Light-Wise: Elevate your work-life balance by improving your circadian rhythm

How to light your work area

Now that you have, hopefully, taken the decision to do something pro-active with your home-working environment there is a further choice you can make that really elevates the benefits of upgrading your lighting to office standards; upgrading it to Biodynamic Lighting.

Most people have heard the term “Circadian Rhythm”, and you can read about it from a different angle in another Fusion Spaces guest blog, “That Gut Feeling”. But how does our Circadian Rhythm have anything to do with light? Well… it has everything to do with light actually.

Circadian rhythm

Today many people exist in a relative ‘biological darkness’

Working environments, education buildings, and other indoor spaces (especially our homes) are too often minimally affected by daylight – or at best, not reaping the maximum benefit from it.

Often this is an unavoidable problem; it’s just not feasible most of the time to add a bigger window or a sky-light; so we rely on artificial lighting.

People who work from home often fall into the trap of not stepping foot outside the house at all during the day, despite all the social media nudging from Fusion Spaces telling us to get outside for a walk!

This has a very real effect on our biological rhythm, and that can affect many facets of our life and health, both physical and mental.

Artificial light does not usually have the right qualities to substitute for the natural daylight we are so lacking in our modern daily life, but it can come close under the right circumstances, and especially when the artificial light is designed holistically with other elements of the working environment.

For the last 2.5 million years of early-to-modern human evolution we have developed an internal body clock that is, in part, synchronised by the daily and seasonal cycles of light.

Or if you want to be quite specific this has happened over 590 million years of the evolution of the eye!

Relatively speaking, in evolutionary terms, the extended periods we now spend indoors under artificial light have only been common for the last couple of hundred years or so; a tiny blip in evolutionary time. This equates to less than 0.007% of our human evolution.

Put in perspective, we have not made an evolutionary change in terms of our exposure to daylight, we have made a step-change; it is now understood why mimicking natural daylight rhythms is so important for those who are not fortunate enough to spend the majority of their day outdoors.

 

Light has a controlling effect on our hormones

The diagram above shows the course of an “idealised” day relative to the hormones Cortisol and Melatonin.

Circadian rhythms are particularly affected by Cortisol and Melatonin because these hormones impact on the body in opposing cycles.

Cortisol is a stress hormone. In an “idealised” day it is produced in the adrenal cortex from around 3 a.m. onwards. Cortisol “programs” the body for wake-up and day-time operation. While it is important to keep our overall Cortisol level in check by leading a stress-free life it is still essential to our circadian rhythm and is a natural and essential part of our hormonal balance.

The first light of the day stimulates special receptors in our eyes known as “Intrinsically Photosensitive Retinal Ganglion Cells” (ipRGCs), and this encourages our body to suppress the production of Melatonin.

Melatonin helps us feel drowsy, slows down our body’s systems and lowers activity levels to facilitate a good night’s sleep. It’s important to understand that Melatonin is a regulator and marker and only one part of this process; Melatonin is not the actual sleep mechanism itself. The hormone Adenosine is primarily what makes us sleepy (caffeine temporarily blocks adenosine from working) but Melatonin is key in other ways.

The Ganglion Cells are found in the retina, interspersed amongst the more well-known rods and cones of our conventional vision, but the Ganglion Cells are not visual receptors and having nothing to do with image formation; they are part of our biological system but still take their cues from light. Conventional light is measured in Lux, and this biologically effective light is usually measured as Melanopic Lux.

Why is this important?

It all comes down to sleep or, more specifically, good sleep. Getting the right type of light at the right time of day helps our body clock keep in synchronisation with our daily cycle of life, and that helps us sleep better and sleep longer. When we get a good night of sleep, EVERY night, we are healthier and function better; it’s a simple as that. Much of the work our immune system does to fight off disease, or cell and tissue repair if injured, is done while we sleep. The growth hormone in children is most active while they are asleep. The list of healthy benefits never ends.

It’s not only our health that can be improved. When we are well slept we function better: our brains are better at solving problems, we have more concentration, more energy to do things. Retention of memory is reinforced during sleep. If you are studying for a test or exam, finish your revision at a reasonable time and get a good night of sleep. Cramming through the night is more likely to make you forget than remember!

With better sleep we are not only healthier, we are more productive, the best version of ourselves!

According to OECD data, in 2017 the UK lost 1.86% of GDP to sleep related matters, which includes all of the above factors and many more. That’s around $50 billion lost in one year, a significant loss to the UK economy!

There are solutions that can help to make things better; and one of those solutions is Biodynamic Lighting.

The following diagrams show how Biodynamic Lighting can be easily done in your home office (or your central office) using the free-standing office lights we looked at in our previous blog post.

The light unit is using the ceiling as a secondary reflector, shining light upwards to reflect a softer, more diffused distribution of light back down again.

The ceiling is, effectively, taking the place of the sky inside your workplace.

In the Morning we want high levels of Melanopic Lux so the light is a colder white (around 6500K) to fire the trigger for our internal clock to synchronise and help reduce the Melatonin levels in the body.

During the course of the day the light imperceptibly changes from colder white to a warmer shade of white light. The exact changes and light levels are controlled by a built-in algorithm which is tuned to your geographic location.

Our Body starts to produce Melatonin after being awake for several hours; we don’t want Melatonin production to be suppressed by high Melanopic Lux levels so the light reduces the amount of blue (which is why the white light appears warmer) towards the end of the day.

In the evening the warmest white light helps prepare us for the relaxation phase of the day, leading to sleep.

Lighting you home-work-place in this way not only has the health and productivity benefits mentioned above, it also helps your home retain its homely feeling with the warmer glow of light in the evening, rather than the stark white you would normally associate with an office during the day.

Biodynamic Lighting has been installed in care homes, especially in Germany and Switzerland, for about 15 years and the benefits to the elderly residents are well-documented. Anywhere we spend significant amounts of time indoors, especially as home-workers, should be beneficial to our wellbeing, not the other way around.

For more information on Biodynamic Lighting please check our website:

www.waldmann.com/pulse-vtl

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Jim Ashley-Down

Jim has been working in the lighting industry for over 23 years; first in the theatre, graduating from Rose Bruford with a degree in performance lighting design, then moving into architectural lighting and running his own lighting design consultancy for a number of years. In 2009 Jim transferred to the manufacturing side of the industry and is now Country Manager for the UK and Ireland at Waldmann, a family-owned German lighting manufacturer founded in 1928

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