Let’s discover how lighting impacts our health and wellbeing and how we can introduce improvements into our homes.
Bow Jaruwangsanti and I instantly connected over our shared interest in wellness, design for wellbeing and immune boosting tips. She is an award winning lighting designer with a focus on intentionally creating designs to benefit our mental, emotional and physical health.
Humans in this day and age spend a lot of time indoors under artificial lighting. But there’s always hope! I am a sun-seeker and am entirely aware that natural light provides measurable health benefits. Yet, it is not always possible for me (like many others) to be basking outdoors. And so, it is a relief that there are lighting systems to implement and ways to alter an internal space to somewhat mimic natural light.
I decided to ask Bow 10 questions on the relationship between lighting and wellbeing, including what we can do at home or at the workplace.
- Bow, what led you to specialise in lighting design?
I love to design and create beautiful spaces. This drove me to pursue something even more specific in this field. My background is Interior Architecture, which has allowed me to build upon a great foundation in art and design. I have to give credit to Dr. Warren Julian. He introduced me to Master of Design Science, Illumination Design at University of Sydney when I first arrived in Australia.
2. How can lighting improve our health and wellbeing at home or at work? I’m hoping you can also share some tips on sleep!
Our bodies have an intelligent system called our body clock or circadian rhythm. Let’s have a look at how the body clock affects our daily functioning.
Say for people like you and I who have a normal daily routine with a bed time of around 10pm. It is at around 10am when we are fully alert. At 9pm the Melatonin starts to secrete. It continues to increase to the highest point at around 2am, and then starts to drop down.
Melatonin’s job is to regulate our sleep-wake cycles. We have Ganglion cells in the Retina which are sensitive to a narrow range of blue light which is around 480nm. These cells send messages from our eyes to our brain. Within the centre of our brain, there is a gland called the Pineal Gland. It tells us when it is time to go to bed.
When the amount of blue light reduces below a certain level (i.e. night time), this gland starts to secrete Melatonin AKA ‘the sleep hormone.’ This signals our body to prepare for sleep.
When the light hits our eyes in the morning, it decreases Melatonin production and signals the body to prepare for being awake. While Serotonin levels increase in sunlight and light environments. So you can now imagine how our body clock was built to sync with sunlight.
Our sleep cycle or body clock doesn’t just determine when we’re tired or awake. It also affects the function of every cell in our body and genes. If our daily life doesn’t sync with sunrise and sunset then it can disrupt our sleep cycle. Researchers have started to figure out how disruptions in sleep schedules prevent cells from fighting inflammation. This can help explain why people often have problems with inflammatory conditions. Such as asthma, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, depression and cardiovascular disease.
Most of us work inside a building whether that be at home or in the office. Therefore, we are hardly exposed to sunlight during the day. Artificial lighting is becoming more important in our life not just for visual impact and comfort but for improving our wellbeing.
With research and better technology in lighting each year, we are now able to have light fixtures with circadian lighting which can mimic daylight. These lights can be colour tuned from cool white to warm white via programmable control. There is also another type of circadian lighting that I saw late last year. This one was set at 3500k, but it has the option to control how much blue light you want without tuning the colour temperature. This is good for offices where the majority of people prefer a not too cool and not too warm colour. It also allows them to reduce the amount of blue light in the afternoon and increase blue light in the morning.
When you are at home in the evening, it is ideal for the lighting environment to be calm, relaxed and to help prepare you for a good night’s sleep. As mentioned earlier, when the amount of blue light reduces, our body will start to secrete Melatonin. So it is beneficial to avoid blue light when you are at home in the evening.
In the morning, more exposure to daylight like cool white light is best (as much as you can) to keep you alert. For now, it is a luxurious item to be able to have tunable white lights at home. But, hopefully in the near future this type of technology and related devices will be more accessible and affordable. Especially as we become more aware of how to improve our health and wellbeing.
Apart from circadian lighting, there are also some people like dementia patients and the elderly who need an increased intensity of light during the day. If you have a dementia patient living at home with you, you might want to look at how you can adopt light therapy for them as well.
3. What is a stand out project you have worked on that combined lighting design with wellness?
Right now I am working on my new home and planning to change all the existing lights to circadian lighting. I am always working from home! My partner also works from home a few days a week. We are aware of how important light is to our lives, especially as I have a chronic illness and often it disrupts my sleep cycle. With respect to past projects, I have implemented circadian lighting for a staff lounge in a club where there was a mix of day and night shift workers. This was a very challenging project as it’s difficult to please everyone with different requirements.
4. What are some lighting design tips to benefit our health at home?
If you have a budget for circadian lighting and an intelligent control system, then I’d suggest for you to invest in it. I see it as an investment in your health! I believe this is one of the best investments in your life and I’m happy to help you on this. If not, I would suggest to just change the light globes for the table lamps, floor lamps, any light mostly used in the evening to a warm white lamp with less blue wavelength.
At home I only have table lamps on in the evening and I light some candles. I minimise blue / white light as much as I can. Also, try not to look at the computer screen or iPhone at night. If you have to, then you can set your computer and phone to night shift mode. This reduces blue light and brightness. Another tip is to try not watch TV after 9pm. I know it’s difficult but the earlier you prepare yourself for sleep, the more health benefits you will receive.
In the morning, try to get daylight into your house as much as you can. If not, go out for a walk or exercise just to get yourself ready for the day. You will get plenty of Serotonin and that will help make you happy and alert.
5. How can we increase natural light at home?
Firstly, it depends on the location and position of your house. If you have doors or windows at the east or north east then it’s great! You will get a lot of morning sun that you need. A skylight is another great way to help receive more direct light. Or, extend the light shelf to bounce more natural light into a deeper space. It comes down to Architectural Design. But please don’t forget that natural light also comes with discomfort glare.
6. Are there any products on the market that you recommend to use at home, in order to block out blue light from electronic devices, such as iPads?
You can buy glasses that cut blue light out, but there are so many types of glasses on the market. Some can only cut blue light by 20-30% so please check before purchasing them. The Android similar to the iPhone, iMac and iPad already have the option of night shift mode. This allows you to set a time to turn it on and off. Also, select how much blue light you want to cut on your screen.
7. In terms of sustainability, have you designed any lighting systems with reusable materials? How can we apply this at home?
At Design By Bow, we always support lighting manufacturers with sustainable practices. Not just with their product but also how their business runs sustainably. For example;
- How they dispose their waste,
- Do they have solar panels to generate energy to operate their factory,
- How they recycle their materials etc.
In terms of design, we tend to specify light fittings with LED lamps or boards that are replaceable. This is so that our clients do not have to replace the whole fitting when the lamp is gone or broken.
8. What are some lighting tips to reduce energy use at home?
- Turn the lights on only where you need them,
- Dim the lights at night to reduce energy consumption,
- Use low wattage lamps with high efficacy such as LED lamps.
9. Are there any apps or systems to track the lighting we are exposed to?
There is no app that is available to the public, as far as I am aware of. But late last year I had the chance to talk to a researcher from a University in Melbourne. He showed me a device that he designed and developed and wears everyday. The device can track the amount of light that he is exposed to. If my memory serves me right, this device provides the data for him. This could be further developed in the future and would be able to communicate to each light via Bluetooth.
10. How much exposure (at a minimum) should we aim for of natural light a day?
It depends on your skin tone, age, and health conditions.
Several studies report that daytime exposure to white light enriched in short-wavelength content was associated with increased evening fatigue and sleep quality, and decreased sleep-onset latency. Some researchers say it’s best to get direct morning light for 30-45mins into your eyes without wearing sunglasses. Although, this doesn’t mean looking directly to the sun as that will damage your eyes.
(For the parents out there – if you can get out with your children to get some sunlight, it will certainly help with your bedtime rhythm!)
I hope this helped you a whole watt!
To discuss further with Bow and I on how to implement such changes at home, please send me an email.