The potential of designing for circadian rhythms

03 Apr 2019

The concept of designing lighting, buildings, or even ‘super teams’ of colleagues around circadian rhythms is still in its infancy. Some have created lighting that is somewhat circadian inspired, but often led by a certain notion that circadian rhythms are uniform in us all.

The construction of buildings (usually offices), has also been increasingly taking into account natural and artificial light according to each space within it rather than uniform ceiling lighting that is static, and some companies (mainly young startups), are opting for flexible hours in order to cater to their employees’ daily rhythms and needs.

But what is – truly – the potential of designing around circadian rhythms and how can this be done? From optimising productivity in the workplace, reducing sleep disruption and helping people feel more energised, to lowering people’s risk of cardiovascular disease, depression and cancer – the potential is only beginning to be realised. While this could benefit the well-being and health of millions of people, it will equally be able to save corporates, governments and independents millions, if not billions of pounds across the globe. Needless to say, the potential is monumental.

In a recent study conducted by LYS and a partner, test participants were given the LYS Button as they underwent the 7-day Light Diet programme. During the period of the programme, users’ light intake was measured around the clock. 64 percent of the users engaged in putting the LYS Button on and off for 7 days and 85 percent were able to answer the daily questions every day. The results are fascinating to say the least.

In the largest group, 32 percent of participants were recorded as ‘moderate morning’ people, while 18 percent as ‘moderate evening’. The rest fluctuated between ‘definite morning’, ‘definite evening’ and ‘intermediate’. When it comes to defining ourselves as either a morning or an evening person – at least in life outside of the study – people often express a certainly of belonging in the definite morning or definite evening. Fewer people struggle to put themselves into a morningness or eveningness bracket. Yet from the results of this study, it’s clear that more people sit on the moderate side than the definite. Something that might seem contradictory to following our ‘gut feeling’ kind of answers.

So when designing structures that hold workers day in and day out on a 9 to 5-time basis, despite of their internal clock and their morningness or eveningness, architects and designers are faced with a new challenge.

How to build for circadian rhythms and what does this really mean? In recent years, and with the growing depth into circadian rhythms research, architects who regularly incorporate metrics-based daylighting strategies and principles of biophilia into their work, are pushing toward solutions that are in tune with our natural heritage, that support human physiology, and that can elicit a greater tie to the local context and the cycle of the day.

This is certainly a field that is waking up to its own potential. Human-centric, chronobiologic, biophilic, circadian — whichever term it is we chose to use, they herald a new era for lighting manufacturers, architects, designers of indoor spaces and providers of technology that sets out to measure and visualise this.