hospital room lighting

Healthcare Reform

Hospitals Are Too Dull: Turn Up The Lights, Say Experts

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hospital room lighting

Patients aren’t getting enough light during the day, says new research, which can affect their overall well-being.

It’s pretty much a no-brainer that we feel better on a clear and sunny day than we do when the clouds are overcast and thick with impending rain. The link between feeling good and feeling the sun is thought to be vitamin D. Could something as simple as improved hospital lighting alleviate patient pain and discomfort?

This was what Ester Bernhofer and a team of fellow researchers at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio wanted to know. Her study included 40 patients at the clinic (23 female and 17 male), and sought to establish whether any relationships existed between hospital lighting and patient mood, sleep, and or pain.

The study participants wore an electronic wrist device for three days and three nights straight, which allowed Bernhofer to continuously measure light exposure and the patients’ sleep-wake regimes. Participant mood was assessed daily with questionnaires and pain levels were estimated from their medical records.

How dim are hospital patient rooms?

In a paper published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, Bernhofer revealed that light exposures throughout the day were universally low, fluctuating between 104 and 180 lux, the standard measuring unit of luminance. To give context, the shade beneath a tree on clear blue-sky day would chalk in at around 20,000 lux. Patients slept a pitiful average of under four hours a night.

Although sleep levels were low across the board, it was statistically significant that the less light they were exposed to during the day, the more fatigued the patients felt. Pain levels were also higher when participants were especially tired, but there was no observation of a direct relationship between pain and light. “One of the things I thought I’d find was a direct relationship between exposure and pain,” said Bernhofer, “instead it went: light – fatigue – pain, but I was expecting: light – pain.”

Should hospitals alter their lighting?

“If you or a loved one are in hospital and feeling fatigue-laced-pain and discomfort, it’s not a bad idea to move to the window, it’s certainly not a bad idea to get some sun exposure,” said Bernhofer.

Bernhofer hopes to continue research in pursuit of the optimal dose of lighting for patient wellness.

“When we have a better handle on this, I think there will be major implications for strategic and therapeutic lighting. I don’t foresee a big bulb at the end of a bed, it’ll be lights in the ceilings at different spectrums, larger windows, and brighter lighting during the day,” she said.

Bernhofer doesn’t necessarily want to impose her findings on a new hard and fast hospital policy on lighting, but she did add that hospitals needn’t wait for her to find the precise figure for the optimum light level of a hospital ward. After all, when we know that the world outside is often brighter by factors of thousands, it’s “hardly a risk” to get more sunlight, she said.