Anna Wirz-Justice

Anna Wirz-Justice is Emeritus Professor of Psychiatric Neurobiology at the University of Basel, and former Head of the Centre for Chronobiology at the Psychiatric University Clinic in Basel, where she built her distinguished career. Anna has published over 350 research papers and review articles, a main focus being on light therapy for winter depression and sleep disorders. Anna was born in New Zealand, where she undertook her BSc and MSc, before moving to London for her PhD, with research fellowships in Paris and at NIMH in Bethesda MD, USA. She has remained very actively engaged in many scientific boards and societies, including as Chair of the Chrono History Committee of the Society for Research on Biological Rhythms, as Board Member of the Centre for Environmental Therapeutics and as co-founder and former Steering Committee member of the Daylight Academy.


Light is essential for health, regulating many aspects of our physiology, not least our circadian rhythms and sleep/wake cycles. Appropriate light exposure synchronises the circadian timing system, allowing us to adjust our biology and respond optimally to the varied and profound demands of the day/night cycle. Without this daily synchronisation, circadian timing systems fail. Our biology can no longer deliver the right materials to the correct organs, in the right amount at an optimal time of day. The consequences include, for instance, fluctuations in mood, irritability, impulsivity, or reduced concentration and creativity. Long-term, there is an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, cancer and mental illness.

Anna has undertaken pioneering research on how human circadian rhythms and sleep are regulated by light. Defining the key parameters of how light acts as a biological stimulus, including the importance of when we see light, the length of exposure, and the influence of colour. Furthermore, Anna has always considered individual variation, embracing rather than ignoring variables such as age, disease status and light history. Early in her career, Anna appreciated the connections between abnormal light exposure, circadian rhythm disruption, and the impact this has on mental health. She introduced the use of light therapy to Europe, and studied its use on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), Non-Seasonal Depression, Borderline Personality Disorder and Dementia. This work allowed Anna, and other groups around the world, to establish both the scientific and therapeutic application of light as a treatment for different areas of mental illness. This holistic approach led Anna to develop a handbook for health care professionals, thereby guiding evidence-based and condition specific light treatments to improve mental health.

In addition, Anna has embedded her science broadly across the public sector. She has, and continues to reach out – with passion and generosity – to numerous other fields in both the natural and more humanistic sciences, to convey the importance of the natural day-night cycle on our physiology, including through architecture and the world of art. She has been the driving force behind multiple public lectures, exhibitions, installations and architecture projects. She has even worked with fashion designers to create light-inspired, and much-admired couture!

Finally, the jury was moved by Anna’s immense energy, enthusiasm and generosity of spirit. She is a superlative teacher, colleague, role model and mentor, inspiring the next generation of minds that are passionate about, and fascinated by, the importance of light – and of daylight in particular – on human health and well-being.


Anna Wirz-Justice ©The Daylight Award
EBRS Strasbourg 2009
Self-portrait ARTBasel mirrors
Anna Wirz-Justice ©The Daylight Award
Venice Biennale 2014

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