The Bright, The Dark & The Light At The End Of The Tunnel

 

Life on our little blue marble relies on a couple of key elements to survive.

 

This miniseries of blogs and content will be focused on Light.

It is probably one of the easiest of the core pillars of Biophilic Design to get right (and oh so wrong).

I did not know how important my relationship with light was until I entered my 20’s. (Disclaimer: the next bit is not meant to sound like a game of top trumps – facts are facts)

For me up until that point day and night (Circadian Rhythm) pretty much fitted a perfect 12-hour cycle.

You see, South Africa is not as far away from the equator as the UK (don’t let the pesky maps trick you into believing otherwise) so the daylight difference between summer and winter is only 3 hours or so.

It’s great for no drinking before sundown or up at dawn rules because you’ll normally have a beer in hand by 19:30 or be up at 05:30 at the earliest. Winter on the highveld is dry and cold so there are months of ‘short’ days with not a cloud to be seen.

Summer has its rainy days, but annually the sun shines powerfully for over 70% of the time

Compare that with London and there is a stark difference. The long summer days are nearly 9 hours longer than the shortest winter day. There is no wet/dry season so actual sunlight hours account for a mere 30% of our days…

It’s little wonder when I moved to the UK that my mood, productivity and motivation took a massive hit every October when the days began to draw in. Eventually, I learned that I was suffering from S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder) where my brain (well, my hypothalamus to be exact) is unable to operate properly because of poor access to sunlight. You can read more about S.A.D on the NHS website.

You may now be putting two and two together and realising that perhaps you suffer from the winter blues too.

 

An image of a brightly lit office, with lots of desk plants

 

The Bright

 

Access to sunlight is not always something that we can bring into the office; certain work environments even require strict levels of control over the levels (or type) of light that is permitted.

Physiologically we need sunlight to operate properly, and if you are able to gain access to some while you work it’ll only benefit you in the long run, but bright light can be used as a substitute. However, the brightness of the light source is not the only factor that needs consideration.

Imagine being outdoors: not a single space is uniformly lit, different areas and times have different brightness levels and temperatures (colours) of light.

Some light makes us feel uneasy or unsafe, other light is calming and comforting. These are all factors that you can artificially control easily with modern LED lighting and controllers. For example, I started using Phillips Hue smart lights, which we have dotted all around our home and workspaces.

 

A diagram of the Kelvin scale of light measurement

 

These colours or temperatures are measured in Kelvin (K) – red light is warm, blue light is cold. The idea is to tailor the light space in your office (or home) to suit what you want to achieve with the room.

General workspaces with cool/cold light (5000-6000K) exhibit higher levels of productivity and alertness.

Rest areas and breakout rooms need to be places where people feel safe, with a warmer light temperature (2000-4000K).

Conference and meeting rooms that need alertness and good levels of productivity have the added requirement of being welcoming: these spaces are best suited to our mid temperature light colours (4000-5000K).

You can easily make or break the success of a business with light alone.

 

The Dark

 

Everything must have balance! Darkness is a resource that we all need but don’t pay much attention to (except perhaps for photographers and those of you that run a cinema!), but actually if we don’t have enough darkness then we don’t perform when it is light.

For many of us, work eats into our early mornings and evenings. We are still trying to be hyper-productive during our dusk and dawn hours. Being saturated by bright cold light during these times plays a massive roll on the way that we go about our day and how we sleep.

 

Without correct sleep, well, we just don’t function properly. Missing one night’s sleep has more of a detrimental cognitive effect than a blood alcohol level of 0.1% (illegal to drive in the UK).

 

Imagine how stressed you would feel if you were shocked out of deep sleep by a wild leopard landing on your bed. Your day from then on would be a bit of a mess, right?

This is what our bodies think is happening when that alarm clock goes off and the bedroom light gets switched on. Then before our cortisol and adrenalin get a chance to drop, we jump into the morning commute, into our stressful work environments where we work into the evening, and then force ourselves to sleep at the flick of a light switch.

None of that day carries the natural hallmarks of a healthy circadian rhythm (remember I mentioned that earlier).

 

The End of the Tunnel

 

Luckily, in swoop those fancy smart lights that we can use to create an artificial sunrise/sunset that has warm dim light that gradually increases in intensity and colour until we reach our daylight levels.

As we reach the end of our day, the lights begin to dim and warm again giving us a gradual wind down into the restful evening and night.

Laura-Anne and I have this kind of setup that creates a steady circadian rhythm year round in our home and our offices. Those of you eagle-eyed enough may have noticed the lights in my office doing this during our morning online networking meetings.

 

These tactics can be used at home and in the office to give us a more natural flow to our days (and nights) and give us the optimum chance of being our best when we are working.

Have you considered the way that you use light in your environment? What experiences do you have with the way light affects you? Would you like to find out more about how nature can boost workplace wellbeing? Please leave a comment – I’m very happy to help.

Next time, we will be talking about our second biophilic pillar: Water. If there is anything you’d like to know about this key element, get in touch and perhaps it’ll find its way into the next blog!