Can Lighting Really Affect Health and Performance?

by: Andy Landman

With the rise of LED lighting and new methods of controlling our lit environments, new possibilities are opening up for building designers and building owners.  Terms like “human centric lighting”, “tunable lighting”, “circadian rhythms”, are being used to try to describe the visual and non-visual effects that artificial lighting has on people.  All of this begs the question – “How should we be evaluating the claims being made about artificial lighting and its effects on health and performance?”


My thoughts are that we should proceed with care and a good dose of humility.  While some of the initial research on these topics has been published and is being verified and refined as you read this, there is still a lot that we don’t know about artificial lighting’s non-visual effects.  These non-visual effects (like increased alertness, comfort, etc.) are very hard to quantify and express in a verifiable and repeatable way.  How much of a difference can lighting make when compared with better diets, more sleep, or more comfortable furniture?  These are questions that we will be attempting to answer as we refine how buildings are designed around their occupants.
Lighting News Post | Engineer Building and Lighting Consultant Near Northwest Iowa | Engineering Design Associates
Lighting News Post | Engineer Building and Lighting Consultant Near Northwest Iowa | Engineering Design Associates

Recently, the US Department of Energy released a study titled “Tuning the Light in Classrooms:  Evaluating Trial LED Lighting Systems…” (  This study evaluated three Texas classrooms, a fourth grade reading classroom, a fifth grade math and science room, and an eight grade science lab.  Existing fluorescent lighting was replaced with a “tunable white” LED lighting system allowing the intensity and color temperature of the fixtures to be varied over the course of the school day.  To summarize the results, the faculty and students noticed an improvement in the room environment due to the additional control the lighting system offered, but the “circadian and behavioral effects were beyond the scope of the project.”  By the study’s own admission, we currently lack methods to quantify and justify the non-visual effects of these lighting systems.


So, my advice is to stay tuned (sorry, I couldn’t resist).  We are entering into uncharted territory when it comes to answering questions on artificial lighting and how it effects our bodies.  We will experiment and sometimes reach conclusions which might contradict what we originally thought, but it is an exciting time to design and use lighting systems for our built environments.  Read up on these issues with some amount of skepticism, but also with the knowledge that we are working on better solutions to improve the buildings that are used every day.