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CoeLux Mimics Daylight: Light & Mental Health

Lack of access to daylight has been linked with a number of illnesses, one of them being Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), otherwise known as the ‘winter blues’ - a form of depression that affects a portion of the northern hemisphere’s population, largely younger women. The design world has responded with various innovative gadgets, such as lamps and light boxes, which require direct exposure for an extended period of time - time which not a lot of us can spare. CoeLux® , a product developed through the collaboration of the tech, design and science world has come to disturb the light box industry with its brand of light fixtures that mimic the sun.

Author: Siphilele Magagula

Photo: Courtesy of CoeLux®

The fall-winter season is filled with the feeling of warmth and promise for the coming year. Storefronts and public spaces are brightly lit and overflowing with cheer, from the sale items to the holiday decorations. The bright lights from all the holiday decorations shimmer and sparkle but are woefully dimmed by the inexplicable darkness you carry within you.

Days feel longer and it gets harder to wake up and face the world, all you want to do is sleep. It gets increasingly harder for you to conjure up the energy to perform daily activities. People may pass this off as ‘the winter blues’ and encourage you to enjoy the holiday cheer, however Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), like other forms of depression does not make it easy. As its name infers, this form of depression is only seasonal and affects those in the Northern Hemisphere, although there are rare cases that have been reported below the equator - *you are not alone Northerners*

Various light therapy fixtures for counteracting the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder have been developed throughout the years, however they have not managed to catch up to modern day fast paced lifestyles. The challenge lies in figuring out how light therapy can be made more effective without becoming an interference in day-to-day activities. We will explore CoeLux®, a product that may change the face of Seasonal Affective Disorder and in turn revolutionize the healthcare and architectural industry.

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

People with SAD experience depression throughout the Autumn and Winter season. Research has shown that the reduced level of exposure to natural daylight may disrupt your body's internal clock, leading to feelings of depression. The National Center for Biotechnology Information reports that 14 percent of the US population, primarily those living in the northern climates are affected, with younger women between the ages of 18-30 being four times more likely to experience this than men.

Image courtesy of: Søren Astrup Jørgensen via Stock Snap

The Mayo Clinic reports that the specific cause of seasonal affective disorder remains unknown, however some factors include:

  • Serotonin levels: A drop in serotonin - the brain's neurotransmitter that affects mood, might play a role in SAD as reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.

  • Melatonin levels: The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body's level of melatonin, which affects mood and sleep patterns.

This disorder manifests itself through the following:

  • Feeling depressed most for an extended period of time

  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed

  • Low energy

  • Irregular sleeping patterns (having trouble sleeping or sleeping more than normal)

  • Changes in appetite or weight

  • Feeling sluggish or agitated

  • Having difficulty concentrating

  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty

  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

CoeLux® Integrates A New Form Of Light Therapy Into Our Homes

Since the 1980s, phototherapy or light therapy has been heralded as one of the best courses of treatment for SAD, along with psychotherapy, medication and vitamin D. Light therapy requires 20-60 minutes of exposure to 10,000 lux of cool-white fluorescent light daily, an amount that is about 20 times greater than ordinary indoor lighting.

You can now confidently throw your light box away as CoeLux® has created a more suitable alternative through technology that serves as intersection between light therapy, interior design and architecture. The European startup has developed groundbreaking light fixtures that not only mimic daylight, but can also replicate location specific daylight such as the warm Mediterranean and the bright Tropics. CoeLux® fixtures are said to use traditional LEDs which are calibrated to the sun’s exact wavelengths. To accurately recreate ultra realistic sunlight, the creators also mimicked the subtle variations caused by atmosphere such as the varied thickness and composition depending on location on the planet. According to Wired Magagzine, in order to do so CoeLux® uses a milimeter-thick layer of plastic with nanoparticles, that does essentially the same thing in your living room. Install one of their fixtures and it will make the darkest chamber feel like a solarium.

Image courtesy of CoeLux®

Coelux’s far reaching impact is unprecedented, and to further describe its possibilities would not do it justice, see it here for yourselves. The footage will trick you into believing these scenes were filmed in spaces with skylights - it is all an illusion, one I wouldn’t mind being stuck in!

Unlike traditional light boxes, CoeLux® does not rely on UV rays to ease the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder but uses LEDs, which create the illusion of infinitely tall, bright blue skies, to trick the brain into thinking you are experiencing actual daylight, therefore lifting those ‘winter blues’. This chemical approach is less invasive with very little known risks compared to the light box technique which exposes the user to UV rays which have potentially harmful effects. With CoeLux® the only side effect is the illusion of daylight.

Image courtesy of CoeLux®

This psychological approach is quite revolutionary as it opens up new frontiers for exploration in the fields of architecture and design, especially in healthcare. Speaking to the Medical Daily, CoeLux® inventor Professor Paolo Di Trapani said“Besides SAD we see plenty of possible applications of CoeLux® in hospitals. He further explained that Diagnostic and radiotherapy departments tend to be located in hospital basements, leaving surgeons with no access to natural light while performing long laborious surgeries. These are crucial opportunities to introduce the technology. “Naturally, CoeLux is foreseen to improve the quality of the overall treatment, with respect to comfort and [relaxation], with benefit both for the patient and the hospital.”

Through the correlation between stress and daylight CoeLux® hopes to minimize the effects of stress using this illusion of daylight technology. This innovation has the potential to literally uncover new ground as structures could extend below ground as opposed to upward - as seen in the boom of skyscrapers with the invention of elevators.

CoeLux® could influence multiple disciplines: architecture, wellness, science and technology. The healthcare industry has a lot to gain from this innovation as it has been proven through evidence-based design that access to daylight helps quicken the recovery process within patients. Now more patients will have that benefit, without paying higher fees for rooms considered ‘prime real estate’ due to access to fenestration. Expanding buildings downwards, for example hospitals, creates more affordable options and opening up services to diverse demographics, however at $40,000 a piece, it will be some time until this product can be accessible to everyone. It is clear that the wonders CoeLux® reach further than the eye can see, however we will be here to track its progress and report any new developments. So far the future looks bright!

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