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Circadian Rhythm & Lighting 101

Posted in Blog on Monday, February 8th, 2016 at 10:04 am No Comments
Circadian Rhythm & Lighting 101

As we search for answers and solutions to the most sustainable living environments for humans, the term Circadian Rhythm has undoubtedly been a hot topic of conversation. Most recently, it has been included in the WELL Building Standard as the 54th feature, Circadian Rhythm Lighting Design. But what is all the fuss about “Circadian Rhythm” anyways? Why does it matter how much artificial light we are exposed to on a daily basis? There is actually more to light than meets the eye, a lot more, in fact! In this multi-part series, we will explore what circadian rhythm is and how is it being integrated into sustainable design, LEED and the WELL Building Standard.

While light allows us to see our world in vivid color and detail, light also regulates several biological responses in humans which are not associated with our sense of sight, including an ‘internal clock’ in the body that makes one alert during the day and sleepy at night. These daily changes in our physical, mental and behavioral states, which are out of a response to the light-and-dark cycle is known as our circadian rhythm.

Similarly to how a plant will face and track the sun to maximize the amount of sunshine it receives, people have historically always planned their lives around the availability of daylight. In the absence of man-made light sources, people would rise with the dawn and sleep in the dusk/dark and when the candle light or the campfire was reduced to ashes, the moon and stars  would the light source. Light signals the human body when it is time to be active, and when it is time to rest. Back in the day it was black and white. Light kept daily lives in harmony with local time. This harmony is referred to as “entrainment”: an entrained circadian system that is aligned with the natural light/dark cycle of the solar day.

However, now that we all live in an industrialized society, we spend nearly all of our waking time indoors, leaving our bodies “in the dark” when it comes to our circadian rhythms. The electric lighting we are living and working under during the daytime does not match the dynamic quality and amount of light the sun can provide. This mismatch timing disrupts our circadian system and is further exacerbated by the use of modern technology such as smart phones, tablets, monitors, etc which all produce blue white light that is detrimental to our bodies natural systems, especially if you’re having trouble sleeping! Research now shows that a disrupted circadian system can is connected to a whole host of health and behavioral problems including but not limited to: cancer, obesity, fatigue, depression, diabetes, mood and sleep disorders, reduced mental and physical performance, reduced productivity and irritability.

It is through LEED and the WELL Building Standard that attention to these disruptions has been drawn. As designers, architects and engineers of the spaces people occupy, it is of the utmost importance that sustainable and healthy design include and also integrate creative solutions to this societal epidemic.

The next blog in this series will dive into more depth on circadian rhythm and how designers and manufacturers are creating innovative solutions to this cultural epidemic.