The Difference is Night and Day

We have thousands of years of living life in harmony with the sun, but humans have jeopardized that harmonious relationship since the invention of the light bulb.

Circadian entrainment has become a buzz-worthy concept in the lighting industry and is beginning to find its way into the minds of senior-living designers and providers. Circadian entrainment refers to our body’s hard-wired connection with the light/dark cycle of day and night – OK, it’s actually a wireless connection, but you get the idea!

As technology progressed throughout history, we traded our ancestors’ daily lives bathed in bright sunlight with nights by the fire, for a modern existence in artificial light that changes very little, if at all, throughout the day. One study suggests that middle-aged people get as little as 58 minutes of sunlight per day – that might only be your commute, ugh! – and that precious time in the sun diminishes with age. 

Not all of today’s seniors get a chance to soak up the sun while riding a scooter, so making natural lighting accessible through senior-living residences is paramount to promoting health and well-being for our elderly population.

Most of us probably remember learning about our eye’s rods and cones in high-school biology classes, but a relatively recent scientific discovery of a third receptor in our eye that specifically responds to blue light high in the horizon has created a push to understand the health outcomes of appropriate exposure to daylight and the removal of artificial light exposure at night. Research suggests that experiencing static electric lighting through all hours of the day has resulted in an increase of sleep difficulty and disorders, especially in our elder population, along with a higher occurrence of falls, depression, agitation, sundowning and possibly dementia. A break in our circadian connection to sunlight may also contribute to memory loss, but there is a figurative and literal light at the end of the tunnel!

At LeadingAge Illinois a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of presenting with brilliant lighting designer David Warfel of Schuler Shook. We shared our thoughts on how humans can reconnect with the sun and return to our natural circadian rhythm by reducing the use of artificial lighting. The solution is simple really – figure out better ways to get more time in the sun (safely) and only turn on the right kind of artificial light when we really need it.

The Millstone Restaurant at Monarch Landing in Naperville, IL, offers residents ample daylight through large perimeter windows. Strategically placed artificial lighting helps provide added light when sunlight is not available.

Light can give us health, safety and security, but we have to embrace its presence and respect its absence. Building science provides us with great architectural solutions to take better advantage of sunlight, while the advent of the LED lightsource has offered us unprecedented control of artificial light. These tools can turn lighting into a source of well-being for both our residents and our staff!

Stay tuned for a video with more insight into how we can manipulate both sunlight and artificial light to become the best version of ourselves by getting the RIGHT light, at the RIGHT time, in the RIGHT place!

To learn more about how circadian-friendly lighting solutions in your facility can help your residents, staff, students or visitors, contact us today at hello@bldd.com.


Chris Lee is designer and Senior Living expert for BLDD Architects. While having been trained as an interior designer, he embraces all aspects of architecture and believes a holistic approach to building design produces the most successful projects. Contact Chris at chris.lee@bldd.com.

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