Professor Mariana Figueiro, Lighting Research Center (LRC) Light and Health Program Director, gave an invited talk at TEDMED Sept. 12, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. The three-day TEDMED event brought together a series of speakers from diverse backgrounds to inspire new possibilities for the future of health and medicine. The talks were attended by an audience of 1,000 delegates in D.C., and broadcasted live to more than 200,000 people in 144 countries around the world. Figueiro’s talk was on the effect of light on human health and well-being.
“We are swimming in an ocean of light,” said Figueiro, but like fish in water, are generally unaware of and pay little attention to our environment. Light is the conductor of our internal symphony, influencing when we sleep and wake, our cognitive abilities, how much we eat, and even how well our medicine works, she said.
Biological rhythms that repeat approximately every 24 hours are called circadian rhythms. Light is the main stimulus that helps the circadian clock, and thus circadian rhythms keep a synchronized rhythm with the 24-hour solar day. Humans need to receive a sufficient amount of light for the biological clock to remain synchronized with the solar day. If lack of synchrony or circadian disruption occurs, we may experience decrements in physiological functions, neurobehavioral performance, and sleep, Figueiro said.
Lighting characteristics that are effective to the circadian system are different than those effective to the visual system. In order to apply light to mitigate the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, seasonal affective disorder, jet lag, or sleep deprivation, we need a better understanding of the quantity, spectrum, timing, duration, and distribution of light that is effective for the circadian system, she said.
Light touches our lives in many different ways, and yet, we take it for granted. The sun will set tonight and itwill rise again tomorrow. So, let’s stop taking light for granted, and let’s start using light to improve our health and well being.”—Mariana Figueiro
“Light isn’t just for vision. Light touches our lives in many different ways, and yet, we take it for granted,” said Figueiro. “Whether we want it or not, the sun will set tonight and it will rise again tomorrow. So, let’s stop taking light for granted, and let’s start using light to improve our health and well-being.”
TEDMED is an annual conference focusing on health and medicine, with a year-round Web-based community. TEDMED is an independent event operating under license from the nonprofit TED conference.