I have been talking about the relationship between light and health for a decade. It was probably a lecture at a distant LightFair that set my curiosity running. I started seeking out articles, research reports and other documentation to fill in my information gap. While not a doctor, I eventually developed a continually-evolving lecture on the topic. New information arrives. Science discovers more nuance to its initial findings. Better studies are conducted. More concise data is shared and made available. Ten years (perhaps more) since I sat in a cold conference room at a LightFair convention, science is still not ready to make definitive decrees about rock-solid solutions, but as many posts have indicated, the mounting evidence supports better lighting leads to healthier people.
I thought of my message and my journey and the stones in the road as I read an amazing article in The New York Times Magazine. (July 10, 2022) “The Time of Your Life” (also entitled, “The Quest by Circadian Medicine to Make the Most of Our Body Clocks”) by Kim Tingley. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/07/06/magazine/circadian-medicine.html?searchResultPosition=1 Initially, I felt this was a very easy to understand description of the internal “clocks” that help our body function. If for no other reason, I suggest reading this article. The author goes a bit deeper than I do, but it still is easy to comprehend.
Farther into the article, we are introduced to a doctor who is attempting to change the medical community because of this unearthed information. The cycles in out body create peaks and low periods over the 24 hour day. For example, we typically have the highest blood pressure at 6:30PM and the lowest blood pressure right before a huge jump at 6:30AM. Our body is warmest at 7:00PM and coolest at 4:30AM. We are most alert at 10:00AM and have the best coordination at 2:30PM. These and other swings are very predictable and they impact about half of the roughly 20,000 genes we have in our body.
Early in the scientific discovery process, this doctor found that medication, when taken in sync with specific aspects of the systemic oscillation delivered optimal results. The drugs were more effective and more impactful when compared with administration at any other time of the day. By simply altering the specific time medication is brought into our bodies, we could enjoy better, perhaps optimal results!
You’d think the medical community would leap onto these findings. Better results with virtually no downside? Even if, after five years of added study, they determined that timing was not the thing that accelerated performance, there is no downside. The patient is still taking the same medicine and the results are the same results. It should have been a win-win. Yet he met with a less than receptive medical community.
I feel his pain. I talk about lighting and have talked about lighting for almost 20 years. I’m not alone. There are many lighting professionals who are trying to help people move toward better lighting. Initially, the goal was better functioning spaces and now, an effort to increase healthy results. Some larger corporations have embraced the idea, but the concept has largely been ignored, even at health care facilities. Because good lighting is “different” than the lighting currently used and because the timing of drug intake is “different” than normal medication distribution, change is a bit like Lloyd Bridges’ command to turn an aircraft carrier around to pick up his blown-off hat in the movie “Hot Shots!,” possible, but unlikely…and very difficult.
In the future, we will be using light that is more sensitive to the circadian (and other) cycles in our body and hospitals and prescription instructions will time the intake of drugs to coincide with the optimal cycle movement. In-hospital med-pass efficiency will likely take a back seat. The reason is the preponderance of evidence. Healthy lighting will probably be more complicated. Some will acquiesce and others will treat it like smoking warnings and COVID immunization shots. The majority will heed the advice, but a percentage will ignore their doctor and lighting pros. You can take a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.