The Power of Natural Light
The A+E industry has seen a widespread shift in design preferences towards more open, naturally lit spaces with windows, skylights, and doorways connecting indoor users to the outdoor landscape. This blending of natural and built environments has also helped lower energy consumption and environmental impacts for facility owners through innovative daylight harvesting technology. Nevertheless, today we are learning that benefits of strategic design stretch beyond function and form, casting light into our everyday lives by supporting increased workplace productivity, student learning, and most recently healthcare patient outcomes.
According to numerous studies, including one conducted by the Center for Healthcare Building Research at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, the positive effects of lighting levels on circadian rhythms not only reduce feelings of pain and depression, but can actually decrease healing time for patients. For the sick and injured, this discomfort and shortened stays. Moreover, results from that same study have shown a direct correlation between increased natural lighting and lower levels of patient anxiety. High stress environments such as birthing units, intensive care facilities, and emergency rooms can measurably improve the human experience by supplementing hard fluorescent lights with organic – and cost-effective – daylight capturing design. Not to mention that in a country where an estimated 30-40 million people avoid dentist visits because of anxiety annually, design has the potential to be a critical turning point for many American’s dental health.
Meanwhile, for the hospitals and clinics themselves, natural lighting may translate into huge operating and non-operating expense savings. Recent rates from 2015 released by Kaiser Family Health Foundation showed yet another spike in the national average daily costs per inpatient, with State and municipally government-funded hospitals taking the biggest hits across the board. In a time where healthcare costs are a point of major concern for American families, decreasing the length of hospital stays, as well as readmission rates, could significantly lower overall expenses for healthcare facilities, thereby reducing the cost of services.
When designing built environments, it’s important that user needs and the latest industry research drive light selection – not minimum code requirements. While we may be nowhere near a complete understanding of the benefits of natural light, its significance cannot be ignored.
After all, what makes the connection between lighting and healing so promising is that it is accessible – and virtually free – to anyone with access to sunlight, and with the right A+E design, we can create healthy environments for all.