Human Centric Lighting Gives World Class Skiers an Edge
World-class athletic competitions held at night are pretty unusual. Once the sun slips beyond the horizon, the athlete’s performance curves slip -- a consequence of evolution. What are athletes supposed to do? They have to compete at their highest levels at the very time when their bodies are preparing for a night of slumber.
This is where human-centric lighting comes in to play. Human-centric lighting is a form of biomimicry – an approach to solving problems by emulating nature’s patterns and strategies. Human-centric lighting applies light characteristics such as color, intensity and timing to artificial lighting to mimic natural light.
During nighttime competitions, these athletes simply have to outwit nature by applying human-centric lighting to artificial light. The key to success is to apply the emotional and biological effect of light on people as a way of supercharging physiological processes when it naturally would be preparing the body for rest.
“Nature itself serves as our guide,” explains Andreas Wojtysiak, a Business Innovation Manager and Biologist at OSRAM and an expert on human-centric lighting. “Humans have always been energized by the blue of the sky. It stimulates the central nervous system, suppresses the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, wakes us up and ultimately enables us to perform at the highest-possible level. By contrast, red light like that produced by a sunset calms us and signals that it is time for us to shut down.”
The position from which light comes also plays an important role. Like sunlight scattered across the sky, it should come from a certain angle and, ideally, cover a broad area in order to reach the relevant receptors of the eye. When these scientific findings are applied to artificial light, the normal day and night rhythm can be stabilized or the artificial light can be used to systematically support sleep and awake phases.
Real World Research Project
OSRAM and the German Ski Association decided in 2014 to apply the research findings of the effects of light on the human body to world-class sports. Every nuance counts in world-class athletic competition, where only minuscule differences in performance separate the winners from the losers. Could light and its proven activating effect improve performance and reactions of athletes?
Two special luminaires were developed by OSRAM for the project. The first was placed in the athlete’s room and simulated the changes in natural daylight during the course of a day. In the dark winter months in particular, the luminaire was designed to help the athletes start the day active and refreshed, and to help them relax more easily in the evening. It included a high blue component that simulates the course of sunrise. With the help of a timing device, the athletes were awakened in the morning with a wake-up light function and invigorated by the "artificial sky."
The second luminaire was developed for the team’s common room. After long trips overseas that cross multiple time zones, the athletes were given a "light shower" to bring their circadian rhythm, the human sleep/wake cycle, back in sync. As a result, jet lag symptoms were significantly reduced and the athletes returned to a balanced sleep-wake cycle faster, allowing them to better achieve their normal performance and reaction levels despite long, grueling trips.
Another innovation designed to help the athletes was LED light glasses equipped with 20 light-emitting diodes attached to the upper, inner rim of the glasses. The design may be something only for the avant-garde, but the glasses’ impact was quite clear. The athletes wore the glasses when they traveled to other time zones, among other purposes. "Without the support of light, your inner clock needs one day to adjust to one hour’s difference in time," Wojtysiak says. "With the help of the light glasses, the adjustment rate increased to up to three hours per day." The light glasses were also used shortly before the competition at night, helping stimulate the athletes to perform at their peak levels for evening competitions.
Used by the German ski team prior to the World Cup slalom event, a night race, in Madonna die Campiglio in 2014, the LED light glasses gave the skiers the winning edge. The German ski aces Felix Neureuther and Fritz Dopfer finished first and second in the race!