Feeling the winter “blahs”? You’re not alone. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), an estimated six percent of the U.S. population suffers from severe season affective disorder (SAD), while 14 percent of American adults are inflicted by the “winter blues,” a lesser form of SAD. Triggered by longer melatonin emissions that occur with less daylight, SAD or winter blues patients are typically treated with 30- to 90-minutes of light therapy that mimics the color temperatures of daylight – a remedy benefiting up to 85-percent of those affected.
Light – and more specifically, light’s color temperature – has a powerful and direct impact on our mood, productivity and sleep. Simply put, it influences nearly every element of our lives. So much so that it’s hard not to wonder whether all individuals – from students to patients to office workers – could benefit from built-in “light therapy” solutions to improve behaviors and ultimately, performance.
NASA recently made this light connection when making the decision to replace the International Space Station’s (ISS) aging fluorescent lights. Realizing an opportunity to increase astronauts’ sleep (which currently only averages six hours of sleep per night even with the help of sleeping pills, relaxation techniques and educational courses), the organization invested $11.4 million in Boeing (NYSE: BA) LEDs (light emitting diodes). These solutions, expected to be available by 2016, will aid astronauts’ circadian rhythms by shifting from blue light, which suppresses melatonin and triggers alertness, to red light, which releases melatonin in time for bed, following the natural 24-hour cycle of sunlight.
Space travel isn’t the only application for bio-specific light. Down here on Earth, through our own research and product development, we’ve engineered LED solutions to dim from cool to warm, allowing end-users to not just replace the familiarity of traditional light sources with sustainable sources, but enhance their visual comfort regardless of function.
The possibilities of the solution’s color temperature range are endless. It can advance healing, for example, with blue tones reducing glare and increasing caregiver alertness and red tones helping patients both sleep and look better. Studies also show color temperatures that imitate natural daylight can enhance students’ test performances, increase workplace achievement, and even help international travelers adjust to jet lag, while warmer, “sunset” color temperatures promote relaxation at home or in hospitality spaces such as restaurants and hotels.
Our attachment to smart phones and increased caffeine intake is often blamed for lack of motivation, overstimulation and insufficient sleep. But research tells us there are ways to counteract those unhealthy effects with new lighting technology. As the U.S. continues to make the switch from incandescent light sources to more energy-efficient options such as LEDs, it’s also time we focus on color temperature to help enhance our well-being no matter where we are –home, office, school, hospital, hotel, shopping. After all, if light therapy can reverse SAD symptoms in just two days, imagine what replicating the same color temperatures in our everyday lives can do for our mood – and our accomplishments – throughout the year.