can apply new research findings as they are validated.

Because whether you’re ready now - or not yet - lighting optimized for human health, performance and well-being is likely to be the next major game-changer in the lighting industry.

What You Need To Know About Healthcare & Human-Centric Lighting

What Are the Benefits of Human-Centric Lighting?

Human-centric lighting comes with a variety of benefits that will help improve your patients’ moods and overall health, including:

  • Reinforcing the circadian rhythm for better sleep
  • Enhancing cognitive skills for a clearer mind
  • Improving a sense of wellness from the natural cycle of light
  • Lowering the rate of depression in patients
  • Reducing levels of fatigue

How Do I Choose the Right Human-Centric Lighting for My Medical Space?

Cree Lighting offers a full suite of LED lighting solutions for your hospital, medical practice or other spaces. Contact us today for a consultation to see how we can upgrade your patient environment with better light while providing energy and maintenance savings.

Learn More

To learn more about what the latest research and experts are saying about circadian lighting in the healthcare setting contact us at +1.262.886.1900 or info@creelighting.com, or fill out this form.

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