Healthy Schools

Study Reveals Americans’ Understanding of Importance of Natural Light

A study from earlier this year has revealed that the majority of Americans are aware of the benefits that natural light can have on their physical, mental, and psychological health. Among a group of more than 1,300 respondents, 83% said they believe natural light is important for good health. Fifty-six percent said exposure to natural light helps them sleep better. Fifty-nine percent said that children need natural daylight to learn effectively, and 67% agreed that natural light plays a role in improving worker productivity.

However, the same study also showed that nearly half of Americans ages 18 and older spend between 12 and 23 hours a day indoors, while government research suggests that most Americans spend up to 93% of their lives inside. This disparity indicates the need for an alternate source of natural light that better suits modern lifestyles and work habits.

Another result of the survey—conducted by health tech lighting company BrainLit in May 2021—was that only 39% of respondents were aware that natural daylight can be artificially replicated via indoor lighting systems.

Oliver Moorhouse, BrainLit’s Head of Business Development and President of BrainLit North America, provided further detail on the study’s purpose and inspiration. “One in four Americans can’t sleep, one in five people globally,” he said. “And every decade, we lose another hour of sleep. That second element is that we know there is a critical issue here. Really, an epidemic. And so, what we wanted to do with the study is—really, understand that we have a passion for educating the market…So the inspiration is to try and figure out where there’s misconceptions in the market, and how we can have the biggest impact in that education process.”

BrainLit’s BioCentric Lighting solutions recreate the seven critical elements of natural light: intensity, wavelength spectrum, direction, time of exposure, duration of exposure, amount of light exposure already received that day, and our own biological makeup (chronobiology). The technology provides the ability to create a personalized “light recipe” based on each individual’s chronobiology that synchronizes to that individual’s circadian rhythm.

“Ultimately, we’re all equal but different, and there’s prevalent studies around chronobiology,” said Moorhouse. “What that basically means is that we’re all on different circadian rhythms. And our peak performance is at different times of day, and that’s biological. And so, when you understand that, BrainLit can deliver a light recipe for each individual to truly personalize the experience. So I might be a morning person and require a different light recipe to you, who could be a night owl…and that’s really the true IP around BrainLit: the ability to personalize and deliver specific light recipes for each individual.”

Moorhouse gave the example of a night owl waking up early in the morning for work. The “boost recipe” consists largely of an intense dose of blue light, promoting a cortisol boost and providing an energy boost. In contrast, for students with ADHD—who might have too much energy—a relaxing light recipe consisting of red light that delivers melatonin and allows for easier relaxation.

He was quick, however, to clarify that natural light is by no means a magic potion. “This is not a quick fix, right? The consideration of light exposure should be a long-term part of your health program and your lifestyle,” he said. Exposure to high-quality light over the course of a day allows people to sleep better at night because their circadian rhythm and hormonal balance are in sync. From there, tailoring that high-quality natural light to an individual’s needs adds a little extra boost.

“While the data suggests that we should encourage people to spend more time outdoors, humanity has moved in the opposite direction in recent generations,” said Niclas Olsson, CEO of BrainLit. “People need the health benefits of daylight, but life’s circumstances don’t always allow them to be outside. The good news is that BrainLit’s personalized lighting can help those staying indoors by supporting the body’s natural circadian rhythm, resulting in better sleep, health, and mental acuity.”

The survey’s results revealed a consensus that people are aware, in theory, of the benefits of natural light. In addition to general benefits like regulating the sleep/wake cycle, 42% of respondents said they believe that natural light can relieve symptoms of hyperactivity or ADD. Similarly, 42% or respondents also said that it can improve symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s among the elderly.

“What really inspired the study is to raise awareness, in general, that light—as well as water, nutrition, air quality, etc.—should be a critical element of your day-to-day life and your health program. So that’s the first obstacle, is to raise that awareness,” said Moorhouse. “And what you see from the study is people really agree that natural light is important, but far less agree that an artificial light source—I think it was 39 percent—can replicate natural light…And really, you have to—in the early stages—to use it or see it and really feel the impact. And that’s the journey we’re on now with key opinion leaders and administrators.”

About the Author

Matt Jones is senior editor of Spaces4Learning. He can be reached at [email protected].