"When we discovered how to make electric light, we dramatically changed the human condition and our productivity," says Fred Maxik, a physicist and founder of Lighting Science Group. "We didn't understand for the next 125 years was that this wonderful invention brought negative biological consequences."
Maxik's Rhode Island-based firm, established in the year 2000, produces what he calls "biological" light bulbs that are designed to help your body maintain its 24-hour “body clock,” otherwise known as the circadian rhythm. It was around this time that scientists discovered non-visual photo-receptors in the eye that react to different wavelengths of light to trigger changes in the body, rather than just supporting sight.
“There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that the brightness and wavelength of workplace lighting are not only essential for enabling sight, but that it can also have strong non-visual biological effects, in regulating the human circadian system, and impacting the biological clock of workers, as well as their mood and alertness,” explained our in-depth report: The Future Workplace: Smart Office Design in the IoT Era.
The scientific community has continued to develop our understanding of the circadian rhythm and the influence of light on this critical bodily system. A fascinating combined study by researchers from Oxford and Harvard universities found that even blind subjects experienced decreases in melatonin when exposed to blue light, for example. The results supported the earlier discovery of non-visual photoreceptors and underlined the fact that light is about more than sight, it is actually fundamental to a whole range of bodily systems.
“A variety of research studies have demonstrated the beneficial effects of light, on vitality, depressive symptoms, alertness, sustained-attention span, and task performance, as well as awareness and sleep quality,” our report continues. “Furthermore, bright-light exposure appears to be effective at improving health-related quality of life and alleviating distress. All of these factors have a direct and substantial impact on productivity and are therefore of great interest to the enterprise.”
Later, a 2016 study published by the journal Sleep, was able to demonstrate that reaction times could be noticeably improved after just 30 minutes of exposure to blue light. Reaction times have obvious implications for focus, concentration, communication, creativity, and ultimately productivity - leading the business-minded among us to consider the significance of providing this kind of boost to an entire workforce through the choice of lighting in an office. "Light can help you reset your clock as quickly as possible," he says. "It's a time cue for the body's clock - yet most of the time we take it for granted," said Steven Lockley, the lead author on the study.
"Light a very powerful stimulant. If you give yourself a powerful stimulant before you're supposed to be going to sleep, you're disrupting a natural process." By manipulating circadian light, Maxik says, "we can still derive all the benefits we associate with light - without doing the biological harm."
Maxik’s Lighting Science Group decided to sieze this opportunity and develop lighting for the workplace. They initially created two products; a bulb with a strong cyan glow, which reproduced natural light in order to help people stay awake during the day, and another that glowed with a cyan-depleted reddish color to support melatonin production in the evening. The GoodDay (cyan bulb) and GoodNight (cyan-depleted bulb) were then joined by an adaptive bulb which transitioned between these two modes to mimic the natural rhythms of the sun.
One of their clients, Markon Solutions, a management consulting firm, has been using the Lighting Science bulbs and desk lamps in its Virginia office for the past six months or so. Workers at the company were a little apprehensive of the bright cyan bulbs to begin with, says company VP Raymond Carney, but they were soon “fighting over the portable lamps” that were on offer and Markon were forced into ordering more.
Despite the science, it seems that many still have doubts about the theory and the ability for such technology to make a noticeable impact on work or sleep. "I've been asked that question a bunch of times - can you prove it?" Carney says. "I can't necessarily. I know there's a lot of science behind it. But I'll say this: Two of our conference rooms have the lights in them and the rest don't, and people always want to use the rooms that have them."
In addition to Markon Solutions, companies including Merrill Lynch, Nestle, The Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas, and Pegasus Capital, who is also an investor, all chose to adopt Lighting Science’s solutions. The technology has also proved popular in facilities such as nursing homes, hospitals, convents and hotels. In fact, international hotel chain Six Senses has now installed Lighting Science bulbs at more than 15 of its luxury resorts. These companies, at least, believe that the impact of these lighting solutions are worth the investment.
Office workers also appear to be fealing the effects of better lighting. Our report, The Future Workplace: Smart Office Design in the IoT Era, including findings from an extensive survey on the perceived impact of lighting on office workers. The survey explored the different types of lighting present in today’s workplaces and investigated how the influence, on productivity, of each light source was felt by employees.
“By all accounts, abundant natural sunlight is the most productive form of workplace illumination for office workers; it benefits health and wellbeing through improved sleep and vitality – boosts teamwork and collaboration through enhanced mood and workplace relationships – it makes workers more comfortable and creative through a reduction in stress levels,” the report concluded. “All these factors allow workers in naturally lit environments to focus, concentrate and think better, which can lift the entire enterprise to new levels of productivity.”