Why Circadian-Effective Electric Lighting Matters

Khabele Elementary Expansion / Derrington Building Studio. Image © Peter Molick Photography

“Counting sheep” is a well-known mental exercise that people use when trying to fall asleep. It is thought to have been popularized by Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote, who is said to have been inspired by a twelfth-century Spanish tale. Whatever its origin, it is curious to think that falling asleep has been a problem for so long, even long before the invention of electric light or social networks on smartphones. In the early 2000s, the University of Oxford developed a study to prove the effectiveness of this sheep-related method. The conclusion: this tactic does not work.

Something that is scientifically proven, however, is the relationship between the body’s production of melatonin and the feeling of sleepiness at the end of the day, which can in turn lead to a restorative night of sleep. This is directly related to the circadian rhythm, our daily biological clock. This inner “clock” synchronizes our body’s functioning and is highly influenced by the wavelengths and intensities of natural and electric light we are exposed to during the day. As we continue to spend more and more time indoors, typically with inadequate visual stimuli from electric lighting during the day, and too much stimulation from electronic devices and overhead lighting after dark – it is essential to focus on the study of lighting in architecture and how it affects people and their well-being.

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