Light is a healing force. It regulates the body’s circadian rhythm, which controls sleep-wake cycles and has a role in emotional health, heart function, body temperatures and other functions necessary for healing. According to a February 2015 article in Designing Buildings, research findings show that natural light for hospitals offers significant benefits to patients and health care staff.
Artificial Lighting in Hospitals
Advances in artificial lighting and air conditioning allowed architects to design large, deep buildings with enclosed spaces that didn’t rely on natural lighting for illumination. While the spaces are habitable, they often lack efficiency and have negative effects on general wellbeing and productivity. Patients in windowless rooms tend to feel higher levels of stress and, in extreme cases, suffered from the effects of Sick Building Syndrome (SBS).
Modern health care architects have a greater focus on sustainable or green building designs that exploit natural daylight and the views out of windows. The designs take advantage of the benefits of natural light while combating the negative impacts associated with it, such as heat gains, the transmission of UV rays and glare.
Benefits of Natural Light for Hospitals
Reduced lengths of in-patient stays: Researchers found that patients admitted to brighter rooms spent up to 41 percent less time in the hospital than those in dimmer or windowless rooms. In a study involving cardiac patients in an intensive care unit, patients in darker rooms stayed a day longer on average than those in brighter rooms. Similarly, mortality rates were higher among patients in darker rooms.
Faster post-operative recovery: When a room has ample natural light during and provides a nice view, post-operative patients feel less stressed and have lower blood pressure, which is vital for recovery. In windowless rooms, patients are more at risk for feeling depressed and developing post-operative delirium. When a patient feels stressed, inflammation in the body increases, which increases pain and hinders healing.
Greater pain relief: Up to 22 percent of patients in bright rooms report needing fewer pain medications. When a patient needs more pain medication, the individual’s must heal from the surgery and deal with the negative side effects of the medications and higher medical bills.
Improved employee morale: Natural lighting boosts employee productivity and moods, and helps them feel more energized. In a hospital environment, employees with access to natural light and views of nature have lower levels of stress and health-related absenteeism, which ultimately benefits patients.
The Ideal Natural Light for Hospitals
When designing health care spaces, the most important factors regarding window design include the amount of sunshine that enters a room, patient proximity to the window, the view, and patient privacy. The findings regarding the best window size for a patient’s room vary by study. In general, patients tend to prefer windows that occupy at least 25 percent of an exterior wall. Many patients prefer rooms with two or more windows.
Numerous studies have found that exposure to bright lights of at least 2,500 lux that contain short white or blue wavelengths for at least two hours in the morning are the most beneficial to patients. This is particularly true for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, as they displayed less agitation later in the day and improved sleep-wake cycles.
Hospitals should provide the ultimate healing environment. While bright natural daylight is best, it’s not always possible to get optimal levels during certain seasons or because of building constrains. Supplementing natural light with light therapy solutions throughout a health care facility exposes patients and staff to the benefits of the sun’s healthy wavelengths, and may improve a patient’s perceived quality of care. Light therapy also offers a more affordable alternative to a building remodel and aids and organization’s green efforts when constructing a new facility.