top of page

Mate: Bringing a Circadian Twist to Hospitals

Updated: Feb 16

Quick Summary

  • Mate, a circadian rhythm lighting company, hopes to transform healthcare by introducing a brand of LED technology that not only improves wellness for patients and hospital staff but reduces energy and construction costs for healthcare facilities.

  • By mimicking the pattern and color temperature of the sun, Mate’s lighting reflects the body’s natural rhythm and helps produce the appropriate levels of melatonin for reduced and better sleep.

  • With its low-cost, low-maintenance implementation and ability to monitor itself on a granular level, Mate’s system is poised to move beyond healthcare to education facilities, senior living centers, factories, and other large commercial buildings where shift workers would benefit.



There’s more to a hospital patient’s health and well-being than a comfortable bed and attentive staff. Rest is a big part of the recovery process, and it’s something that can be in short supply amid the hectic environment of most healthcare facilities.


For many patients, what makes a proper night’s sleep especially elusive is the type of lighting they’re exposed to—lighting that, in most facilities, is completely at odds with their natural sleep cycles.


Jenn Upton knows a thing or two about quality lighting and how crucial it is to balanced, restful recuperation. Along with her husband, JD, in 2016 she co-founded Mate, a circadian rhythm lighting company with the mission of transforming healthcare by promoting wellness and restful sleep for patients while reducing energy consumption at hospitals and medical centers.


Getting Past Traditional Lighting


Armed with a background in control and automation, Jenn’s initial R&D into the state of the industry began with studying LED technology and how it was being incorporated into the healthcare market space. To her surprise, she found it was being used in the same way as traditional lighting. Nobody had thought about it from a fundamental standpoint, which left her thinking about what good lighting would look like and how it could be optimized.  


That took her down the road to circadian rhythm lighting. If light could be used to mimic the sun, she reasoned, it could offer benefits to wellness and other aspects of daily life—especially in the healthcare industry.

 

Around the same time, she had the painful experience of seeing her grandmother pass away from dementia. “She would walk the halls at night,” Jenn says. “She was out of tune, she didn't know what time it was.” It seemed to Jenn that improved lighting could have helped her grandmother’s condition. 


This brought a new level of personal investment to the project, which in turn led her down “a deep rabbit hole of developing hardware, acquiring and writing our own patents,” and learning more about how LED technology could help save energy for facilities. 


What is Circadian Rhythm?


Circadian rhythm is the body’s internal clock telling our brains when to wake and when to sleep. It’s regulated partly by the amount and quality of light—warm in the morning, cool throughout the day, warmer again in the evening—which adjusts the melatonin levels that help us sleep, something that’s especially important for patients in a care facility. 


“And what you'll notice,” says Jenn, “is when you are more in rhythm, more in tune with the sun, that's when you feel your best.” 


“Throughout the day,” she continues, “as the light becomes lighter and brighter—some may say it looks more blue—that's when you're suppressing your melatonin levels. It's telling your brain, ‘I should be awake’.” 


There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about blue light technology and the need to avoid screens before bedtime. That, Jenn says, “is because blue light is telling your brain, ‘Hey, it's high noon, it's noon time, not evening.’ So removing that blue light helps your melatonin levels rise to where they should be so that you have a great night's sleep.” 


The Typical Hospital Lighting Experience


In the majority of healthcare environments, lighting is purely functional. Unlike at home, where you can get different color temperature bulbs for your kitchen, living room, bedroom, or garage, hospitals typically buy a default light fixture with, at best, dimming capability. 


According to Cliff Switzer, an innovation specialist for Lone Star Communication who has been working closely with the team at Mate, “The industry as a whole has pretty much said: These are the standard light fixtures we install, this is the standard temperature. They're more concerned with dimming than they are with the actual temperature of the light.” 


With 27 years of experience, Cliff knows the ins and outs of the industry. But it wasn’t until he swapped out the lights in a few patient rooms that the benefits of circadian rhythm lighting became clear. The difference was immediately apparent. 


“It is one of those things you can't pick up on video,” he explains. “You have to actually be in the room and experience the actual lighting and then walk into another room. It's one of these ‘feeling’ things that’s not something you can really pick up and see unless you're there.” 


Before the renovation, the lighting in one facility had been so bad that white clothing glowed like a novelty poster under black light.  


“It was way too much blue light in the room,” he says. “We all know not to use your [mobile] device before you go to bed, but they were just pumping blue light into the room. So it was a major difference.” 


Benefits to Nursing Staff


Patients aren’t the only ones to experience increased wellness from proper lighting. With healthcare workers on night shifts shown to face higher than average health risks, hospital innovation centers have begun to recognize the clinical benefits of good lighting and the reduced stress levels that result. These benefits extend to all parts of a facility—locker rooms, cafeterias, break rooms, and any other public areas frequented by clinicians and others on the nursing side.  


“I think some of the commercial industries have figured this out,” Cliff says. “If you go to Vegas, they've got the lights pretty much tuned to keep you awake, trying to keep you at the machines. But it's one of those things where it is moving into healthcare as well.” 


More than just Health Benefits


But it’s more than just a quality-of-life issue. Along with the wellness benefits it brings to patients and staff, Mate’s technology addresses the ever-tightening budgets faced by today’s healthcare facilities.  


“Mate saves more than 60% in energy costs for facilities,” says Jenn. “When you look at that over an annual cost budget, that's very significant.” 


“The energy savings aspect was really surprising,” Cliff says. According to the veteran innovations specialist, “We were so focused on circadian that the 60% reduction in power is really due to there not being AC to DC conversion at the light fixture—which actually makes the light fixtures more cost-effective.” 


Mate’s non-proprietary, standard LED light fixtures are also more reliable. The failure point in traditional fixtures, Cliff explains, “is the AC to DC conversion, not the actual LED. So that's a big maintenance issue for hospitals.” 


Cutting the Customer's Construction Budget


As a technologist in the integration business, it’s Cliff’s job to solve customer problems and offer a variety of solutions. And he’s found Lone Star’s customers especially receptive to this new technology and what it means to their bottom lines.  


“The biggest factor is the construction budgets,” he says. “We're currently in talks with a couple different engineering firms and with some of our customers to basically get this spec’d and engineered into construction projects—which is a big thing because we're talking about saving the electrical IDF footprint or saving conduit costs where all the light fixtures are going to be wired with low voltage cabling, so there's no more conduit and electrical.” 


What that translates to is an electrical footprint reduced from 20 breakers and 20 circuits to a single breaker that can run up to a hundred light fixtures. And because those fixtures are wired with low-voltage cabling, there are no conduit or electrical costs during construction—contributing to a tremendous savings. 

When it comes to retrofitting already existing facilities who are looking to replace their current lighting with Mate’s low-voltage system, the same math applies.  


“It's been a tremendous learning process,” according to Cliff, “but the hospitals are looking for the value savings. 


As an example he cites recent work done at the Methodist Innovation Lab, where 68 light fixtures were replaced. The initial goal had been to overhaul just the patient room, but the positive results led to them also doing the conference room, nursing station, hallways, and more—half the floor in only about two days. 


“We were running the entire 68 light fixtures off of one 20-amp breaker,” he says—compared to the previous electrical panel with 10 to 12 circuit breakers. “So it's a major difference.” 


Just as importantly, the work could be done safely and easily, without the need for an electrician. 


“I know the story is circadian,” Cliff says, “but the power savings and the value is really where a lot of people pay attention.” 


Understanding what Installers Want and Need


“Being in the control and automation industry afforded us the ability to understand what installers are looking for and make our product easy to install,” Jenn says. “Being in the field gives you a unique sense of what's necessary.”

 

Among those necessary features is built-in auto-detection, which allows nearly anyone to install Mate’s hardware regardless of any prior knowledge of the fixture or what the floor may look like.


Another interesting feature is reverse polarity protection


“You could have somebody in the field hook this up completely backwards,” Jenn explains, “and you're not going to short anything or mess anything up.” 


One of Mate’s other unexpected benefits is the ability it gives hospitals to monitor its lighting and display how much energy an individual fixture uses—something, according to Cliff, that’s “currently unheard of in our industry.” 


This unique monitoring system allows hospitals to see even further than just how much energy a light is using. 


“It's not only the energy,” says Jenn. “We can offer a 30, 60, or 90-day exposure view of when a fixture's going to go out. And that gives everybody a chance to prep for that, so that you don't have to walk through the floors and the hallways to know when a light fixture is out, you can be ready for it.” 


Low maintenance, simple to maintain, and virtually foolproof, the system puts Mate in the best possible position to support companies like Lone Star.  


“We understand what installers need when it comes to a piece of hardware.” 


Hospitals are just the Beginning


Mate’s platform isn’t limited only to acute care. There are other places within the healthcare system where the benefits of Mate’s circadian rhythm lighting can be leveraged.  


“I think about senior living centers and memory care centers and folks who are inside all day but still need to have some way to tune themselves,” Jenn says. “And I think it goes back to thinking about my grandmother who suffered from dementia.” 

Equally important are the places outside of healthcare. 


“Everybody can benefit from circadian rhythm lighting,” affirms Jenn. For instance, education facilities: “You’re inside all day while you're in class—what better use of lighting could that be to make sure you feel energetic and awake throughout the day? I think that could be hugely helpful.” 


Other good fits include large-scale warehouses, factories, and commercial buildings—anyplace with shift work. 


“There's really no facility that I think wouldn't be a great subject for circadian rhythm lighting,” Jenn says. “I think we just started focusing on healthcare because of the high percentage of wellness benefits. That's where we started, but that's not where we'll end.” 


Continued Growth and Innovation in 2024


As for Mate’s plans in 2024, Jenn believes the company’s partnership with Lone Star will only grow stronger as they continue to bring wellness and energy savings to new facilities. 


“It's going to be an exciting year,” she says. “We're excited about the floor plans we're receiving as we start looking at new projects. Working with Lone Star to this point has been such a delight, because everybody seems well educated in how to install in these facilities. And when you start at a high level like that, it only gives you room to grow and innovate together.” 


Part of that innovation includes improving the company’s ability to manage inventory by 3D-printing the outside of its hardware. Making this all the more satisfying for Jenn is that the process will be done at Mate’s Oklahoma headquarters. 


“I'm proud of it being kept in the United States,” she says. 

The company will also continue its focus on sustainability and prioritizing recycled materials. 

“I think that just adds to the technology, as well as the overall thought and mindset, of our company. I'm fortunate to work with a team of innovators, and I know we're going to have so much more to add in the new year.” 


 

Jenn Upton co-founded Mate in 2016, where she has used her background in control and automation to bring a low-voltage, circadian rhythm lighting solution to hospitals and medical centers to promote wellness and restful sleep for patients. 


Cliff Switzer is a healthcare innovation specialist for Lone Star Communications with over 27 years in the industry. His main focus is on building relationships with individuals by understanding their needs and connecting them to the right products or solutions. 

0 comments
bottom of page