Our circadian rhythms are being disrupted by bright lights, health expert wants lighting revolution

This article substantiates the need for circadian rhythm lighting to promote a healthy body and environment. The market acceptance and desire is great for products like WalaLight to provide the correct nanometers of light that will wake a person up and provide energy by releasing cortisol in their endocrine system and the light changing throughout the day, similar to outdoors, into an amber colored light at night offering the appropriate nanometers to secrete Melatonin in individuals enabling a better relaxation and subsequent sleep.

Ian Keith of Margaret River allows natural light to wake him from a restful sleep in a house with no curtains. He is following his circadian rhythm and an expert suggests we all should.

Mr Keith strives to live in sync with the rising and setting sun, and morning exposure to the sunlight is essential to kickstart his sleep-wake cycle or ‘circadian rhythm’, the body’s internal 24-hour clock, which is triggered by exposure to sunlight during the day.

His house has no curtains, just floor-to-ceiling windows that open onto thriving bushland in Margaret River, in the South West of Western Australia.

“We don’t need the darkness [provided by curtains] because it’s going to be dark all by itself.”

  • Ian Keith says living in sync with his 24-hour sleep-wake cycle or circadian rhythm makes him feel healthier
  • Psychologist Sean Cain of Monash University says research is showing following our circadian rhythm could lead to improved sleep and other health benefits
  • He believes we are on the precipice of a smarter lighting revolution

“I’ve spent an awful lot of time working in offices and being around when the sun’s up is an important thing.”

Mr Keith seizes the dawn with an early surf, comes home for breakfast, before more outdoor exercise in the afternoon. By sundown, he’s ready to crash.

A man and a woman stand behind floor to ceiling windows of a house in the bush.
Ian Keith says a house keeps the weather out but should let natural light in.(Supplied: Douglas Mark Black and Paul O’Reilly, Archterra Architects)

His decision to follow the cycles of the sun was not borne of extensive research or planning, he simply did what felt right.

“You find you sleep, and you get up and you feel like you want to do stuff and have more energy to do things.”

New dawn for circadian health

Sean Cain, a lecturer in psychology at Monash University has been part of research that suggested understanding circadian rhythm could play a significant role in improving sleep and treating or preventing depression.

Associate Professor Sean Cain said we are on the precipice of a circadian lighting revolution.

Man wearing suit stands in front of warmly lit building at night.
Psychology lecturer Sean Cain believes most households will use circadian light within the next decade. (Supplied: Monash University)

“We not only have a clock at the base of our brain that keeps 24-hour time, but we have clocks in virtually every tissue of the body, and they evolved to get these strong inputs from the sun for day and night,” Professor Cain said.

Professor Cain said current lifestyles, where people spend a lot of time indoors during the day then use bright lights and devices at night, confuse the body and brain, contributing to poor sleep patterns and even disease.

“When we’re in light, it’s tricking our clock into thinking it’s daytime and so it pushes down this sleep signal of melatonin, and then it’s harder to get to bed.”

Somya looks at her phone as she lies in bed.
Associate Professor Sean Cain says using devices at night confuses the body and brain.(ABC News: James Carmody)

Professor Cain said the treatment of many chronic diseases could be improved by considering circadian rhythm as a possible contributing factor.

“[With] almost any chronic disease, you can find some element of circadian disruption, and a lot of the time if you address and repair that dysfunction of rhythms you can make the disease less severe.”

Smart lights to mimic sunlight

According to Professor Cain, installing circadian “smart lights”, which change colour throughout the day to mimic light from the sun, can help to establish a healthy circadian rhythm and lead to better health outcomes.

He said the main barrier to people reaping the health benefits of this technology was a lack of public awareness.

But he was also optimistic that within ten years, most households would use smart circadian lighting.

ABC South West WA / By Zachary Bruce

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