Changing hospital lighting so that it follows a natural light-dark cycle could help patients sleep better and experience less pain, a small new study suggests.
Researchers from the Cleveland Clinic found that the lack of fluctuation between low light and bright light -- like a typical sleep-wake cycle, where it's bright during the day and dark in the night -- in hospitals is linked with poor sleep, more fatigue and more pain among patients.
For the study, published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, researchers examined the light exposure and sleeping patterns of 23 women and 17 men who were admitted to a hospital between May 2011 and April 2012. Researchers followed the light exposure, mood and pain levels of the patients for 72 hours each.
Patients in general got fragmented sleep, and just 236.35 minutes (about four hours) of shuteye, on average, each night. An association was found between fatigue and bad mood and low light exposure, while pain levels were linked with fatigue.
Meanwhile, "higher light exposure was associated with less fatigue and lower total mood disturbance in participants with pain, suggesting the need for further investigation to determine if manipulating light exposure for medical inpatients would be beneficial in affecting sleep–wake disturbances, mood and pain," the researchers wrote in the study.
Study researcher Esther Bernhofer, Ph.D., RN, of the Cleveland Clinic, said in a statement that future studies are needed to "determine if lighting interventions could offer unique, cost-effective ways to more effectively address the problems of sleep-wake disturbances, distressed mood, and pain in hospitalized patients, providing for overall better patient outcomes."
It's not just hospital patients whose sleep is being hurt by light -- a recent perspective in the journal Nature pointed out that electric lighting could negatively affect sleep of the population at large.