What designers can do to improve circadian rhythms
Designers have an essential role to play in the health and wellness of their clients. From high indoor air and water quality to comfort, fitness, adequate nourishment, and a positive mindset – a designer has tremendous opportunities to help the building users lead a happy and healthy life. Apart from the above, another major aspect of wellness is the circadian rhythm that intends to harmonize our internal clocks with the immediate surroundings. It is driven by internal biological clocks that operate on a 24-hour, day or night schedule that is meant to optimize our physiology.
Lately, factors such as working from home, inadequate workout systems, irregular sleep schedules, and too much exposure to white light have led to sleep problems amongst the population. This, therefore, tends to affect the sleep and wake cycles, productivity and alertness, metabolic functions, digestive system, and even body temperature. Hence, learning the most from the whereabouts and how bouts – a designer can always design a space thoughtfully that caters to the health of the users.
So, first and foremost, it is essential to make use of the natural elements to best help control the sleep cycle. One of the major elements is the natural light that helps regulate the circadian rhythm. Designing a space in a way that more and more daylight is being absorbed in the interiors is the way to a successful wellness design. Research tells us that just half an hour of morning daylight sets our circadian rhythm.
Hence, understanding the aspects of sun and compass directions, the wall openings have the potential to make or break your space. Open concept plans, skylights, partition walls, large windows, and double-heightened forms can help foster a healthy and motivating environment. On the other hand, too much sunlight entering can unnecessarily heat up the space, making the users feel uncomfortable. Hence, that is when the designer is expected to play with shades, shadows, and compass directions to adequately let in the light.
If you are renovating an old structure, one of the best ways to design for circadian health is by simulating day light by simply incorporating proper artificial lighting. Called “smart lights,” they take inspiration from the surrounding environment and time schedules to particularly brighten or dim the saturation, as required. Mainly, gradual changes such as light colour changing from warm to cool when focus and task work are required. Else, varying luminous intensity from sunrise to sunset and back to the daytime. With insufficient natural light, this is a great way to play with the interceptor cells and human brain throughout the day.
Colour-tuning systems are currently being incorporated not only for human biological support but also for psychological support. Certainly, workplace designers have preferred the dynamic nature of light changing over time – saying that it just feels good and “in place.” For biological support to the users, colour tuning and lighting systems must be able to provide higher intensities of light in the morning and early afternoon hours as compared to reduced light intensity levels in the late afternoon and evening while further dimming levels at night to allow for melatonin activation. Recent study indicates that the intensity of light – whether high or low – may be more important than the colour to set circadian rhythm.
Apart from the active and passive design, technology is the next in line consideration for better and healthy sleep patterns. Introducing an explosion of tunable, biodynamic lighting solutions that sync light with the time of day is the way some users tend to streamline their schedules. Whereas, some new technologies include the use of the Timeshifter app that offers personalized jet lag plans with timed light exposure advice as the foundation to help travelers eliminate jet lag. Moreover, constant sleep time tracking on smartwatches and phones has been quite helpful.
Diving further into the details, the circadian rhythms have proved to be highly affected by light pollution. In major metropolitan cities – it has been nearly impossible to feel the night and darkness due to excessive lumens in the atmosphere. And, that is when the designer must incorporate room darkening curtains, comfortable mattresses, and improved noise and temperature insulation for the users to feel comfortable.
Designers today are becoming familiar with the term coined as “thermal wellness,” which also heavily affects the circadian rhythm. The user must feel comfortable at night with a temperature of 18.3 Celsius (65 Fahrenheit). Slightly colder aura with thick blankets has proved great positive results.
Hence, to sum it up, designers in the present era have tremendous opportunities to improve the sense of health and wellbeing in their residential spaces. From the integrative design approach to actively analyzing the concept of shape and form of the space – positive circadian health is definitely something to look after. Especially in the era where no one sleeps!