Let there be light

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. Now the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters. And God said ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. – Genesis

For centuries, we have woken with it; it marks and measures the length of our days and the changing of our seasons, locking us into the rhythm and heartbeat in the nature of life. We respond both culturally and biologically; we follow the patterns that date back to the beginning of time.

Light enters the eye and is translated and interpreted by millions of specialised cells in the visual system. It gives our world shape, depth and colour. It gives us great pleasure in many forms, sharing a smile; watching billowing clouds in the blue sky and even on to reading a book.


Light and vision play such an intricate and vital part of our life that for the most part we just tend to take them for granted. We don’t think of the nature or the source of the illumination that makes them visible.

It is a form of energy defined in scientific terms of a measuring system in which the wavelength is the standard unit. Each colour has its own wavelength. The length of which determines its proper place in the spectrum. These are the colours that combine to make up what we perceive as natural sunlight.

Sunlight is a major source of energy for our planet. It warms the earth, affects our weather patterns and through photosynthesis provides food and fuel. Light so impressed our ancestors they made the sun a deity. Apollo was the sun god of the ancient Greeks. The ancient Egyptians worshipped several different sun gods, for example the sun god Ra, the sun god Horus. Aztecs believed that their civilisation was founded by the children of the sun.

From the earliest of times we have associated light with all that was good: knowledge, honesty, openness, creativity and advancement. On the other side there is darkness carrying the connotations of ignorance, deceit, inactivity and regression, not to mention evil.

These concepts still affect our behaviour and attitudes today. We make assumptions and have feelings about light that correspond to prehistoric man, driving away the darkness and extending the perimeter of the visible world with the light of fire. In our emotional response to light, we all share and help perpetuate the deep-rooted cultural inheritance.

Light affects the body and the mind. All aspects of health – mental, emotional and physical – are influenced by it. At the turn of the century somewhere in the region of 75% of the population worked outdoors…i.e. they worked when it was light and stopped when it was dark. Now the situation is reversed and only about 8% work outdoors.

The industrial revolution brought us the beginning of the 24-hour society. Our modern society demands that we spend more and more time working indoors. This move from outdoors to indoor means we now reliant on artificial illumination. Now what that means is that many people don’t see natural light during the week for three or four months during the winter.

It is important then, that we look deeper into how light affects us and in particular artificial light. A simple question shows us how light affects us. What season do you find it easier to get out of bed? Winter or summer? Most people will answer summer, because of the earlier sunrise. That shows that our bodies respond to natural cues.

When sunlight enters the eye, impulses travel two paths: to the vision centre (visual cortex) and to the hypothalamus. (Hypothalamus controls the biological rhythms) From the hypothalamus, the light impulses travel to the pituitary gland and also via the spinal cord, to the pineal gland, the source of the hormone melatonin.

The human psychological system and behaviour has evolved over many of years. The whole of that evolution took place under the influence of the natural spectrum of sunlight to which light-sensitive and light-modulated organ systems are specifically adapted. In less than a blink of an eye in evolutionary terms, lighting by electricity indoors has replaced fires, candles, oil and gas lamps.

We take it for granted that because the characteristics of lighting being installed has been the responsibility of architects, lighting engineers, interior designers, planners etc. that it is always acceptable. Artificial light is much less intense than normal sunlight. It is an assumption that lamps are adequate for illumination as long as their relative balance of illumination is perceived as white, and as long as the intensity of the radiated light is great enough to match a rather arbitrary set of standards.

The possible issue of tradition where cool white fluorescent lamps give a good bright light and that has always been good enough and its inexpensive may be countered by the following. The health of the population, especially in hospitals, schools and other institutional settings, is the greater priority, where cost is a priority looked as purely a budgetary concern and health and well being not a priority at all.

Without including full spectrum lighting into the equation, we may not be adequately supporting the health of the population. The spectra of the conventional fluorescent lamps –no matter the manufacturer- all emit light with roughly the same spectral balance. The full spectrum fluorescent lighting however differs in that it closely mimics the spectral curve (the relative balance of emitted wavelengths) as produced by the sun. It should include radiation in the near-ultraviolet band from 300-400 nanometers.

Where full spectrum lights differ greatly from conventional lamps is not only in the near-ultraviolet light it produces but also in two other key areas: colour temperature and colour rendition. The colour temperature of the light (not related to room temperature) refers to the temperature measured in degrees Kelvin at which a black body, a theoretical perfect radiator, would have to be heated to most nearly match the perceived colour of the light source. In simple terms, the lower the temperature, the redder the light and the hotter the temperature the more blue the light becomes. So the warmer the light appears, the lower its colour temperature is. The temperature for daylight in the USA is 5500K, the UK and Europe is 6500K and 7500K in the Arctic Circle.

The other area is the colour rendition. A simple example is when you go to a store to buy clothes, textiles, presents or any object that you require to judge the colour of your intended purchase, in order to “see” the true colours you have to take it to a window to inspect it in natural light. That’s colour rendition. Scientists judge the colour rendering capability of light by the colour rendering index scale. (CRI) This scale runs from 1 to 100. All colours appear true under natural daylight, which has a CRI of 100…perfect light. Full spectrum lamps have CRI’s ranging from 92 to 98. Average CRI of office lighting is about 55 and colour temperatures of 4200K.

With their investigations scientists are finding that in the studies with people spending most of their days indoors, illuminated by lights that are a poor substitute for the spectrum of the sun, that problems such as increased fatigue, decreased performance, diminished immunological defences, headaches, depression and possibly impaired fertility are all associated with living and working under incandescent or cool white fluorescent lamps.

According to Dr Wurtman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, light activates many biological functions of the body involved in endocrine control, timing of our body clocks, immunological responsiveness, regulation of stress (ACTH and Cortisol), fatigue and control of viral infections.

Lighting intensity is not everything. A well-lit office is only as bright as a poor twilight. If you can imagine working in an office environment, where the light intensity was as bright as a hospital operating theatre. The glare from your paperwork and computer would dazzle your eyes, the problems that you would encounter would be severe. It is not a question of simply the brightest possible light. Rather, what is needed is the best spectrum of light and the appropriate luminosity for good vision with minimum glare.

While full spectrum lighting may be new to many people, it is not a new concept. It would be great to think that this development was initiated for our well being, to improve our quality of life but was developed originally for a more sinister purpose. For humans to survive underground in the event of a holocaust. However, the main reason for full spectrum lighting not being widely available on the marketplace is that it is initially more expensive, it has a longer lifespan than a conventional lamp which manufacturers and maintenance companies would rather not promote because it would drop their profit margins.

Several studies have been conducted on full spectrum lighting and the beneficial effects it has on animals and humans. In Alberta, Canada they conducted a study by putting full spectrum lighting into classrooms at five similar schools and found that it improved the pupils academic achievements, attendance levels, behaviour patterns, increased growth and even reduced tooth decay. The study was conducted by psychologist Dr Warren Hathaway and he presented his findings to the American Psychological Society. Dr Hathaway said “Lighting systems are designed more for the electrical efficiency than their physiological or psychological effects on people, and that may turn out to be a mistake”

Cornell University in the USA, some years ago conducted an experiment showing that students experienced a significant increase in visual acuity and a reduction in overall fatigue when studying under full spectrum lighting.

In 1980, Dr Fritz Hollwich conducted a study comparing the effects of cool-white fluorescent illumination versus the effect of full spectrum lighting. Measuring changes in the endocrine system to evaluate these effects, he found the stresslike levels of ACTH and cortisol (stress hormones) in individuals when sitting under the cool-white tubes and totally absent from when individuals were sitting under the full spectrum tubes.

The significance of these findings becomes clear when you examine the functions of ACTH and cortisol. Both these hormones play major roles in the functioning of the body and are very much related to stress response. His findings clarify and substantiate the findings of Dr Wurtman, John Ott, and others regarding the physical behaviour, fatigue and reduced mental capabilities under artificial illumination.

His conclusion was that the degree of biological disturbance and the resulting maladaptations were directly related to the difference between the spectral composition of the lamps. His work confirms the biological importance of full spectrum lighting. In addition it shows the importance of specific colours in our daily lives by the fact that they are missing or deficient in conventional lighting. Cool white fluorescent lamps are especially deficient in the red and the blue-violet ends of the spectrum; this may be possibly why colour therapists have historically used a combination of the colours red and blue-violet as emotional stabilisers.

The human eye requires 25% of our entire nutritional intake; it is also more sensitive to the yellow orange band of the spectrum since it increases the glare factor (abundant in conventional lighting). This all combines to bring on the eyestrain, fatigue and headaches that we get working under conventional lamps.

The other factor in this research would suggest that if we are under stress, angry, upset, depressed or other emotional strains and enter an environment that has conventional lighting then those symptoms would increase. Conversely that the full spectrum lighting has a calming effect.

This effect has been found with offshore workers in the oil industry. In the control rooms where the workers are under high stress and pressure when using conventional fluorescent lighting, they would have headaches, lose concentration levels, and suffer eyestrain and fatigue. One operator described it like having gravel in his eyes when he worked the graveyard shift. When the control rooms were converted to full spectrum lighting the problems were eliminated. The lights were in fact nicknamed “happy lights” crew members would sit in offices to chill out after they finished their shift, to relax before they went to sleep. They even reported having a more rest full sleep.

Companies spend vast amounts of money on employee training programs, office furniture and modern equipment to further enhance work productivity. However, by neglecting the lighting around their employee’s workstations, they omit the one area, which would automatically increase productivity, especially when working under full spectrum lighting.

Full spectrum lighting changes the working environment, much more dramatically in locations without windows – it is like putting in natural skylights instead of artificial light. It is a pleasing, healthful light that brings the benefits of natural light indoors.

The Russians have been using full spectrum lighting in factories where colds and sore throats had been plaguing the workers. It was found that it lowered the bacterial contamination of the air by 40-70%. Factory workers, who worked under conventional lighting, were absent twice as many days from work compared to those working under the full spectrum lamps.

Where can full spectrum lights be used? NASA has used them on the space shuttles; they have grown roses in a coalmine, dentist’s use them to check for white and off-white ceramics, vets use them to observe the feathers, fur, scales etc. of pets and allows for easier diagnosis. Printers use them to check colour rendition, the applications can go on, hospitals, schools, fitness centres, banks, food preparation areas, prisons, police stations, kitchens…

Full spectrum lighting is a direct replacement for a conventional fluorescent lamp; no special fittings are required. Full spectrum lighting can solve many of the problems associated with modern lighting.

Now we can use light in many other beneficial ways, phototherapy is becoming a popular field but again it’s not a new field. It is being used for the treatment of S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder), Chronic fatigue syndrome or M.E., Pre-menstrual Syndrome (PMS), Sleep Disorders, Jet Lag. Using different types of lamps, phototherapy is now an accepted part in the treatment of Hyperbilirubinemia (jaundice) in newborn infants. All of the major cultures of the past utilised the light. Light therapy was probably one of the first healing methods that we used.

A word of caution at this point. Many manufacturers claim that their full spectrum lamps are effective against the treatment of S.A.D. That is very misleading since the quantity required to be effective would create a very uncomfortable working environment. Apart from the fact they are no longer used in the treatment. The reason being is that the U.V. that is used in the full spectrum lamps discolours the plastic diffusers and in addition it has been found that the U.V. was not required as it is the high light intensity of the phototherapy unit that alleviate the symptoms of S.A.D.

Phototherapy is successful in many instances because it fools the brain’s biological clock, shifting the circadian rhythms by thinking that it is receiving daylight (jaundice treatment is different type of application) by delivering up to 10,000 lux (measurement of light intensity) about 1/10 of daylight on a summer’s day. Bright light inhibits the production of melatonin production.

The pineal levels of melatonin are higher during the night and in the winter months than during daylight and the summer months. The serotonin hormone, which appears to facilitate the mood levels of the body also, appears to be affected but in the reverse order, activated by daylight and suppressed at night.

What is S.A.D. and whom does it affect? It can affect any age group but most commonly starts between the age of 18-30. The symptoms are usually Depression for no apparent reason, Lethargy being unable to carry out a normal routine, Anxiety and inability to cope, Sleep problems created by disturbed sleep and finding it difficult to remain awake during the day, Loss of libido, not interested in physical contact or sex, Weight gain from craving carbohydrates.

It is also know as the winter blues, it has a lot in common with the winter hibernation cycle of animals. The method of treatment is straightforward, the phototherapy unit or lightbox is switched on, the user sits with the unit in front of them for up to an hour, usually when they first awake, this also is how it is used with shift workers. Only occasion glances are required as the light is still picked up by peripheral vision. There is no need nor should the unit be stared at. (This would result in a headache.) It should not be used in the evening since it would keep the user up all night. The greatest part of this treatment is that it is drug free!

When purchasing them in Europe, make sure that it the required C.E certification with four numbers is on it. That means that it has met the stringent requirements of the MDA (Medical Devices Agency). Which put them through very strict tests and guidelines. A strong word of warning: There are companies that manufacture these units that are questionable and unscrupulous covering their illegal work by fancy wording. Check that they have been tested to MDA standards.

In modern times we are rediscovering knowledge that was previously rediscovered, especially in light therapy. In 1897, Niels Finsen treated Lupus Vulgaris with ultraviolet light and even received the Nobel Prize for his pioneering work in phototherapy. Over 2,000 patients were treated with a 98% recovery rate. It was extensively used in World War 1 to heal wounds and was also used to treat many other conditions. Sunlight was an accepted form of treatment and was also considered to be beneficial to health. This is where the modern era of sunbathing began.

Haemo-irradiation was another new form of phototherapy. Discovered in 1934 Up to 300 ml of blood was withdrawn from a vein, passed through a device that irradiated it with UV from a mercury quartz glass and returned to the bloodstream immediately. This procedure became known as the Knott technique. So named after Knott and Hancock who first reported success with two patient’s in moribund state (near death) one with a brain abscess and one with septicaemia who made full recoveries. Over a five-year time period over 400 patients were successfully treated for 35 different conditions. The technique was abandoned after the early successes of penicillin.

Now, it is making a resurgence in Russia, where researchers at the University of St. Petersburg are investigating certain viral infections such as hepatitis and Aids. There are a number of complementary therapies involving light therapies that are showing positive results. As Dr. Jacob Liberman one of the new pioneers in light said in one of his books after getting involved with the college of Syntonic Optometry. “Spitler was a man a hundred years ahead of his time.” The founder Dr Harry R. Spitler developed an entire system of utilising light therapeutically by way of the eyes.

We lightworkers, who work with light and see the magic of the transforming powers that it produces, are on an education mission to help evolve the old-time knowledge and as the Greek word Syntony means, “to bring to balance” the enlightenment of light as a curative and non-invasive tool for the improvement of health and quality of life.

For the many pioneers of light and colour who have illuminated our path forward from Cauvin, Lebert, Downes, Blunt, Finsen, Krusen, Knott, Babbitt, and Spitler. To our modern ones like Ott, Gimble, Lewy, Rosenthal, Hathaway, Wurtman, Bolles, and many others in an evolving field but especially Dr Joseph Liberman who leads the transformation into the new millennium.

Submitted by Bill Payne


Health and Light – John Ott (Ariel Press 1973)

The principle of Light and colour E. D. Babbitt (Babbitt &Co., 1878)

Light, Medicine of the future J. Liberman (Bear & Co., 1991)

Light years ahead book from the conference (celestial Arts 1996)

The effects of light on the human body R.J.Wurtman (Scientific America 1975)

Seasonal Affective Disorder A. Smyth (Thorsons 1991)

Light M.Sobel (Chicago Press1987)

Seasons of the mind. N. Rosenthal (Bantam 1989)

The Syntonic Principle H.R.Spitler (Thesis 1941)

Theory of Colours J.W.V. Goethe (MIT press 1970)

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