You’ve probably heard of circadian rhythms, the natural body cycles that help us to do things like fall asleep at nighttime and be active during the day.
Now, a group of researchers are working to manipulate those rhythms to make us more productive at work.
“Clients are increasingly requesting and expecting lighting systems and applications that can support human health and well-being,” Mariana Figueiro and Mark Rea, professors at the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, wrote in Architectural Lighting recently.
The issue is critical, because according to the Environmental Protection Agency, humans in modern cities spend upwards of 90 percent of their lives indoors.
Multiple tests now show that humans are particularly sensitive to blue light — basically, the main color we see when we’re outdoors. Blue’s main effect is to suppress melatonin, the brain chemical that can make us feel sleepy.
As Scientific American noted in November, a 2011 investigation by Christian Cajochen, the head of the Center for Chronobiology at the University of Basel, found that volunteers exposed to a blue-based, LED-backlit computers for five hours in the evening “produced less melatonin, felt less tired, and performed better on tests of attention than those in front of a fluorescent-lit screen of the same size and brightness.”
Researchers are thus increasingly advising office designers to include as much daylight-like blue in their offices as possible.
On the flip side, the color red, which many might view as a brighter, more striking color, is actually more conducive to functioning at night.
In order to promote our natural cycles, “one should keep exposure to light at night as short as possible, as dim as possible, and as warm or red as possible,” Steven Lockley, an associate professor of medicine in the division of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School and at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said in the Architectural Digest report. This idea has particular resonance in light of a landmark 2006 study, “Light at Night—Cancer Risks of Shift Work,”in which researchers from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and the Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital, in Cooperstown, N.Y. found an increased rate of chest cancer in night-shift workers that resulted from the suppression of the brain’s production of melatonin.
As the American Medical Association has concluded, “exposure to excessive light at night, including extended use of various electronic media, can disrupt sleep or exacerbate sleep disorders, especially in children and adolescents.”
“This effect can be minimized by using dim red lighting in the nighttime bedroom environment,” the AMA stated.
In short: Keep your daytime workers in the blue, and your nighttime workers in the red.