LED Lighting And Circadian Rhythm

Lighting is an ever-present aspect of our everyday lives in and around buildings, and it also serves as a key trigger for our rhythmic clock.

By Erik Milz

For facility management, there is a core focus on optimizing the operation and maintenance of various buildings and facilities. Meanwhile, facility leaders also know it is important to consider the factors that are needed to create a healthy environment for occupants. Enter LED lighting technology — a technology that has continued to evolve beyond its initial purpose as an energy saving, long lasting light source to a valued technology that can help solve health and safety issues, with its previously unimagined capabilities.

Lighting And Circadian Rhythm

Lighting is an ever-present aspect of our everyday lives, and also serves as a key trigger for our rhythmic clock (aka circadian rhythm). Light serves as a reference point to our bodies, allowing us to recognize when to wake up and when to sleep.

LED lighting
Photo: Cree

To avoid disruptions to the circadian rhythms of building occupants, the American Medical Association (AMA) shared guidelines on how businesses and communities should choose LED streetlights. But these guidelines, released by AMA in June 2016, are misleading.

The AMA recommends that streetlights with a warmer color temperature (in the 3000 Kelvin range) be installed over the traditional cooler temperatures (in the range of 4500 Kelvin or higher) to avoid what they termed as “detrimental effects” of blue wavelength radiation, found to a higher degree in cooler color temperatures.

It is important to understand that LEDs are not the problem here; bad lighting and improper installation are. For example, fluorescent lighting requires compromise in almost every way — slow warm-up, poor light quality, and special disposal requirements due to mercury content. Yet, installing LED lighting meant for a highway outside of a dormitory or hotel room can also cause problems.

Just like any technology, not all LEDs are created equally. However, the correct high-quality LED product combined with proper installation can provide beneficial solutions to a variety of facility concerns, like reduced glare and dark spots. Different lighting technologies are required for individual applications, such as a higher light output for highways to keep drivers alert and safe versus soft lightbulbs for the home during evening hours to allow the mind to wind down.

Choosing The Best Light For A Facility

Every application requires a different standard for light output, color temperature, fixture amount, and location. That is why LED companies offer multiple solutions for facility applications, understanding that the first step to creating better light is designing light with the human condition in mind.

Issues may arise if inferior light is installed near residential homes, which can create light trespass from facilities, where the light goes beyond where it is needed or wanted. LED lighting emits appealing warm color temperature only where it is needed, unlike the HID lighting typically installed. It can provide a safe, well-lit environment for residents, drivers, and pedestrians, while offering the comfort of the warm temperature for more comfort that may contribute better circadian rhythms.

This is an important consideration for facility managers, who can work with LED companies when installing exterior and parking lot lighting to determine the best light for their facility’s needs. For building entrances and exits, a cooler color temperature would work well for pedestrian traffic, safety, and security. Industrial plants, for example, would require such light for loading docks in the evening’s hours, offering workers the light needed for safety and alertness. Finding the best fit for each application is essential for providing an appealing environment and understanding where to start leads to a successful installation.

LED Lighting Best Practices

LED lighting is capable of replacing all existing lighting technology, including halogen and CFL — but it’s important to remember that specifications matter in ensuring a better light experience.

For Cree, these specifications are centered on an ethos called Better Light, in which the company believes LED technology will go beyond creating good light sources to deliver vastly improved and entirely new light experiences. Conversations like the one surrounding the AMA guidance are important to drive broader understanding and enable users to take full advantage of what LED lighting has to offer. With LED lighting technology, we now have a light source that can be tailored in spectral content, design, and layout to efficiently meet application-specific and human-centric goals. That said, proper installation and better light quality are key to achieving both.

erik_milz_headshotMilz is vice president of product marketing for outdoor lighting at Cree, an an innovator of lighting-class LEDs, LED lighting, and semiconductor solutions for wireless and power applications. Having joined the company in June 2015, he is responsible for the Cree outdoor lighting product portfolio. He holds a B.S. in Management Systems from Kettering University and a MBA from Oakland University.