What Is Healthy Lighting?

The Impact of Lighting on Physical and Mental Health and 7 Must-Know Healthy Lighting Practices to Follow in Your Home

Lighting can have a profound effect on our wellbeing.

Have you ever thought that your mood, productivity or health could be impacted by the lighting in your home? Many people would not even consider a correlation. Because it’s not widely known just how big of an impact lighting has on both our physical and emotional health.

So the notion of “healthy lighting” is generally not a commonly heard phrase. But it should be.

The science is mounting on the profound effects light can have on physical and mental health.

Monash University conducted the largest-ever study on light exposure’s impact on mental health, involving nearly 87,000 participants. Their research revealed that heightened nighttime light exposure raises the risk of psychiatric disorders, including anxiety, bipolar disorder, and PTSD severity, along with self-harm tendencies. The study also revealed that increasing exposure to daytime light can serve as a drug-free approach to reducing the risk of psychosis. This research underscores the critical role of light in regulating our circadian rhythms, which govern our sleep patterns and various physiological processes.

Exposure to natural daylight during the day and dimmer, warmer light in the evening keeps these rhythms synchronized, promoting a healthy sleep process and overall wellbeing. The effects of disrupted circadian rhythms can cause more than just sleep problems, it can cause substantial mood disturbances, contribute to conditions like depression and anxiety, cause fatigue and productivity impairment, and a range of other health issues.

What Is Healthy Lighting?

Healthy lighting is an approach to illuminating our indoor living and working spaces that takes into account the impact of light on human health, emotional wellbeing, and circadian rhythms. Healthy lighting is lighting design, usage, temperature and practices that consider the scientific relationship between light, our physiological processes, and our psychological responses, and provides illumination that does not have a negative impact on our health.

Simply put, healthy lighting considers the time and function of the space to light the right place with the right color and intensity at the right time to promote enhanced mood, productivity and sleep. The use of healthy lighting practices are essential to create indoor environments that align with our biological and emotional wellbeing, by balancing the interplay of light and darkness and warmth and coolness in our indoor lighting with nature’s natural processes, and limiting harsh, excessive artificial light.

What Is Human-Centric Lighting?

Human-centric lighting, or HCL, is a term for indoor lighting that is designed to mimic the natural light cycle. It uses different light intensities and colors throughout the day to support the natural human circadian rhythm, which is why human-centric lighting is also referred to as circadian lighting. HCL’s goal is to provide health-promoting lighting that replicates the dynamic properties of natural light as it varies in tone and brightness throughout the day.

By combining and adjusting the intensity of white light sources, typically warm white (2700K) and cold white (6500K), via tunable LED light fixtures. Making HCL a specific approach to healthy lighting.

Aligning artificial light with the natural light cycle has been shown to improve sleep quality, reduce stress, and boost productivity and energy levels, reduce fatigue, and improve overall wellbeing. And the science goes even deeper than that.

The Science of Healthy Lighting

The body of scientific research on the profound effects of lighting in your home on human physical and mental health is continuously expanding. New studies continually reveal the substantial impact lighting can have on your overall wellbeing. The wrong type and amount of lighting that you have in your home can cause a host of health problems such as poor sleep and disrupted circadian rhythm, headaches, fatigue, weight gain, and many more health issues

Light operates as a potent cue that orchestrates our internal clock, known as the circadian rhythm. This biological pacemaker regulates our sleep-wake cycle, hormonal secretions, and various bodily functions. The quality and timing of light exposure determines the synchronizing of our circadian rhythms with the natural cadence of our environment.

As our lives become increasingly indoors, our exposure to natural sunlight has been replaced by much more artificial lighting. And this can have a profound impact on our health.

How Light Impacts Physical Health

Light is intrinsically linked with our physical wellbeing. The link between light and health extends to various physical aspects, impacting many essential physiological functions.

Arguably the most prominent impact lighting has on human health is to our circadian rhythms – and sleep health dictates our overall health substantially. The effect lighting has on sleep is so substantial that we will explore it in-depth in a section of its own below. Disruptions to the amount, type and natural patterns of lighting we should be exposed to, such as not enough daylight or excessive artificial light, can lead to sleep disturbances affecting many important physical functions.

But sleep is not the only way lighting impacts our physical health.

1. Extended Exposure to Poor Lighting and Eye Strain

A common result of prolonged exposure to inadequate lighting conditions is eye strain, manifesting as tired, sore eyes and reduced visual acuity. The culprits often include insufficient illumination levels, intrusive glare, and harsh contrasts that wreak havoc on our eyes. Optimizing lighting levels involves diffusing light to eliminate glare, and providing uniform illumination. In this manner, the visual environment becomes more than just functional; it will protect against strain on our eyes and vision.

2. Flickering Lights and Headaches

Unbeknownst to many, even imperceptible flickering lights can induce discomfort and, in some cases, lead to debilitating headaches. These rapid fluctuations in light intensity may not consciously register, but they can strain the visual system, resulting in a spectrum of physical symptoms.

This connection between flickering lights and headaches underscores the critical importance of opting for high-quality lighting systems that effectively minimize flicker. By doing so, we create an environment where our visual experience is seamless, comfortable, and free from the disturbances that can disrupt our physical wellbeing.

3. The Role of Light in Preventing Infectious Diseases

Beyond these immediate physical effects, light also plays a pivotal role in our broader health landscape. Recent scientific research has shed light on the protective qualities of natural light when it comes to infectious diseases. The ultraviolet rays of sunlight acts as a natural disinfectant, capable of weakening and damaging bacteria, causing mutations that hinder their ability to reproduce and survive. And this disinfectant effect is not limited to direct sunlight but extends to indirect exposure through glass and windows within our homes.

4. The Serious Impact of Artificial Light at Night

Exposure to artificial light at night has been linked to adverse effects on health, including an increased risk of cancer and obesity.

Multiple factors connect artificial light at night (ALAN) exposure to health risks, with the suppression of melatonin secretion playing a pivotal role. This suppression results in alterations to circadian rhythm patterns, affecting appetite regulation and leading to dysfunctions in metabolic signaling and cell growth, particularly in the context of cancer.

ALAN exposure has been associated with gut dysbiosis, inflammation, vitamin D deficiency, and imbalances in cytokine secretion and levels, which have been linked with insomnia.

How Light Impacts Mental Health

Light has a substantial impact on mental health, affecting mood, productivity, and conditions such as depression and anxiety. Exposure to daylight triggers the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of wellbeing – and a lack of natural light, and excessive artificial light, decreases serotonin levels and can have a serious negative impact on emotional health.

Warm dim lighting

1. Depression and the Influence of Light

Light has a profound effect on our emotional state, playing a pivotal role in regulating mood and mental wellbeing. Natural daylight is essential to humans, and not getting enough sunlight exposure can have a serious influence on emotional health – and has been shown to have a direct link to depression.

This can also be seen during the dark winter months when natural light exposure is more limited and many individuals experience intensified symptoms of depression, which can be diagnosed as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). For individuals with SAD, light therapy is often prescribed to help combat the symptoms. Light therapy has been used since the early 20th century, and today with even more knowledge about the correlation between light and emotional health, doctors recommend getting daily doses of light with a light box for anyone suffering from seasonal depression. Light boxes create a bright white light that tricks the brain into thinking it is being exposed to natural sunlight, and it has been shown to successfully improve depressive symptoms.

2. Lighting’s Impact on Productivity

As stated by the Lighting Research Center (LRC), light exposure strongly influences productivity and alertness. The type, amount and temperature of lighting has a substantial ability to influence your focus and performance.

A study from 2012 compared the effects of artificial light to sunlight, and it found that subjects who were exposed to daylight in the afternoon were remarkably more alert and had an increase in performance in the early evening than they did with artificial light exposure. LRC also conducted a study to demonstrate circadian lighting’s efficacy in offices, and as they predicted, participants had reduced sleepiness and reported being more alert and energetic during the workday.

3. The Effect of Lighting on Anxiety

Light also plays a pivotal role in the realm of anxiety. Exposure to bright, natural sunlight during the day triggers the release of serotonin, which not only elevates mood but also reduces stress and combats anxiety.

Harsh or unbalanced lighting on the other hand, particularly excessive exposure to cool or bluish light and fluorescent lighting exposure, can have an agitating impact on anxiety. Prolonged exposure to these types of lighting can disrupt the body’s circadian rhythms, impair sleep, and contribute to heightened anxiety and stress levels.

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How Light Impacts Sleep Health

Sleep is intricately linked to light and the circadian rhythm, as light has a direct impact on melatonin production, influencing our ability to fall asleep and the quality of our sleep. Sleep is crucial for our overall health and wellbeing, as it allows our body and mind to rest, repair and recharge, undergoing essential restorative processes.

Negatively impacted sleep health can substantially affect our physical health, mood, productivity, and contribute to many mental health conditions. Adequate and quality sleep is linked to improved cognitive function, emotional stability, and a bolstered immune system. It also plays a critical role in maintaining a healthy metabolism and preventing chronic health conditions, such as cardiovascular diseases.

The quality and timing of our sleep are significantly influenced by the presence or absence of light, both natural and artificial. The duration and timing of exposure to light, as well as the specific wavelengths within the light spectrum, have a direct impact on our ability to fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake up refreshed. These variables are governed by our circadian rhythm, the internal biological clock that regulates our sleep-wake cycle.

Disruptions to our circadian rhythms result in sleep disturbances, mood imbalances, health issues such as impaired cognitive function, digestive issues and daytime fatigue, and many more detrimental impacts to our physical and mental health.

1. Sleep Disturbances

One of the most immediate and noticeable impacts of circadian rhythm disruptions are sleep disturbances. When our circadian rhythms are in sync, our bodies are primed for restful and restorative sleep, but disturbances can result in sleep issues such as insomnia or poor sleep quality. Adequate, high-quality sleep is a cornerstone of good health, supporting memory consolidation, immune function, and emotional wellbeing.

2. Emotional Stability

The intricate interplay between circadian rhythms and mental health cannot be overstated. When our biological clocks are aligned with natural light patterns, it positively influences our mood and emotional stability. Disruptions to these rhythms can lead to mood imbalances, including symptoms of depression and anxiety, and other negative emotional impacts.

3. Productivity and Cognitive Function

Circadian rhythms have a profound impact on our cognitive function and productivity. Disruptions to circadian rhythms can lead to impaired cognitive function and performance, “brain fog”, decreased alertness, and difficulties with memory and concentration.

4. Immune System

The impact our circadian rhythms have on our immune system is substantial. Sleep disruption can have a profound effect on our body’s immune responses and ability to repair and regenerate cells, which is essential for overall health and longevity, and otherwise makes us more susceptible to illnesses.

5. Digestive System

Our circadian rhythms influence our digestive system, supporting healthy digestion, ensuring that the body effectively processes and absorbs nutrients. Disruptions can lead to digestive issues, potentially contributing to problems like indigestion and irritable bowel syndrome.

6. Daytime Fatigue

A well-regulated circadian rhythm promotes wakefulness during the day. Disruptions, particularly those caused by exposure to artificial light at night, can result in daytime fatigue. This fatigue not only affects our immediate sense of alertness but can also have long-term consequences on physical health, potentially contributing to issues like obesity and diabetes.

Natural Light and Its Impact on Health

The profound influence of natural light on human health is grounded in the connection between biological processes and the physical properties of light.

At the heart of this connection are the circadian rhythms, which are finely attuned to the patterns of natural light, orchestrating a complex web of physiological processes. When exposed to natural light during the day, these rhythms remain synchronized, promoting wakefulness and vitality.

The health benefits of natural light can be attributed in part to its rich spectrum of colors. Sunlight contains a balance of colors that corresponds to different wavelengths. Blue light, which is abundant in sunlight during the day, has a stimulating effect on our alertness and mood. It triggers the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of wellbeing.

The warmer, reddish hues in natural light during the evening signal the body to prepare for rest and sleep. Exposure to these softer colors in the evening supports relaxation and the release of melatonin, a hormone critical for sleep.

Numerous studies have documented the far-reaching health outcomes associated with natural light exposure. Enhanced sleep quality, mood stability, and cognitive performance are among the well-documented benefits. The alignment of circadian rhythms with natural light patterns plays a crucial role in these positive health effects.

Exposure to natural light also has a direct impact on vitamin D production, which is essential to our health. When our skin is exposed to sunlight, it synthesizes vitamin D, a nutrient essential for various aspects of health. Adequate vitamin D levels are associated with regulated immune responses, reduced risks of osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and even certain types of cancer.

Red Light and Near Infrared Light

Recently, newer lighting therapies such as red light and near infrared light, have gained significant attention when it comes to health. These light therapies offer an array of benefits, such as improved skin health, specifically with wrinkle reductions, wound healing, mitigating acne and psoriasis, as well as enhanced cellular function, pain management and inflammation reduction.

Red light therapy

What is Red and Near Infrared Light?

Red light and near infrared light therapy utilize distinct wavelengths within the light spectrum.

Red light, with wavelengths between 630 to 700 nanometers, primarily affects the skin’s surface, promoting collagen production and skin rejuvenation.

Meanwhile, near infrared light, ranging from 700 to 1100 nanometers, penetrates deeper into tissues, influencing cellular repair and reducing inflammation. These light therapies stimulate mitochondrial function, encouraging cellular energy production (ATP), which aids in repairing damaged tissues and promoting healing, by triggering the release of anti-inflammatory cytokines.

Emerging studies also indicate red light’s potential to positively impact mood regulation and improve mental wellbeing. A Harvard Medical School study involving 10 patients with major depression and anxiety disorders received an 8-minute treatment using Near-Infrared Photobiomodulation (NIR-PBM), and results showed significant reductions in depression and anxiety at 2 and 4 weeks post-treatment.

Red and near infrared light therapies are used in fields like dermatology, physical therapy, spas, and wellness centers, as they provide benefits for both medical treatments and cosmetic purposes. When using red light therapy at home, it’s important to utilize proper techniques and safety measures to ensure safety and get the best outcomes.

Blue Light: What It Is and What It Does

Blue light is the most powerful stimulant in the light spectrum. During the daytime, exposure to blue light signals our body to be awake and alert, helping us stay focused and energized, making it invaluable for productivity and cognitive function. But as the sun sets and the day winds down, our relationship with blue light should evolve to ensure our wellbeing.

Man on phone with blue light

Blue Light's Effect on Sleep

In the evening, the natural progression toward sleep is orchestrated by a decline in ambient light levels and a shift in the color temperature of light to warmer tones. This is a signal to our body to start winding down, promoting the production of melatonin. Blue light, particularly from screens and certain artificial lighting sources, can disrupt the melatonin release, making it difficult to fall asleep and maintain a restful sleep cycle.

The crux of healthy lighting lies in managing our exposure to blue light during the evening hours. When we continue to be exposed to excessive blue light after sunset, our body interprets this as a prolonged daytime, suppressing melatonin production and delaying the onset of sleep. This disruption not only impacts the ability to fall asleep but also compromises the quality of sleep, leading to restlessness and less rejuvenating rest. And chronic sleep quality disruptions lead to many health consequences.

Reducing blue light exposure as the day transitions to night can be achieved by choosing lighting solutions that emit warmer color temperatures, mimicking the gentle glow of sunset. Warm light not only creates a comforting and relaxing ambiance but also promotes the body’s natural sleep response. Advancements in technology have also helped us manage blue light exposure such as blue light filters for screens and blue light-blocking glasses, which can mitigate the impact of digital devices on sleep quality. Some lighting systems allow for dynamic color temperature adjustment as well, enabling the gradual reduction of blue light as the evening progresses.

Creating a Lighting Design Plan

If you’re ready to transform the lighting in your space, the next step is to create a lighting design plan. Interior home lighting design should incorporate all 5 of the types of indoor lighting, strategically integrated through layered lighting techniques. Creating a visually beautiful space and inviting ambiance incorporates lighting contrast through the interplay of light and shadow and enhancing architectural elements.

At New Age Electric we use a naturalistic approach to lighting design that maximizes the aesthetics of home interiors with a focus on customized, simplified function and evoking an inviting and comfortable atmosphere through mood, temperature and light layering. This is a key focus in lighting design of superb quality.

The Lighting in Your Home is Impacting Your Health

The science is mounting that the lighting in your home can substantially impact your physical and mental health. Learn the top 10 healthy lighting tips and mistakes every homeowner should know.

The Key Principles of Healthy Lighting

At its core, healthy lighting aims to provide indoor illumination that has no negative impact on our physical health, emotional health and sleep health.

Circadian Alignment

Circadian alignment involves tailoring the lighting environment to mimic the natural changes in color temperature and intensity of sunlight throughout the day. This promotes synchronization with the body’s internal circadian clock, which regulates our sleep-wake cycle and various physiological processes, supporting optimal cognitive function, mood regulation, and overall vitality.

During the morning and daytime, natural sunlight is cooler and more intense, which helps us stay alert and focused. Healthy lighting systems replicate this by providing cooler and brighter lighting in the morning and afternoon, and as evening approaches, the lighting gradually shifts to warmer and softer tones, signaling to our bodies that it’s time to wind down and prepare for sleep.

Blue Light Management

Blue light management is a crucial component of healthy lighting. During daytime hours, it enhances alertness, cognitive function, and productivity, however, excessive exposure to blue light in the evening disrupts our sleep patterns. Healthy lighting systems incorporate blue light management by reducing the exposure to excessive blue light in the evening.

Natural Light Integration

Natural light integration is a core principle of healthy lighting. Healthy lighting systems prioritize the incorporation of natural daylight into indoor spaces through windows, skylights, or other architectural features.

Incorporating natural light not only reduces the need for artificial lighting during the day but also creates a connection with the outdoors, which can improve overall wellbeing. At times, artificial lighting can cause discomfort or strain, from glare, flicker, and uneven illumination, so a healthy lighting system aims to provide uniform, flicker-free lighting that minimizes glare, especially in workspaces sometimes by just using sunlight.

Technology Integration

Innovative technology integration into our home lighting systems is a key component of modern healthy lighting. Automation and smart lighting technologies are used to seamlessly transition between different lighting conditions throughout the day and night. These systems can be programmed to adjust color temperature and intensity based on the time of day or user preferences.

These automated lighting systems are excellent in maintaining circadian alignment. For example, they can gradually dim in the evening to signal the body to prepare for sleep and then gently brighten in the morning to simulate a natural sunrise, aiding in awakening. These technologies make it easier for individuals to align their circadian rhythms with their lighting environment without the need for manual adjustments.

Automated lighting systems designed with this innovative technology are at the forefront of healthy lighting, ultimately enhancing the quality of our indoor environments and our health and wellbeing.

Incorporating Healthy Lighting Practices in Your Home

Now that we know just how big of an impact lighting has on our physical health, emotional wellbeing, and our sleep health, it’s evident why we should apply healthy lighting practices in our homes. Here are some of the primary ways you can implement healthy lighting in your indoor living and work spaces.

Kitchen Lighting

1. Strategically Incorporate Natural Lighting

There is a reason why humans are drawn to sunlit spaces. Incorporating natural light not only elevates the ambiance of a space but also holds a multitude of health benefits. Strategically positioned windows and skylights can flood your rooms with daylight, enhancing mood and productivity while reducing the need for artificial lighting. Use window shades and treatments during the day to direct natural light, and use blackout shades or curtains at night to block out light pollution especially during sleep.

2. Automated Lighting Schedules

Automated lighting schedules that mimic the dynamic transitions of natural light ensure that your body’s internal clock remains in harmony with the natural rhythms of the day. For instance, envision lights gradually dimming at sunset, signaling your body to prepare for rest, and then gently brightening in the morning to facilitate a natural wake-up. This modern solution offers a seamless way to maintain circadian alignment.

In healthy lighting, lighting control is a key component. Dimmable lighting options provide the flexibility to adjust illumination to suit your schedule and needs, whether it’s creating an invigorating workspace or a calming setting for relaxation. Automated lighting systems take this control a step further by orchestrating shifts in light intensity to align with your circadian rhythms. This ensures that your lighting environment remains conducive to your health and wellbeing, all without the need for manual adjustments. A noteworthy example of this kind of lighting technology is Ketra by Lutron systems, which sets the standard for automated lighting systems designed with human health at its core.

3. LED Lighting Utilization

LED technology offers remarkable energy efficiency, longevity, and versatile design options however quality matters. Only use LEDs that are UL listed, made from a reputable brand, and have at least a Color Rendering Index (CRI) of 90+. LED allows you to tailor your lighting environment to your needs while minimizing energy consumption. Numerous studies show that LED lighting can have a positive impact on mood and productivity. The wide selection of LED lighting options and sizes allows you to tailor your lighting environment to match your specific needs, ensuring that your surroundings are conducive to an uplifted mood and enhanced productivity.

4. Warm Lighting vs Cool Lighting

Measured in Kelvin (K), opting for warm light (2,700K to 3,500K) with gentle hues creates an environment conducive to relaxation and sleep health, whereas cool light (above 4,000K) is energizing, making it suitable for focused tasks during the day. Consciously select the right type of lighting temperature for your spaces.

5. Strategic Lighting Placement

Thoughtful lighting placement plays a significant role in the functionality and ambience of a space, which in turn can have profound implications for your health and wellbeing. For example, make sure you properly illuminate areas for tasks and activities to reduce eye strain and minimize glare and shadows contributing to improved focus and reduced stress. And opt for dimmable ambient lighting in rooms of relaxation, avoiding direct or harsh lighting placements.

6. Utilize Various Types of Light

Harness the unique qualities of different light types – for example, natural daylight is a potent source of vitality, and brighter, cooler hues energize, and on the other hand, warm dim lighting creates a relaxation-promoting environment. A strategic and deliberate choice of various types of lighting in your living and working spaces is an important factor in healthy lighting.

7. Manage Blue Light in Evening Hours

To incorporate healthy lighting in our homes, addressing blue light is essential. To maintain a balance between the benefits and drawbacks of blue light, integrate warm-colored lighting during evening hours. Consider using blue light filter settings on your electronic devices, such as smartphones and computers, and the usage of blue light blocking glasses, during the hours leading up to bedtime. Also, reducing screen time before sleep allows your body to naturally prepare for rest without the interference of blue light emissions. Installing dimmable lighting systems in your home also provides the flexibility to lower light intensity in the evening, resulting in a decrease of blue light exposure.

Harnessing Healthy Lighting in Your Home and Your Life

Incorporating healthy lighting practices into our daily lives represents a transformative shift in how we approach illumination. It’s an approach that recognizes that lighting isn’t just about visibility, but has a profound influence on our health, wellbeing, and overall quality of life.

The use of healthy lighting strategies and practices are essential to creating indoor environments that nurture our physical and mental health, balancing the interplay of light and darkness, warmth and coolness. 

Thoughtful design and implementation of healthy lighting solutions in our homes and workplaces represent a conscious step toward a more knowledgeable and harmonious existence with lighting. Healthy lighting is the key to allowing us to thrive in spaces that cater to our biological and emotional needs.

If you are based in Washington DC Metro or surrounding areas, consider working with us to transform your home lighting to its maximum potential in aesthetics, ambiance and function. As a leader in residential lighting design and installation services in Washington DC Metro,
we set the standard for superior service, with a guarantee to deliver a result that you love.

Click the button below to get an estimate on your lighting project, or get in touch to speak with one of our lighting experts directly. We look forward to transforming and illuminating your home.

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The 4 Different Types of Indoor Lighting