Circadian lighting in care homes

26 Oct 2022

Healthy lighting plays an important role in care homes.

In the realm of care homes, the significance of healthy lighting cannot be understated. Just as fresh air and water are essential for our well-being, access to proper lighting is equally vital. Unfortunately, many care home residents face the double burden of limited exposure to natural daylight and subpar indoor lighting conditions. This neglect can have detrimental effects on their circadian rhythm, leading to sleep disturbances, cognitive decline, behavioral issues, and an overall diminished quality of life.

As a result of ancient evolutionary processes, the human body has learned to follow the periodic rising and setting of the sun. Circadian lighting imitates this periodicity in electric lighting systems by automatically adjusting the intensity and colour temperature over a 24h period. Bright, blue light causes the body to produce serotonin causing us to feel more alert, while darkness and the warmer tones release melatonin: a hormone that prepares our body for sleep. Implementing circadian light helps us to preserve our connection to the sun and ultimately to live healthier with light during the time we are indoors.

By emulating the natural rhythm of the sun, circadian lighting systems automatically adjust the intensity and color temperature of electric lights throughout a 24-hour cycle. Bright, blue light stimulates the production of serotonin, making us more alert, while darkness and warmer tones trigger the release of melatonin, the hormone that prepares our bodies for restful sleep. Implementing circadian lighting not only helps us maintain our connection to the sun but also empowers us to live healthier lives even within indoor environments.

Do you want to learn how circadian lighting can improve care at your care home? Download our free 20-page e-book on improving elderly care with circadian lighting.

In the following sections, we will delve into the scientific foundations of circadian lighting, exploring how light influences our endocrine system and impacts a range of conditions, including depression, insomnia, and neurological disorders. Scientific research has provided compelling evidence for the efficacy of circadian lighting in improving sleep, mood, and cognitive function. More specifically, in care home settings, it has demonstrated significant enhancements to residents’ quality of life, such as reducing falls, improving sleep patterns, enhancing cognitive abilities, mitigating winter depression, and minimising the risks of sundown syndrome.

The science behind circadian lighting

What is fascinating about light is that it acts on the endocrine system (the part of the body responsible for balancing hormones) in the same way as many medications targeting depression, insomnia, and a diversity of neurological function disorders. What this means is that light can be a powerful co-therapy or baseline intervention that can improve patient outcome and, in some cases, even decrease cognitive decline.

Scientific research has demonstrated the efficacy of circadian lighting to improve sleep, mood, and cognitive function. In care homes specifically, circadian lighting can significantly improve quality of life for residents by:

  • Reducing falls
  • Improving sleep (and thus minimise wake-ups during night)
  • Improving cognitive function
  • Reduce winter depression and seasonal affective disorder
  • Minimising risk of sundown syndrome also known as late day confusion

Recently, extensive research from Harvard University (Steven Lockley et al.) demonstrated that circadian lighting can reduce falls in care homes by 43%.

Another study suggests that circadian lighting can be a valuable addition to more traditional interventions. Patients with dementia see greater disturbances in their circadian rhythm than normal aging people resulting in poorer sleep and faster cognitive decline. The study concluded that circadian lighting has a great impact on “the frequency and duration of night-time bed wandering and daytime napping”. This suggests that circadian lighting may be a critical piece of future dementia care by helping guide patients into healthier sleep-wake schedules without the need for them to adhere to verbal cues .

The same study also states that circadian lighting (or biodynamic lighting as it is referred to in the study), also can improve the environment that caregivers operate in, resulting in less disturbances to their sleep-wake cycle. Caregivers working in care homes need to be active at all times of the day or night depending on their shift schedule. This puts a lot of pressure on their sleep, cognitive function and overall well being even as healthy young adults. Circadian lighting can help restore the circadian rhythm of night-shift workers, so they can provide better care for the residents.

During the COVID-19 pandemic many residents in care homes had to isolate themselves in their room. Poor indoor lighting conditions weren’t enough to make up for the limited access to natural daylight. This caused sleep disturbances and general misalignment in circadian rhythms. This was partly caused by restricted access to daylight and improper indoor lighting one study confirms. In order to build spaces that are more resilient, and if the need for self-isolation may be required once again, calling for better indoor lighting conditions should be a priority of all care home stakeholders.

Promoting Restful Sleep

A good night’s sleep is essential for the overall health and vitality of care home residents. Circadian lighting takes into account the natural patterns of daylight and adjusts lighting conditions accordingly. In the morning and throughout the day, the lighting system emits bright, blue-enriched light that mimics natural sunlight, promoting alertness and energy. As evening approaches, the lighting gradually transitions to warmer, dimmer tones, signaling the body to release melatonin and prepare for restful sleep.

By providing residents with lighting that aligns with their circadian rhythm, circadian lighting helps regulate sleep patterns. This can result in improved sleep quality, reduced instances of nighttime awakenings, and enhanced overall restfulness. Care home residents can wake up feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, ready to face the day ahead.

Enhancing Mood and Cognitive Function

Light has a profound impact on mood and cognitive function. Circadian lighting optimises these aspects by creating a stimulating and dynamic environment for care home residents. The lighting system replicates the natural progression of daylight, with bright, cool-toned lighting during the daytime hours to promote alertness and productivity.

By exposing residents to appropriate light levels and color temperatures throughout the day, circadian lighting helps improve their mood, increase focus, and enhance cognitive performance. The balanced lighting conditions foster an atmosphere of positivity and mental engagement, leading to improved social interactions, mental acuity, and overall well-being.

Minimising Fall Risks

Falls can have severe consequences for the elderly, and care homes must prioritise measures to minimise fall risks. Circadian lighting plays a significant role in creating a safe environment for residents by optimising lighting conditions within the care home. By providing appropriate illumination levels and improving visual acuity, circadian lighting reduces the likelihood of accidents caused by inadequate lighting.

Research from prestigious institutions such as Harvard University has demonstrated that implementing circadian lighting can effectively reduce fall rates in care homes by up to 43%. The dynamic lighting adjustments promote better visibility and spatial awareness, making it easier for residents to navigate their surroundings confidently. Care home staff can also benefit from improved lighting conditions, ensuring they can provide assistance and care more effectively.

Addressing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects many individuals, particularly during the darker months when natural sunlight is limited. Circadian lighting offers a powerful solution to combat the effects of SAD within care homes. By replicating the spectrum of natural daylight, these lighting systems help regulate residents’ circadian rhythms and mitigate the impact of seasonal changes on their mood and energy levels.

The gradual transition of color temperatures from bright, cool tones in the morning to warmer, dimmer hues in the evening helps stabilise residents’ mood and alleviate symptoms associated with SAD. The presence of simulated natural light promotes the release of serotonin, a hormone linked to feelings of well-being and happiness. Care home residents can experience improved emotional balance, reduced depressive symptoms, and enhanced overall vitality, even during the darkest days of the year.

Assessing the light in your care home

Brightness is a perceptual quality of light measured in lux. However, if you want to determine the circadian impact of light another metric is used. Melanopic Equivalent Daylight Illuminance (mEDI) is now the standard practice metric used to measure the degree to which a light environment is capable of influencing our circadian rhythm. This metric is needed as the photo-receptors (also known as the intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells–or ipRGCs) responsible for communicating information about the light-dark cycle are not the same as those used in vision..

Just because a light is bright doesn’t necessarily mean it will result in a strong human response. (This is one of the core misconceptions in circadian lighting). Theoretically speaking, it is possible to have a really bright environment that won’t trigger a human response at all. If the light is very warm/red the ipRGCs won’t respond to the light stimulus. This condition is called “biological darkness”. This is also why red light in the evening is much better for your sleep. As most lamps do have some blue light in it, it’s rare that you will experience light that doesn’t have any circadian impact at all.

Beside lux and mEDI, the following are specifications and measurements you want to be aware of when assessing your current lighting solution:

  • Kelvin: Determines the temperature of a light source (higher values = colder/bluer light)
  • Colour rendering index (CRI): Determines how well a light source shows colours
  • Lumen: Measures how much light is emitted from a light source
  • Flicker: Refers to rapid (sometimes imperceptible) changes in the brightness of light that can have serious impacts on some people with pre-existing conditions

Do you want to assess the lighting in your care home? Without the right tools it can be hard to tell whether you have the right lighting or not. LYS Technologies has developed a simple tool to measure your lighting. This is used by the leading light researchers from universities and companies across the world. Contact us today or order our sample package to start measuring your light.

LYS’ circadian lighting solution for care homes

LYS is dedicated to building a healthy lighting solution that can increase quality of life for residents in care homes.

Unfortunately, there is still little awareness of circadian lighting in care homes and high hardware and implementation costs have limited the adoption and scalability of the technology.

Circadian lighting solutions often require a team of specialists to rewire and implement custom solutions therein relying on electricians, product specialists and builders to get the job done.

Furthermore, installations might require temporarily relocating residents which can lead to frustration, anger and stress which can severely impact the health and wellbeing of the resident. Older buildings are also unpredictable when it comes to the renovation process which can scare off owners and facilities managers.

LYS’ circadian lighting is a simple and wireless solution making it easy to retrofit into your care home. There is no need for rewiring and our lights can be installed in minutes therein avoiding displacement of the residents.

With seamless WiFi connectivity, our lights automatically adjust to the optimal settings. Operating our system requires no advanced infrastructure, and all lights can be conveniently controlled through our user-friendly app. Additionally, physical switches allow for manual control, ensuring a familiar experience for users. We invite you to get in touch with us today to learn more about the remarkable possibilities our solution brings. Contact us today to hear more about our solution.

We believe the world would be a better place if more people lived healthier with light. For care homes, we want residents to make the most of their golden years by staying healthier and happier with light.

Do you want to learn more about how circadian lighting can improve care at your care home? Download our free 20-page e-book on improving elderly care with circadian lighting.