Let there be light! How a Nordic innovation banishes Helsinki’s winter darkness
When Sami Salomaa, the founder of Light Cognitive, moved to Finland after decades abroad, he found Helsinki’s winter darkness a challenge to handle – hardly surprising, as the city’s winter days can be as short as 6 hours. Rather than suffer, he got to work finding a way to create summer sunshine all year round.
From one extreme to another
There’s no doubt about it that Finland needs Salomaa’s expertise. When it comes to light, the country is one of incredible extremes.
Helsinki, for example, bathes in 19 hours of sunshine during the 24 hours of Juhannus, the summer solstice. Journey north of the Arctic Circle to Lapland and you won’t see sunset at all. Winter, on the other hand, changes everything.
Thanks to a combination of cloud and geography, Helsinki can get as little as 12 hours of sunshine during the whole of November. In Lapland, it’s nighttime for 52 days straight.
Circadian chaos at the top of the world
If you’ve never experienced a sunlit midnight stroll or the winter sky afire with the Northern Lights, you’ll doubtless find these extremes exciting. However, after a while, the light, or lack of it, starts to mess with your circadian rhythm
Otherwise known as the body clock, it tells you when to do things like sleep and eat. When your body clock gets confused, your mood, alertness and well-being are affected too.
This appropriately named condition is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
According to research, 10–30 % of Finns suffer from some of the SAD symptoms.
These include fatigue, craving for sugar, low self-esteem, irritability and social withdrawal. You’ll start to feel like this in October, and get worse from November to January. It’s only when the sun makes a welcome reappearance, around February and March, that you’ll bounce back.
Find your rhythm
Happily, after thousands of years struggling with changing light patterns, Finns have also found unique solutions to overcome their effects. One of the most magical is Big Sky, the innovation from Sami Salomaa’s company Light Cognitive.
This huge light wall greets visitors as they enter St. George Care, the spa and well-being haven of Hotel St. George in Helsinki. Based on research on how light changes from day to night, Big Sky emulates natural light and promotes a healthy, regular sleep-wake cycle throughout the year.
While working with LED lights for plants, Salomaa had an epiphany that’s now helping ever more people to survive the long dark.
-We were creating lots of products for plants, which made them flourish and grow faster with different kinds of light. It suddenly crossed my mind… why can’t we do this for human beings? he says.
Nordic horizon brought indoors
Typically, Finns use incredibly powerful light therapy lamps to get their quick dose of sunlight on winter mornings. But you’re not supposed to look directly at the sun, whether it’s artificial or real.
In the summer, Salomaa explains – you look at the sky and the uniquely beautiful Nordic horizon instead. That’s what he wanted to recreate with Big Sky.
-I think everyone should have the chance to see blue sky every day. That’s why I’m hoping that light walls like Big Sky will become a natural part of life up north: in offices, schools, hospitals and in people’s homes. In hotels, they can also help guests cope with jet lag, he concludes.
It’s safe to assume that the vast majority of Finns will agree.
Photos: Joonas Ahlava