Wellness architecture, light and designing for circadian rhythms
I seem to say this about every one of our 10 x wellness factors in architecture, but here I go again.
Light is super important for any wellness design considerations in a home or building. Think of a time you went into a dark basement or an underground car park, somewhere with no natural light. How did you feel? What sort of words did it evoke? Perhaps words like dingy, dim, drab, dull, and gloomy come to mind. Some really negative connotations. I don’t think its a coincidence then that the opposite is much more positive – sunny, bright, luminous and brilliant. The key point to focus on however is how our bodies biologically respond to the daily patterns in light – our circadian rhythms.
Human physiology and circadian rhythms
Prior to the 20th century and the advent of apartment buildings and the office cubicle, we lived our lives closely to the rhythms of the sun.
We woke to a reddish sunrise, spent the day in blueish light, with the peak intensity at midday, and fell asleep to the reddish sunset or the warm red glow of firelight. Given centuries of this primordial pattern, it’s no coincidence that the shifts in color during the day regulate our physiology, at all scales, even at cellular levels. Metropolis Mag
In order to maintain our overall wellness, its vital that our bodies are in harmony with the circadian patterns regulated by the sun. It has been scientifically proven to improve the well-being and healing time of patients in health institutions.
By controlling the body’s circadian system, light impacts outcomes in healthcare settings by reducing depression among patients, decreasing length of stay in hospitals, improving sleep and circadian rhythm, lessening agitation among dementia patients, and easing pain. The Center for Health Design
These circadian rhythms basically let our body know when we should be awake and when our body should wind down to sleep.
Blue light and sleep
Blue light suppresses the production of the hormone melatonin. This is the hormone the brain produces to help the body sleep. Smartphones, laptops, TVs and LED lights all emit bright blue light and its our exposure to these devices and environments that can leave people feeling more alert when they should normally start to feel sleepy.
During the day, when blue light is already naturally plentiful, a little extra exposure from electronic screens should not make much of a difference to anyone’s physiology. The problem is that people are increasingly staring into bright screens long into the night. Scientific American
I know I’m guilty of scrolling on my smartphone in bed late into the night and admit that it negatively impacts on my ability to fall asleep. The general advice is to avoid screens and any blue light for 2 hours before sleep or to wear blue-blocking glasses after sunset.
It’s also really important to remember that blue light is neither good or bad, it is just about the timing and the amount. This is where clever design of a home can create that balance to provide the right amount of light at the right time. For example its so important to consider your house design first of all based on its position to the sun. Where you place rooms in relation to sunrise and sunset to enhance your daily rituals.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and light therapy
An example of how natural light or lack there of affects wellness is the evidence around Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or the winter blues.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a psychological disorder characterized by depression, tiredness, decreased motivation, a tendency to sleep excessively and a craving for carbs and sweets. The Local
In Scandinavian countries where there are short daylight hours during the winter months up to 10% of the population suffer from SAD. This is attributed to our circadian rhythms and the regulation of the hormone melatonin. SAD sufferes are reported to have abnormally high levels of melatonin during the dark winter months. The Local
4 foundations of wellness
We believe that the following four factors are important foundations of overall wellness and reducing depression:
- Stress (management or reduction)
Through design, we can consciously contribute to the first two wellness foundations of sleep and stress.
With all of our designs we ask ourselves these questions, how can we design a home to:
- provide comfort, relaxation and contemplation to reduce stress and promote calm and peace?
- promote that balance of respecting our circadian rhythms?
- provide that balance in lighting to respect our modern lifestyles with increased connection to technology, but also promote healthy sleep patterns?
HOW DO WE APPLY THIS WELLNESS IDEA TO ARCHITECTURE AND BESPOKE HOME DESIGN?
Most architects have a good understanding of these natural light and sunlight based wellness principles, and will consider them in their designs. We believe that these principles should be the drivers of the design. Striving to achieve the best design to foster wellness and comfort.
Our ethos is to create spaces that balance excitement, positivity, calmness and flow with nature. These attributes can go a long way in addressing and balancing out the immense changes we face in modern life and the increased use and reliance on technology.
The following 3 wellness design for light principles embody our ethos and key considerations in the architecture design process:
1. Comfort and Balance
Although we want to embrace natural light as much as possible in our designs, there needs to be balance. It is possible to let in too much light and rooms can get too bright and hot. So when considering how a room will receive this light, you need to take into consideration how that room will be used. For example my mother’s house receives full afternoon sun in the living area which is quite desirable in winter, but at the same time it can be overwhelmingly hot in the summer. So we have to pull down the curtains in the evenings. This could have been avoided by using sufficient eves or more thoughtful design.
2. Connection to the flow and rhythm of light
Linking to our circadian rhythms is a simple way in which we can promote wellness. In the current fast-paced world, we spend a lot of time indoors, especially in the work-space environment. We often lose the connection to what is happening outside for most of the day. Often immersed in an artificial and stark environment . We spend a lot of our lives surrounded by artificial light and focusing on our computer screens. This disconnects us from the natural flow of the environment and our bodies.
When we design our homes, our aim is to create a haven in which we foster connection to the outdoors and natural light. We want to bring back the flow with nature, syncing with the natural rhythm of our bodies.
3. Room location and activity
Our modern life-styles mean we have increased expectations to be connected to technology throughout the day. So when designing a room or space for the act of “working”, we need to consider how to provide enough natural light but avoiding glare. Direct light in these type of spaces can be very unpleasant and reduce productivity.
However, when we design a room to be relaxed, we want to be connected to the outside and experience being bathed in natural light. Nothing is more pleasant than reading a book in a well designed nook or window seat taking advantage of great views. Or enjoying the sunset while seated on the sofa, slowing down from the busy day.