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Lighting in Patient Care Rooms

The use of LED light fixtures and lighting control systems has become a standard across the healthcare industry and patient comfort / safety have always been at the forefront of every new technological development. These developments are now taking the energy efficiency we have come to expect and apply it in a way to put the health of the patients at the forefront of the design.

Lighting systems within patient rooms are now on the verge of a complete overhaul due these lighting advancements. By combining some tried-and-true lighting control methods with new technologies that have the ability to mimic daylight effects on circadian rhythm, both patient comfort and energy efficiency can now be the center of the design.

What Is Circadian Rhythm and how does it apply in Healthcare?

Circadian rhythm is the 24-hour physiological cycle of humans that dictates when you will become tired or alert throughout each day and is often referred to as your internal clock or sleep / wake cycle. While the circadian rhythm of each individual differs, they all follow the same general cycle that matches the rising and setting of the sun. This is what causes you to feel more tired at the end of the day than at noon. Through various studies, it has been found that this cycle can be affected by external factors such as light levels and color temperatures.

Throughout a normal day, most people would put little to no thought into their circadian rhythm as it coincides with their basic style of life. As the day progresses, you become tired and go to sleep to rejuvenate your body and mind for the next day. Patients that are confined within a room have a hard time with this process as they do not always have access to direct sunlight to help maintain a balanced circadian rhythm. For long portions of both the day and night, these patients are kept in fully lit rooms that make it difficult to discern the passing of time. As a result, it can become a problem for them to maintain a full night’s sleep or recognize when it is time for them to be awake. This can lead to sleep deprivation and even longer hospital stays as the body cannot obtain the rest it needs to heal.

How to Correct Circadian Rhythm in Patient Applications

In order to prevent a disruption in a patient’s circadian rhythm, light fixtures equipped with tunable white LED technology can be installed within patient sleeping and treatment areas. Light fixtures with tunable white technology include LED boards equipped with both high and low Kelvin LED’s (typically 2700K and 6500K) allowing for a gradual change in color temperature for each light fixture. By transitioning from a low color temperature in the morning to a higher color temperature around midday and back down again, the light fixtures mimic the light output of the sun. This is especially important in rooms with no access to direct sunlight. This helps to maintain the patient’s concept of time throughout the day and prevent disruptions to their circadian rhythm. Tunable white light fixtures also have the ability to be dimmed in addition to seamlessly transitioning the full spectrum of temperatures.

A similar approach can be taken when considering night lighting within patient rooms. By specifying amber night lighting in lieu of the typical “white light”, patient safety is maintained without disruption to their circadian rhythm since amber light does not have as harsh of a contrast to the surrounding room as standard white light. This allows patients that wake up in the middle of the night to find their way safely around the room while maintaining their night vision and ability to fall back asleep.

Combining Tunable White Technology with Lighting Controls

Along with tunable white light fixtures, lighting controls play a large role in patient comfort and safety. Currently, most tunable white light fixtures require proprietary control systems, but with the advancement in this technology, some fixtures are now able to be combined with any lighting control system. A lighting control system with an integral time clock that is used to gradually transition the lighting color temperature throughout the day will help maximize the benefits of tunable white while giving the patient a high-level light control. Additionally, tunable white fixtures provide medical staff with a constant light level that meets the Illumination Engineering Society (IES) recommended light levels, so the performance of their everyday tasks are not impeded.

Dimmable controls can also be used in conjunction with the time clock to allow for manual control of light intensity in the room. A typical patient room should be provided with at least three zones of control: patient, staff, and visitor / family. The staff zone controls all light fixtures in the room, providing staff with full control to adjust color temperature or brightness as desired to perform examinations. The patient zone gives the patient the ability to dim various lights throughout the room without moving from the bed, allowing the patient to adjust lighting to their preference. The visitor / family zone allows visitors to control the lights above the designated family area without disturbing the patient bed area.


Combining tunable white LED technology with personalized lighting controls within patient rooms makes it possible to achieve an increase in patient comfort and safety while maintaining the energy efficiency expected in designs. By allowing the patient to maintain their circadian rhythm, the amount of time required for a full recovery will be decreased, giving health care facilities the ability to treat a larger number of patients. As these technologies continue to develop, and as knowledge of them increases, the standards across the industry will be sure to follow.


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