Is it possible to improve the quality of sleep through architecture and design? How is it that architecture plays a relevant role in people's health and dreams? Sleeping is one of the most important activities for human beings, since it is the key moment for energy recovery and a powerful ally for people's mental and emotional performance. However, the number of hours of sleep required for the body to recharge with energy is limited by lifestyle changes and social, cultural, work and play activities.
The history of humanity has been marked by the concept of time through the solar cycle. However, contemporary activities have changed the way we connect with our own nature, work habits, coexistence, food and therefore the circadian rhythm. Now the natural cycle marked by day and night seems irrelevant, since our schedules act with global communication (without time or geography) and subject to technological tools. This change in daily activities leads us to rethink the architecture and spaces we inhabit, and to recognize that the solar cycle is no longer the reference for daily activities.
One of the dominant characteristics in the contemporary city is the prevailing need for lighting in public and private spaces. And without realizing it we have accepted a constantly illuminated world. The lighting of cities is the target of public governmental and civic agendas that seek security in urban public spaces. However, we must not forget that the excesses and poor planning of urban lighting indirectly affect flora, fauna and, probably causing insomnia in human beings. Fortunately, environmental agendas are beginning to call for the effects of light pollution in cities, and although there is much to be done, little by little changes will come to regulate urban lighting in the future.
At a lower but relevant level, architects and designers can make a big difference about lighting control and the effects on people's circadian rhythm and sleep depravation. With the circadian rhythm we refer to the system that relates physical, behavioral and mental changes, with the amount of light or darkness that living organisms perceive. That is, a direct relationship between lighting and biological regulation, mainly with the solar cycle.
Architecture plays a relevant role in creating spaces that allow access and use of natural light and the correct use of artificial lighting. Although we know that artificial lighting significantly extends the productivity of daily activities, we cannot ignore the evidence that shows that excessive brightness of light, as well as cell phones, television, computers and tablets, has adverse effects on the people's well-being. (Panda, 2015)
The brain and artificial lighting
The optimal function of our circadian rhythm allows us to enjoy good health that translates into a significant increase in the average life span. This means that if we spend most of our time in interior spaces lacking natural lighting, our circadian rhythm is compromised and out of phase with its natural state, directly affecting our quality of sleep and recovery of energy at the neural level. An affected circadian rhythm can trigger chronic disease, or even breast, prostate, obesity, and diabetes cancers. (Savvidis - Koutsilieris, 2012).
It is worth reviewing all the spaces we inhabit, not only for rest but for common daily activities and evaluating whether spatial perception affects our mood, sleep quality and health. Perhaps we can see that a poorly lit space causes headaches or insomnia. But it is also important to review those spaces where we can feel good, and look for the factors that we can control; for example, the type of luminaires, the control of sunlight in the windows, and the temperature of the lighting required for each activity we carry out.
Lighting a living space with sunlight is a key to strengthening biological functions and people's health. The main recommendation is to make use of passive environmental systems through good orientation and natural ventilation. In residential spaces for sleeping, a controlled and studied orientation in the East range is recommended to allow the entry of natural light in the morning and strengthen the immune system of people. On the one hand, because sunlight during the first hours of the day causes a state of alert due to the suppression of the sleep hormone called melatonin; On the other hand, the gradual reduction of lighting during the afternoon and night will cause the secretion of this hormone, resulting in better rest and sleep.
Now let's think about the spaces where children carry out daily activities, for example the classroom, where it is recommended to allow the entry of natural daylight because it benefits brain development and creativity. Children who study and develop activities in naturally lit areas have been shown to have greater cognitive abilities, information retention, memory and creativity.
Technology and lighting.
The use of good technology cannot be left behind all this, since thanks to artificial lighting we can prolong working hours, coexistence and study. However, it is worth mentioning that we must control and take care of the artificial lighting in our homes, for example cold LED lighting and above 4000K can affect melatonin levels at night. That is, our body by its nature would be used to following the dark solar cycle at night to produce the melanopsin that regulates the photosensitivity of the retina, and consequently secrete melatonin. (Panda, 2015)
In this sense, if the rooms of homes have excessively bright lighting, the sleep quality of its users would be affected. An example of the problem is also accompanied by the use of television, cell phone, tablet and computer screens. In the case of the bedrooms, the ideal is to follow the natural lighting of the solar path during the day and night, and complement it with controlled lamps in attention to the functions of the space. In all other rooms, it is advisable not to turn on high intensity lights at night, but to maintain regulated lighting that allows users to adjust their circadian rhythm naturally from day to night.
Architecture and sensory perception
Architecture must be studied from the sensory perception caused by light and darkness. We must understand and analyze the effects and benefits of solar lighting. Controlling natural lighting in interior spaces is a strategy little used by architects and designers. The sensation and observation of the solar rays inside a space leads us to pleasant moments, unique and connected to the universe. That is the moment to which we refer, to the lighting of the spaces through openings studied in the walls, ceilings and their reflections. Directing and controlling the solar path raises everyone's curiosity and appreciation of the interior in a different way, and allows us to understand how important this sensory connection revealed by light and darkness is. It is about looking for the perfect formula, enough, necessary and required lighting to maintain the circadian rhythm in perfect harmony with our nature.
We still have a long way to go between lighting and architecture, and at the same time recognize how it will affect our brain, health and well-being. Advanced studies in neuroarchitecture are evaluating the effects on people's circadian rhythm and the sensory perception of built environments. Sleep must become the priority of needs programs and a problem to solve in projects, not only in houses, buildings, schools, hospitals, offices, but in all the spaces we inhabit.
Hatori, M., S. Panda, 2010. The emerging roles of melanopsin in behavioral adaptation to light. Trends Mol Med 16 (10): 435-46
S. Panda, Marks F. 2015. Circadian lighting for health. ASHRAE journal. www.ashraejournal.org