Focus Shifts from Sleep to True Circadian Health
Any solution claiming to reset circadian rhythms must have the TIMING of light at its center. This will become a central pillar of wellness: from circadian lighting to circadian diets to apps that use timed light doses to crush jet lag.
By Beth McGroarty
Most of us have read about circadian lighting for years: the new lighting technologies that are tunable, biodynamic and sync with the time of day. You would think with all the talk that most of us would have it. We think 2020 will be the year that the light bulb goes off: More people will finally bring circadian lighting and behaviors into their homes. Some of the change will be no-tech: adopting regimes where you disconnect from devices/TV and dim lights well before bed—banishing iPads/phones from the room. We will naturally learn over time that sleep means avoiding light—and the time to disconnect from our devices well before sleep is NOW.
More people will make a simple switch in their home lighting: using bright, short wavelength, blue-light bulbs in the day and switching to dimmer, warmer, longer wavelength bulbs with red, yellow and orange color spectrums (think: campfire) at dusk—which boosts melatonin. And more people will go highest-tech: with app-, Bluetooth- and Wi-Fi-controlled LED tunable lights in their homes that automatically adjust day and night light color temperature and brightness levels.
Circadian lighting was a $400 million market in 2017, expected to jump to $4 billion by 2024, because we now have the technology, and more people will use it. People spend so much on their wellness; they need to spend a few more bucks on their bulbs.
There’s an explosion of circadian lighting solutions hitting the market. Healthe, developed with NASA scientists, has a wireless control device that uses GPS to track the positions of its “SunTrac” lightbulbs with the aim of simulating the natural arc of the sun throughout the day, transitioning from daytime blue light for productivity to mimicking light that promotes the brain’s natural response to sunset. The straightforward Soraa Healthy Lightbulb emits dimmable “Zero Blue” light. Dyson’s new Lightcycle lights adapt brightness and color based on time of day, owner’s routine and even age. Savant just launched an app-based home lighting system that is all about flexibility: You can set different light schedules for different rooms (i.e., you need a brighter kitchen, and the kids are on a different schedule)—or just press the button, and it switches rooms to the natural setting, based on astronomical time and your location.
Sleep masks that bring customized light therapy right to your face, serving up dimmer, red light at night when you’re trying to fall asleep and blue light to wake you up, such as Sound Oasis or Illumi, are taking off—with Dreamlight’s model also letting you set the mask’s temperature. Blue light-blocking glasses are going mainstream: Warby Parker just launched its own line.
Thoughtful design elements that support sleep and naural light cycles abound in wellness real estate developer Troon Pacific’s “ultra-performance homes.” photo credit: Jacob Elliot.
In the wellness home/real estate wars, “lux” (the measurement unit for light) is the new luxe, with circadian lighting (and every possible sleep design solution imaginable) becoming a key selling point. Delos’ new “home wellness intelligence system” Darwin features a circadian lighting system that lights up the home with cool tones in the morning and warm ones in the evening—and it’s completely automatic. San Francisco-based Troon Pacific’s “ultra-performance homes” deploy every design weapon imaginable to support sleep and natural light cycles: from automated motorized shades to advanced day-to-night lighting systems and even no light-reflecting, shiny surfaces anywhere.
In this newly enlightened age, neuroscientists, doctors and architects are all working hard on nailing the science of circadian rhythm-supporting light: what intensity and color, at what time and for how long. And for whom, because circadian systems differ from person to person: by age, where you live, etc. For instance, when kids hit puberty, they have their circadian and sleep cycles pushed about two hours later than a typical adult, and while human evolution began near the equator, where daylight hours are consistent, most of us live with ever-shortening and lengthening days, becoming more extreme as we head up or down toward the poles.
There are debates among scientists, and certainly among lighting companies (seeking market differentiators), about what the right light at the right time truly is. Scientists will argue that we focus so much on over-lighting our eyes (hence brains) at night that we forget how critical the issue of our under-lit, desk-bound day lives are for our circadian health—and that any great lighting design needs to tackle both. Many of the new lighting systems aim to replicate natural light as it would subtly shift throughout the day. While this is unlikely to do any harm, Dr. Lockley argues that these subtle changes are not needed and not detected by the brain for control of circadian rhythms and alertness. We need bright blue-enriched days and dark nights, with as dim and red-enriched light as possible from dusk to bedtime. He argues nuanced “dawn to dusk” lighting changes throughout the day are unnecessary. And with the rise of all these light therapies and masks, we need to remember that blasting sunlight-simulating light when we’re exhausted to perk up or red “sleep” light when we’re desperate for shut-eye, if not timed correctly, could further whack out an already whacked out circadian system. Circadian rhythms, we cannot repeat enough, are internal systems, not external quick fixes like a pill. They thrive with regular light-dark cycles, day after day after day.