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Rhythm of the light

In the deep midwinter with daylight at a premium, human-centric lighting solutions can help employees stay alert and productive, says Sam Rylands, Marketing Manager at Durable UK

Over four million years of evolution, the cycle of day and night has shaped human beings. The 24-hour recurring pattern of light and dark stimulates our body’s processes and determines when we sleep and when we wake. Natural light triggers hormonal changes within the body, telling us when to be alert and when to feel drowsy. This daily cycle is known as our circadian rhythm.

In today’s modern world, we spend far less of our time outside in natural light. Instead we spend up to 90 per cent of our time indoors, where we rely heavily on artificial light. In today’s 24/7 work culture we continually battle against our body’s natural circadian rhythm.

Scientists have coined a new phrase for the symptoms of persistently fighting against our circadian instincts: ‘social jet lag’, which was investigated as part of the Nobel Prize-winning team in 2017. When we fly over time zones we experience the negative effects of disrupting our circadian rhythms. Battling against our body clocks as part of our daily routine has a detrimental effect on our ability to function over a longer period of time.

Social jet lag causes sleep disruption, digestive disorders and a reduced attention span, but most importantly, it reduces cognitive performance. According to a recent study, workers exposed to natural daylight are 18 per cent more productive, while poor lighting in a working environment includes reduced productivity and more human error. Studies have demonstrated that higher-quality artificial lighting which replicates natural light can have the same biological effect on the body as sunlight, improving employees’ moods, wellbeing and relationship to their workspace.

Employees are noticing the impact that light can have on their health and performance. A recent white paper by workplace consultancy firm Baker Stuart stated that 70 per cent of employees are unhappy with the lighting in their workplace, while a Raconteur study found that only 57 per cent are satisfied with the light levels in their workplace. There’s a clear need to listen to the feedback from staff and counteract the negative effects of poor lighting on people.

Breakthrough technology has now been harnessed to mimic the colour changes and intensity of natural light and stimulate the hormonal changes in the body in the same way as the sun. So-called ‘human-centric’ lights aim to do just this. The blue-white light produced by LEDs stimulate alertness while the dimmer warm-white light option cause levels of the ‘sleep hormone’ melatonin to rise. A study by the Stress Management Society demonstrated the positive impact of Luctra’s LED lighting technology on wellbeing, sleep and mental health, for example. The study participants reported that their overall quality of life increased by eight per cent.

Lighting in workplaces is often provided at the same uniform level for all employees. However, different people have different needs. Someone in their mid-50s requires twice as much light to see to the same level as someone in their mid-20s. Also, natural circadian rhythms vary from person to person, which is why some of us are night owls while others are morning people. Lighting tailored to our individual needs is much more beneficial for us, in the same way that we all benefit from having our own adjustable ergonomic chair.

One solution is to provide task lighting for each workstation, giving each employee control over the lighting levels in their immediate workspace. Table and floor lamps enable each user to adjust their lighting exposure according to their own personal needs via a touch panel. A free app offered by Luctra calculates the optimum lighting sequence for the user based on five questions about their daily habits. The app transmits the settings directly to the lamp and then automatically varies the intensity and colour of light throughout the day.

The latest lights are also an economic solution. State-of-the-art LED sources are efficient and maintenance-free. In addition, a mix of desk and floor lamps can be used to illuminate single desks
or a bank of desks, providing the flexibility to only use the lights where people are working – reducing energy wastage.

It’s also possible to light entire rooms with flexible floorstanding lights, which offer a much more flexible and cost-effective solution in the long term. Not only do floorstanding products remove the need for expensive overhead lighting infrastructure, such as suspended ceilings, cabling and switches, the lights can be moved to wherever they are needed, for example when the organisation needs to revise its floorplans and desking layouts.

Various room lighting options are available to provide a flexible alternative. Some products now come with light intensity and presence sensors, enabling them to automatically adjust the lighting to the requirements of the room and turn off the light when it’s not needed. This further minimises costs.

The Amsterdam office of international property giant CBRE trialled human-centric lighting systems in 2017, in spite of the fact that their existing office lighting met the normal requirements for workspaces. The results were notable, with 76 per cent of employees reporting feeling happier, 50 per cent feeling healthier, and work accuracy increasing by 12 per cent.

About Sarah OBeirne

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