Elderly residents of nursing homes have a tendency to fall asleep at any hour of the day. The problem with this is that they can get a bit too much sleep during the day, meaning they have periods of wakefulness during the night. This can lead to a vicious cycle of fragmented sleep, which can put them at risk for poor health outcomes such as depression and increased frailty.
To reduce the number of sleep disturbances for nursing home residents, scientists at Brown University installed new lighting fixtures in a California nursing home that changes in color and intensity over the course of the day and night, mimicking natural occurring during the 24-hour cycle.
Earlier research has shown that nursing home residents likely receive too little light during the day and too much at night. That’s why the scientists in this study randomly assigned corridors were a total of 63 long-term care residents experienced either tuned or static lighting conditions for two months, then switched the corridors to the other lighting. The tuned lighting brightened corridor lighting in the day and dimmed it during the night. The static condition mimicked the fluorescent lighting in place at the facility prior to the installation of the tunable fixtures.
What the researchers found was, on average, the residents experienced 3.6 nighttime sleep disturbances with static lighting compared to 1.8 with tuned lighting. In other words, using light fixtures that mimic the natural lighting of the 24-hour-day cut sleep disturbances in half for elderly nursing home residents.
“We do know that there is a relationship between exposure to natural light and circadian rhythm, and circadian rhythm is important for healthy sleep,” said Rosa Baier, associate professor at the Brown University School of Public Health. “It’s very reasonable to think that this might be a particular problem in this setting and something that we could address through environmental practices.”
The great thing about this research is that it shows us a simple, low-risk solution that can substantially improve the lives of nursing home residents. And as the cost of tuned lighting systems continues to fall, we can reasonably expect more nursing homes to start adopting these calming light fixtures.