Circadian lighting in care homes

26 Oct 2022

Healthy lighting plays an important role in care homes.

Just like fresh air and water, people have a need for light. Far too many care home residents have limited access to natural daylight while also receiving poor indoor lighting. This can be harmful to their natural circadian rhythm, resulting in poor sleep, confusion, negative behavioural outcomes and a reduced 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.

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.

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.

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.

Our lights connect via WiFi and adapt automatically to the right settings. We require no advanced systems to operate, and all lights can be controlled manually via our simple app. Furthermore, all lamps can be switched on and off via physical switches – just as you normally would. 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.