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In My Opinion

Good Reasons to Dim Lights

Published February 24, 2014 8:43 AM by Jimmy Thacker

It's late, the lights are low so the patients can sleep.You are walking the hallways ready to save lives. Have you ever considered the effects of the lighting on your job?

Researchers at the University of Toronto Scarborough in Canada and the University of Illinois recently published findings in the Journal of Consumer Psychology suggesting that lighting has a dramatic effect on how you perceive the world around you. In six separate studies they found, in general, that the more light there is, the more optimistic we are. Is this why "night-shifters" all seem to have that low-key, factual, and almost depressing attitude? 

Emotions appear to be more intense with light. The stock market looks better, spicier foods are more welcome, and even fictional characters on television seem more aggressive than when viewed through low levels of light.

The bad part is that for those living in depression, and particularly those of our patients either ill or injured and stuck in a hospital, high levels of light can lead to increased emotions and eventually suicide. Suicide rates always rise in the bright sunlight of the spring and summer. These studies may suggest a reason why. The brighter lights bring on more emotions, and if your emotions are already troubling, you may dive even deeper into depression. 

The studies suggest that turning down the lights may actually result in better decisions. Office managers, human resource folks, and stores have thought for years that the brighter the lights, the better the work environment. Not true, according to the new research. Lower lights have a calming effect that takes emotion out of the picture so decision-making is not affected. The result? Better decisions based on facts rather than feelings. This is why you will never see Wal Mart or your HR folks turn the lights down when you are buying stuff or negotiating your salary.

In my opinion, there are several good reasons to limit lighting in many cases. Brighter lights obviously burn more energy and make it difficult to sleep. Now there is evidence that suggests that lower levels of lighting may make a workplace more productive, calm, and a better environment to do the serious work we do, whether at night or on the day shift. I think this is worth looking into. There must be a reason why every ICU is dimly lit; is it to help hospital staff make better decisions? Even at home, I must agree that I do some of my best work when my office is dimly lit. I focus better. I am not distracted as much. I am not suggesting we put the whole hospital in the dark. I do, however, believe that if this is something that can help us work and help our patients heal, it is certainly worth looking in to.

That's just my opinion,
Jim Thacker, MBA, MHA, CRT, AE-C
Windsor, MO


   I have worked nights for over 15 years. I can honestly tell you, I am wider awake and more productive with more light. This is very true when i am on my 4th or 5th 12. The reverse side of this is, i can also honestly tell you, my patients are also more wide awake and "in need" of more neb treatments the more light there is. I think bright lights in the office and lower light levels in the hallways and patient areas is the best mix. I can't count the times I have had the 3 a.m. yawns.... and i definitely try to stay on the move, and if in the office i don't want low lighting for obvious reasons. Did i tell you I snore? Dead give away it's to dark. LOL. Seriously though, lighting DOES make a difference. Patient areas are "less active" if the lights are at a minimum. That's just my opinion.

Mark Austin, Respiratory therapy - RCP February 27, 2014 3:58 PM
Gower MO

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