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Blog: Five ways to boost wellbeing with smart lighting

Wellbeing is a broad concept that has been increasingly talked about in recent years and is recognised as having a significant impact across every area of our lives. It is defined differently in varying settings but can generally be thought of as a state of happiness and good physical, mental and emotional health, allowing a person to live and work productively. A decrease in an individual’s wellbeing can lead to a reduced ability to concentrate; a nosedive in personal resilience and problem-solving ability; and reduced productivity. 

The link between wellbeing and productivity becomes particularly significant in a workplace setting. Productive employees are more cost effective workers and, when people are the greatest cost in many companies, looking after staff wellbeing makes sound business sense. As the global workforce becomes increasingly indoor-based, those of us in the business of creating work spaces are increasingly looking for ways to create comfortable and desirable spaces that maintain – or even boost – wellbeing. The International WELL Building Institute, for instance, has created the WELL Building Standard which comprises 100 metrics, design strategies and policies to improve the health and comfort of building occupants.

The role of lighting

Until fairly recently, lighting in commercial and public spaces has been considered mainly with visibility in mind i.e. if someone can see to complete the task at hand, the lighting is sufficient. But since discussions around circadian rhythms (our daily body clock) first emerged in the 1990s, the pace of research has quickened to provide a wealth of evidence showing how light intensity, colour and frequency can greatly impact on user wellbeing, either positively or negatively:

  • Several studies, including by Viola et al (2008) found that blue-enriched white light during daytime working hours improved alertness and performance, and even alleviated evening fatigue.
  • Arup Research found that nurses exposed to three hours of daylight during their shift experienced less stress than those who didn’t.
  • The same study found that hospital patients given a daylight view needed 22% less analgesic medication.
  • Researchers have recently re-asserted that dim lighting in schools may contribute to short-sightedness in children.

At a basic level, lighting is a fairly straightforward factor to control with reactive measures: we can turn switches on and off; change luminaires; install diffusers; and open or close blinds. But smart lighting solutions give us even greater flexibility and the scope to design intelligent, user-centric lighting from the outset.

Five ways with smart lighting

The use of Networked Dali systems and LED luminaires creates a system in which light levels and tones can be minutely managed. The use of headend software, such as Prolojik’s Perspective, provides complete control for the building manager and can also be adapted to provide users with individual control via scene setting switches, mobile phones or a virtual desktop switch.

We probably all know that exposure to natural light helps to boost our mood, but artificial light also plays an important role in building lighting. Smart lighting solutions are able to manage an appropriate blend of natural and artificial light which, with the use of sensors, can be highly adaptable. When there is an abundance of natural daylight e.g. in mid-summer, the strength of artificial lighting can be dialled back. In the darker winter months, data from sensors will boost artificial light levels to compensate. 

Smart lighting allows for zoned lighting across spaces ensuring it is appropriate for the use of the space. For example, a corridor may only require lighting to 50 lux, whereas an office used for studying technical drawings may require 750 lux, while an employee break room may require 200 lux. Ensuring that lighting design and control is aligned to the intended purpose of a space will encourage use of the space and boost the productivity of its occupants. In the case of communal spaces, suitable lighting that encourages people into the space will also prompt an increase in social interactions – another critical factor for maintaining wellbeing.

Circadian rhythms are more important than ever when considering lighting design, as the human body releases different hormones throughout the day in response to light in the environment. Rich blue light naturally occurs early in the day and is known to boost alertness while red light may encourage a more relaxed mental state. The latest developments in LED lighting technology now produce tunable-white light, which offers varying tones of warm white and cool white light across a given range, dependent on the luminaire.

Coupled with smart lighting control architecture, tunable-white LED lighting produces a powerful dynamic lighting system capable of mimicking the colour and intensity of naturally occurring light during the course of the day. At its simplest, the lighting control system can match the circadian rhythm of building occupants to support their natural functions and boost wellbeing. As photo-biological research continues to unfold, it is likely that lighting control systems will evolve to manipulate the circadian rhythm; to create alertness or facilitate relaxation. The health and wellbeing effects of this aren’t yet fully understood and we watch with interest.

We are still learning about the ways in which lighting can impact on building occupants but research continues to indicate that it makes undeniably good business sense for lighting contractors to take wellbeing into account in order to provide clients with spaces which support their productivity and business growth. With the perfect technology at our fingertips, we also believe it’s the right thing to do.