Change the lighting; improve your health. It's a strategy
researchers from Case Western Reserve University's Frances
Payne Bolton School of Nursing and the School of Medicine,
the Geriatric Research Education and Clinical Center at the
Louis Stokes Cleveland Veterans Affairs Medical Center (GRECC),
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Lighting Research Center
and GE Consumer & Industrial have begun to test in a long-term
care facility where daylight, which has proven health benefits,
is not readily available.
The researchers removed some standard fluorescent lighting
and installed new blue-white lamp prototypes developed by
GE scientists at the company's Nela Park campus.
Research team members hypothesize that periods of blue light,
like daylight, can help regulate the sleep-wake rhythm, which
is a behavioral pattern linked to the 24-hour biochemical
circadian cycle of the hormone melatonin. Depending on the
level of the hormone, people are awake or sleepy.
The researchers want to regulate the sleep-wake cycle by
regulating the amount of exposure to blue-white (wakefulness)
and yellow-white (sleepiness) light. By increasing exposure
to blue-white light during the day and yellow-white light
in the evening, researchers hope to help patients regulate
their sleep-wake cycles so that they are more awake during
the day and more asleep at night.
Patricia Higgins, associate professor at the Bolton School
of Nursing and one of the lead investigators, says the project
may prove to be especially beneficial for people suffering
In a recently conducted pilot study with five male patients,
each suffering from dementia and living in a long-term care
facility, researchers installed the blue-white lights in an
activities room where most residents gathered for meals and
"We wanted to see whether lighting could affect the participants'
sleep-wake rhythms," says Higgins. "While the group was small,
the results show promise in raising activity levels during
daytime hours and increasing sleep at nighttime."
The researchers plan a larger study with residents with dementia
at two Northeast Ohio long-term care facilities. The study
will include men and women to see if light impacts the genders
differently. An unexpected side effect of the lighting is
that once adjusted to the blue-white light, most employees
reported that they liked the new lighting conditions.
For a number of decades it has been known that light affects
how people feel. Those particularly sensitive to changes in
light have benefited from a boost in the brightness of light
sources. The new lighting used in the test changes the color
without overpowering individuals with brightness, according
to the researchers.
"Why waste light if you can tune it to the right color and
maximize the amount of useful light," says Mariana Figueiro,
assistant professor at Rensselaer and program director at
Rensselaer's Lighting Research Center."Light is a good stimulus
for the circadian system, which regulates your sleep-wake
cycles," says Thomas Hornick, associate director at the GRECC
at the Veterans Administration Hospital and associate professor
at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.
He says it is known that certain drugs do better when given
at the appropriate time in the circadian cycle.
As a safe, non-pharmacological intervention, researchers
also hope to apply information from the study to changing
the lighting in hospitals where patients may have a speedier
recovery or improved quality of life with a good night's rest.
"We're innovators at heart," says Mark Duffy, engineering
and technology systems manager, GE Consumer & Industrial.
"Our goal entering this collaboration was to apply the passion
and inventiveness, which we bring to every customer need or
application, to a project that has implications for society
at large. We're proud to be part of this effort."
If changing the lighting works to improve health, the researchers
plan to take what would be a natural next step: trying to
influence public policy to include new lighting standards
for healthcare facilities.