NICU simulation lab and lighting – part 1

September 17, 2015

Findings from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Simulation Lab created by the Institute for Patient Centered Design

This year, Visa Lighting among other manufacturers and the Institute for Patient Centered Design sponsored the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Simulation Lab. The full-scale NICU patient room and waiting area was built to demonstrate best practices in NICU design. Visa Lighting focused on the effects of lighting for neonatal patients, family, and hospital staff.

Through information gained in this simulation lab we have refined our understanding of the importance of good hospital lighting and patient centered design. In this post we discuss the importance of Natural Cycled Lighting and Kangaroo Care for neonates.

Day/Night Cycled Lighting:

Tunable lighting or warm-to-cool color temperature change that mimics the outdoors and varies with the time of day seems to be all the rage lately. Giving patient’s independent control of their surroundings allows them to respond and adjust to their environment; this aids in the healing process. However, there are some applications in healthcare where the patients are not able to control, or in this case are too small to control, their environment themselves.

Simple automatic control systems can be designed with small changes to the environment, yet have a large impact. In the simulation lab self-tinting windows were installed with integrated shade systems. Lighting controls that can dim in the morning and night or adjust and respond to daylight were also in place.

Research has shown that day/night cycled lighting that varies the intensity of light with the time of day aids in giving visual cues to keep our circadian rhythms on track. The increase or decrease of the amount of light in a room has had significant effects on neonates as well.

This research has shown that under day/night cycled lighting there was:

  1. Increased weight gain and oral feedings
  2. Decreased number of days on ventilators
  3. Enhanced motor control

Reducing lighting levels at showed:

  1. Lower respiratory rates and activity
  2. Reduced time on mechanical ventilation and oxygen support


Kangaroo Care (or skin-to-skin contact) is vitally important in a NICU setting. Kangaroo care helps parents bond with their child and promotes healing and comfort. Research shows that babies who are held close to their mothers' bodies for large portions of the day not only survive, they thrive (Cleveland Clinic). In the simulation lab, a chair is placed close to the incubator for Kangaroo Care. This allows the neonate to be monitored with close by equipment, while permitting the skin-to-skin contact.

Lighting also contributes to the overall comfort of a space. Design strategies that incorporate amber LEDs in sconces, provide a soft, warm light instead of the bright, harsh white light that is often associated with a healthcare setting. As we know, a dimly lit room is an easier place to calm a newborn. Lighting with the ability to dim can create a softer environment while allowing a parent or staff to see at night.

The use of the amber LEDs along with dimming controls can mean all the difference to a newborn. The warmer wavelengths of amber and red LEDs do not disrupt sleep cycles as much as the whiter/bluer wavelengths of light in our visible spectrum. These warmer wavelengths permit a mother or father to provide comfort without disrupting the sleep cycle of a sick infant. In the family area they can simply relax, read, or take a walk or restroom break without stirring their child, knowing that good sleep leads to healing.

Small changes to the hospital environment can have a large impact. By following these best practices and continuing our research we can improve our healthcare system. Thank you to The Institute for Patient Centered Design for giving us the opportunity to learn and share valuable design knowledge.


Look for NICU (Part 2) where we focus on Artwork, Windows and Light Glare.

For more information visit The Institute for Patient Centered Design


Photos provided by and Visa Lighting