Posted in Lighting, Materials

The Impact of Light on Human Health

Spring ahead… Fall back… What’s the difference?  Apparently plenty.
Most of the United States follows the rule of Daylight Saving time.  Moving your clocks one hour forward or back at different times of the year was implemented for us to reduce our energy consumption.  A side effect of these savings has been the negative affects on the human body. 
In the 1940’s, University of Minnesota’s Franz Halberg, began studying
What is now called “chronobiology” – how light exposure influences human physical and mental health behavior and performance.  Halberg suggests that humans operate on daily (circadian) and seasonal/annual (circannual) patterns of light.  According to a New York Times article written by Anhad O’Connor[i] “When the clock is moved forward or back one hour, the body’s internal clock – its circadian rhythm – which uses daylight to stay in tune with its environment does not adjust.”
These light studies are important for architects and designers to understand when designing spaces where people will live or work.  It is natural for a body to have an increase production of melatonin (promoting sleep) when it is a darker environment.  To have this type of lighting in a place of business or a university would be counterproductive, where one would be required to stay awake.  Humans can also sense slowly changing light patterns.  This not only affects the body’s endocrine, immune and cardiac system, but also cognitive, emotional and behavioral responses.[ii]
In the healthcare industry, this information is useful regarding patient care.  Darkened rooms are preferable to promote a restful recovery, in acute illnesses. Reducing the infiltration of light from hallways would be required to help increase darkness, and is currently rarely accommodated.ii  In addition to supporting a positive health recuperation period, controlling illumination is important to reduce glare, increase ease of completing tasks as well as ensuring egress safety is achieved.  With that being said, it is important for designers to adapt their practices to reduce circadian disruption and psychological imbalances linked to health issues.

[i] O’Connor, Anahad. “The Claim: Daylight Saving Time Can Affect Your Health.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. New York Times, 9 Mar. 2009. Web. 29 Aug. 2011.
[ii] Edelstein, E. (2009). Influence of Architectural Lighting on Health. InformeDesign Newsletter, 7 (2), 1-5.


Lover of architectural history, family, building design, coffee and dogs.

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