Healthier with the right light?

Can smart use of light make people healthier? At Vestfold Hospital in Tønsberg, Norway, light is now being used systematically in efforts to reduce psychiatric disorders.

Outdoor photos: Halvor Gudim

We are drawn to the light. Towards the sun, the warmth and bright days. Scientists have long talked about the importance of vitamin D and our immune system, and many of us may worry about winter, shaking our heads and talking about darkness and winter depression. But can light be used according to plan? In proper and plentiful doses, is it able to help make us stronger mentally?

“This is extremely exciting. We should be careful jumping to conclusions, but research shows clear indications that good access to daylight has a notable and positive effect on the mind,” says Kari Hornmoen, lighting designer at Multiconsult.
She is enthusiastic about research in Denmark where the length of stay for psychiatric patients with depression was significantly reduced when they were given rooms with good access to daylight. Those who had rooms facing south east could experience up to 30 days shorter length of stay than those facing north.

Positive hospital managers

Therefore, when the planning of a new psychiatric ward at Vestfold Hospital started a few years ago, this knowledge was put to the hospital management, who nodded their interest and replied that yes, this knowledge was too important to be ignored. The solution was not to build all rooms facing south, but in one department to install luminaires that deliver copious levels of light with varying colour temperature - a light that compensates for daylight. The new building was inaugurated in September 2019, with Glamox as a major supplier.
“What we have done is to provide both natural light and supplementary light. Large, windows, where you can sit on the window-sill, let in daylight. Furthermore, we copy the daylight, we bring it into the building and simulate what happens outdoors. We thus support the natural circadian rhythm,” says Kari Hornmoen.

Human Centric Lighting

To achieve this, HCL - the Human Centric Lighting system is used. HCL is programmed to deliver light with a high-colour temperature (cool light with blue wavelengths) during the daytime, at night a more muted low-colour temperature (“warm” light with fewer blue wavelengths). The subdued warm light ensures that the body is ready for the evening and stimulates production of the sleep hormone melatonin, while the cool light stimulates wakefulness and activity. The luminaires are controlled automatically and seamlessly,” explains Anders Bru, Concept Manager for HCL at Glamox.

The intensity and colour temperature of the light thus vary throughout the day. Variety is also a key word for the different parts of the premises: Corridors need extra light, while sofa corners get lower levels of light and more warm light. “We’ve created zones to give a sense of cosiness. In addition to warm light, walls and ceilings are painted in warm colours, which reduces the institutional character,” explains Kari Hornmoen.


Key outdoor areas

Also outdoors, the use of light is carefully planned. Three outdoor areas, also called “sensory gardens”, are at the disposal of the patients. In order to prevent injury to patients they are fenced in and well secured. At the same time, much has been done to minimize this sense of being enclosed.

“We have worked closely with landscape architects to create what we call “an outside interior space”. With vegetation and light, we’ve created a welcoming environment for what would otherwise have been dead surfaces. And then it’s wonderful to hear a user characterise these outdoor spaces as “coming to heaven,” says lighting designer Hornmoen.



To prevent patients from injuring themselves or the fixtures and fittings, all lights are built into ceilings or walls. In many places so-called “wall washers” are used, i.e. light reflected via a wall. The method provides an increased sense of space Psychiatric patients often have a long stay at an institution, and it is therefore of special importance that the physical surroundings contribute to a good treatment environment. Anders Bru in Glamox feels that light today is a more valued factor than previously:

“We see an increase in the understanding of the meaning of light, that is, of the non-visual effects of light,” says Bru. Lighting designer Kari Hornmoen agrees:

“There is a great desire for knowledge and research in this area. The increasing attention is exciting, both for patients and people in general. And very exciting for us lighting designers!”