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human centric lighting: raising wellbeing through light

in design trends

Lighting is key to human life and it affects wellbeing in several different ways. This is becoming increasingly recognized in lighting design and the latest evolution in the field is the so-called Human Centric Lighting.

Human Centric Lighting is one of the latest lighting innovations and is part of the WELL Building Standard – the international reference for interiors and buildings that focus on health and wellbeing.

Human Centric Lighting has been defined as

“lighting devoted to enhancing human performance, comfort, health and wellbeing”
Cit. Peter Boyce

To understand how and why it works, we need to take a step back and look at how we relate to light as human beings.

the impact of light on wellbeing

Light influences our overall wellbeing in 3 different ways:

Sunlight filtering through branches.
Credit: Thomas Kinto (via Unsplash)

natural vs artificial

Sunlight is not static and varies during the day in both intensity and colour. From low and warm at dawn, to very bright and cool during the day, back to low and warm again in the evening.

The way our body works is strictly linked to the variations in natural light. In particular, exposure to cool light (or blue light) inhibits the production of melatonin (the hormone of sleep) and stimulates the production of cortisol and dopamine (the hormones that make us feel awake). Which is why we naturally feel awake during the day and sleepy at night.

Minimal seating area with lighting behind.
Credit: Kundalini (via Instagram)

These days, we spend 90% of our lives indoors, and this makes the quality and the effects of artificial lighting systems extremely important. Until now though, artificial lighting has never really considered wellbeing and – when compared to sunlight – standard artificial lighting tends to:

Overall this messes up with our hormonal balance, which is likely to cause sleep problems. And poor sleep can have a number of wellbeing and health consequences from bad mood and low memory, to lazier metabolism and immune system, up to cardiovascular diseases…just to name a few.

What Human Centric Lighting does is replicating sunlight variations in artificial lighting, creating a lighting system that:

why now?

The knowledge about the effects of sleep on health has been around for quite a while, so it might be fair to ask why this Human Centric Lighting concept is gaining traction only now.

One reason is that today we have the technology and knowledge to make this both possible and efficient. The introduction of LED lights has made spectrum tuning (i.e. making light cooler or warmer) easily accessible and the efficiency of LED allows adding sophisticated functions to standard lighting solutions without having energy bills skyrocket as a consequence. Also, smart lighting technologies are making it extremely easy to control all relevant aspects of light at the touch of a button.

On top of this, we now have a better understanding of how our sight works. In particular, experts have discovered the existence of a third light receptor in our eyes, which comes into play in the regulation of our circadian rhythm.

Shoot of a living room over branches highlighting a sinuous light fixture.
Credit: David Trubridge (via Instagram)

how does human centric lighting work?

Human Centric Lighting acts on the 5 aspects of light, adjusting them for our wellbeing.

some examples of human centric lighting

Screenshot of the app screen, showing the circadian rhythm function.
Credit: Artemide App by Artemide
Close-up of a white sofa with a big floor lamp over it.
Credit: Twiggy by Foscarini
Contemporary interior with a big overhead pendant light.
Credit: Accordéon by Slamp
Small table lamp with a curl shape.
Credit: Curl by Luceplan
Hexagonal pendant lights hanging from the wall in a changing room with a focal back wall painted in red.
Credit: Poly Esagono by OLEV light

Cover image by Thomas Allsop

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