Monday, February 22, 2010

Flipping a (light) switch on teen health

Businesses and schools should take note of the importance of natural light and how it affects health and performance.

A new study by researchers at the
Lighting Research Center, part of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute helps shed light, so to speak, on young students' body clocks, which in turn affects their ability to function in early morning classes.

As part of the study, “Dim light melatonin onset (DLMO) was measured in eleven 8th-grade students before and after wearing orange glasses, which removed short-wavelength light, for a five-day school week. … DLMO was significantly delayed (30 minutes) after the five-day intervention, demonstrating that short-wavelength light exposure during the day can be important for advancing
circadian rhythms in students.” According to the scientists, “The results ... are the first to show, outside laboratory conditions, that removal of short-wavelength light in the morning hours can delay DLMO in 8th-grade students.” Not being exposed to enough morning light “can reduce sleep duration in adolescents required to awake early for a fixed school schedule. The absence of short-wavelength (“blue”) morning light, which helps entrain the circadian system, can hypothetically delay sleep onset and decrease sleep duration in adolescents.”

For insight on this topic, I turned to the writing of an expert close to home: my brother, Brian Libby. He's actually written about the effectiveness of natural light on improving student health and performance, and even has reported on other findings made by the Lighting Research Center. Writing in the New York Times in 2003, he reported: “The center has drawn from previous studies of the relationship between seasonal depression and natural light, particularly those of Dr. Alfred Lewy of Oregon Health Sciences University, to determine that human performance is improved by natural light. … While the benefits of natural light may seem obvious, planners have sometimes been reluctant to provide it in their buildings. Many school classrooms, for example, have been designed without windows, in some cases to eliminate distractions and in others to cut costs.”

My brother also visited several school buildings throughout Oregon that had been sustainably built, and that intentionally harnessed the power of natural light. The results, according to school officials, weren't just students being more alert and attentive – which they were – but fewer students calling in sick, as well. Reporting for
Metropolis magazine in 2003 on these findings, Brian wrote: “According to the Heschong Mahone Group, a nonprofit organization that promotes building efficiency, a national study of elementary school students found that test scores rose by more than 20 percent in significantly daylit buildings. The number of sick days also tends to go down when natural light is combined with TKTK.”

Businesses should take a cue from the schools that have incorporated natural light into their
building plans. While some companies have recently tried misguided health incentive plans [to promote employee health and reduce health care costs, simply letting a little sunshine in could likely do even more good.

Share and Enjoy:
Digg Technorati Stumbleupon Blinklist Reddit Furl Yahoo Spurl Simpy

No comments:

Post a Comment