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BUSINESS PRODUCTION CYCLES

Why Circadian Rhythms Are Important To The Health of Your Business


For those of us who travel extensively, we’ve all experienced jetlag at least once. Falling asleep at the breakfast table, snapping at the barista for a second or third refill before 8:00am, and the sheer inability to focus on anything—it’s all part of the gig, but why?

Anytime we travel across time zones we’re tinkering with our internal clocks. The further we travel, the more out of sync our clocks become. This isn’t just a euphemism for being tired of traveling. There are actual biological processes in place known as circadian rhythms that are trying to make sure our bodies function properly.

These circadian rhythms are a set of 24-hour sequences that help control all of our biological needs; when we eat, sleep, wake up, etc. Based on the rise and fall of the sun, our bodies have created a routine to become more efficient. This is why international travel wreaks havoc on people’s schedule. Our bodies are trying to adjust these rhythms to coincide with the new day-night cycle.

How Lighting Affects Our Rhythms

You're probably asking yourself, “So how does this affect my business?” Which is a valid question. The answer centers on what impacts our circadian rhythms. There are a number of cues that keep our body on track like alarm clocks and eating schedules, but lighting is by far the strongest trigger. In the primitive sense, it was the easiest way to dictate when humans could (and should) be active.

As society evolved, the proliferation of artificial light has given us the ability to work around the clock. Unfortunately, our internal clocks are still set to the same schedule that has guided us for thousands of years.

Constant light has not only disrupted our natural circadian rhythms, there’s also a surplus of evidence that suggests different types of light can disrupt our natural sleep-wake cycles, our ability to focus, and cause irritability or even depression.

Blue light for example, the most common form of light emitted from phones and tablets, has been linked to negatively affecting our ability to fall asleep at night. A study at the Harvard Medical School found that blue wavelengths suppressed melatonin levels at least twice as long as any other form of light.

If blue light can have this affect on our ability to fall asleep, perhaps there are other forms of light that can make us more productive.

Let’s explore by going back to blue light. As the sun passes through the sky there are four distinct tones that are emitted. When the sun rises it creates a blue hue that slowly shifts to white, yellow, and then red as the sun begins to set. This transition activates various circadian rhythms that increase productivity during the day and promote cell reproduction and hormone regulation at night.

Despite this newfound knowledge, most office spaces are still decades behind in the fight to combat employee fatigue with lighting design. The research is still new, but the consensus is pretty clear: there is no replacement for natural light. However, there are a few lighting techniques that can be implemented during office space planning to help mimic the sun’s transition throughout the day and increase our efficiency in the workplace.

BLUE: Sunrise 9-10am

Best time for remedial tasks like checking email

WHITE: 9-10am, 2-3pm

Best time for creative meetings & top priority decision making

YELLOW: 2-3pm, 5-6pm

Best time for tier-2 decision making

RED: 5-6pm sunset

Best time for happy hour

DARK: Sunset, Sunset

Best time for remedial tasks like checking email

Daylighting and Circadian Lighting

Most of the light we receive in our offices—especially fluorescent lighting—gives off a very limited spectrum of light and doesn’t align our circadian rhythms with the sun. Aside from the health risks associated with fluorescent lighting, like migraines and eyestrain, they are also a detriment to employee productivity.

By applying certain lighting principles we can expand the spectrum of light we’re exposed to and better emulate the light we get from the sun. Currently there are two leading concepts on how to achieve this: Daylighting and Circadian Lighting.

Daylighting is based on optimizing the natural light that enters your building. For buildings that don’t have an abundance of natural light, you can link your light fixtures with shading controls to follow the lighting of the outside world throughout the day. This method calls for an integration between your shading and lighting controls and is largely dependent on the amount of light that penetrates through the windows. It requires constant communication between lights and shades to give off the same amount and type of light that you would be exposed to if you were outside.

The other prevailing method, Circadian Lighting, aims to mimic the transition of sunlight throughout the day. This system is much more practical if you don’t have large windows that allow light in. In order to replicate the movement of the sun across the sky, and keep us closely aligned with our normal rhythms, the lighting must gradually shift throughout the day from blue light in the morning, to white light in the afternoon.

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