Can Lighting Make You Healthy?

a guest post by Lisa J. Reed, Lighting Designer

While LED may be the answer to our room-lighting problem, we still have the challenge of the blue glow of the TV or computer screen that so many of us stare into at night.

One of the most fascinating fields of study in lighting today is in the area of light and health.

As a lighting designer, I’ve kind of always believed that light is everything. Ongoing research is proving this to be true! It isn’t too surprising that light has a major impact on our circadian rhythms. Exposure to the right color of light at the right time of day seems to impact health. Interestingly, this is not so much a “rods and cones” visual response as it is a non-visual response to light via the Melanopsin.

So what is the right light? It’s no surprise that the perfect light seems to be the one found in nature: sun, moon, stars, and nighttime darkness. But the sun’s light is variable and changes throughout the day. In fact, the color temperature of daylight ranges from 6500 Kelvin to 1800 Kelvin.

Some designers are trending toward cool color temperatures because exposure to those cool daytime color temperatures (5000K to 6500K and up) increases alertness and morning exposure may be good for our health. But this may have a negative effect if we are exposed to it in the evening or late-night hours of the day. If we implement this cool color for general lighting in schools and offices, how will that impact the employee who puts in extra hours? Or the custodian? Or the families who attend an evening program at the school?

Fortunately, with LEDs, we have a light source that may be able to mimic the ideal colors needed AND provide the variability that historical sources have lacked.

One of the exciting possibilities with LED lighting is that the color temperature can be adjusted based on time of day or even just personal preference. At a deeper level, scientists may even be able to manipulate the wavelengths emitted by the LED while maintaining the desired color temperature. In the future, we may be able to have the best of both worlds: the color we prefer as well as the wavelengths our bodies need to function optimally.

While LED may be the answer to our room-lighting problem, we still have the challenge of the blue glow of the TV or computer screen that so many of us stare into at night. One solution I’ve personally used is a free program called f.lux that automatically adjusts my laptop screen to a warmer color for me at night. Try it!

The answers are complicated and research is ongoing. In the meantime, just turn off all of those lights at night and get a good night’s rest!

Lisa J Reed photo - Lighting Blog

Lisa J. Reed has been attracted to lighting (like a moth to a flame) for 20+ years. She is the Founding Principal at Envision Lighting Design, LLC in St. Louis, where she designs, teaches, and writes about architectural lighting.


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