When it comes to illuminating rooms in which we spend large amounts of time, natural light is always a more pleasant experience. There is a good reason why we feel better when we learn or work in a space that has windows. It is not just because we like to stare out of them while we think or daydream.
Natural light has an impact on how our brain works. It doesn’t just affect our eyes or how we see, but also our hormone levels.
Our circadian rhythms – the natural, internal processes that regulate our bodies’ sleep-wake cycle – are influenced by the rising and setting of the sun. Therefore it makes sense that our hormones are influenced by how much natural light we are exposed to each day.
Natural light can help keep us alert but it also tells our bodies when it is time to calm down.
How does this help in a classroom setting?
When we make the most of the natural light in classrooms, children are more alert because their bodies release a hormone called cortisol. This is what makes us feel awake.
If children are more alert, they are able to concentrate. A recent study in the United States found that over the course of a year, children who had more natural light in their classrooms had 26 per cent higher reading outcomes and 20 per cent higher maths outcomes than children in classrooms with less natural light.
Of course, it is not possible for all classrooms to be bathed in natural light. That does not mean that those children should be at a disadvantage as a result.
It is blue light which tells the body to release the cortisol so where natural light is limited, a different blue light source can be used. Supplementing natural light with LED lighting that has a blue colour temperature will boost blue light waves. This, in turn, will support children’s learning where there is not an abundance of natural light, creating the best possible learning environment for children.
Blue light is also emitted from digital screens, which is why many studies recommend limiting screen time before bed. It can raise cortisol levels and thus disturb our sleep patterns.
Natural light in classrooms also has other benefits. It also has a known effect on our moods. In the classroom, it can support children who are susceptible to low moods and have a positive impact on the mental health of all pupils.
Access to natural light also helps with sleep. Our bodies know that when the sun sets, it needs to produce more melatonin, the sleep hormone. This relaxes us into the night. As a result, children are more rested and ready for their next day at school.
If we get the most out of the natural light in classrooms, children will have better concentration and better outcomes. Where there is limited natural light or through the darker, winter months, this can be substituted with blue light sources such as LED for similar results.