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The Basics: How Lighting Physically Affects Us

Lighting may seem like just another practicality, but its role goes far beyond mere illumination. The presence of light and its different characteristics has a multitude of effects on our minds and bodies. Exposure to different degrees and types of light can even influence our physiologies in ways that change our hormone levels, thus affecting how we feel and how well our bodies function. 

In this blog post, we delve into how lighting affects us. Knowing the basics will allow you to make more informed decisions about your home’s lighting and use it to live a healthier, more gratifying lifestyle.

Qualities of Light

Lighting has 3 main qualities: brightness, hue, and saturation. Each of these qualities can vary, and the degree can induce different reactions in our physiology and psychology. 


Brightness: The amount of light being produced, measured in lumens or lux. Greater levels of brightness tend to have an energizing effect
Hue: The color of light. Colors produced by natural light vs. artificial light can differ greatly. Light hue is typically defined by color temperature, with cooler light falling at the higher end of the spectrum, and warmer light falling at the lower end. Most natural daylight lies between 4800° and 10,000°K. 
 In addition to promoting melatonin production, warmer light is also proven to better protect human eyes, and even accelerate wound healing and hair regeneration. 
Saturation: The intensity of the light’s hue (color). This primarily has an effect on psychology, with stronger levels of saturation having stronger effects. 

    Psychological Effects of Light Conditions

    The way our environments are lit can have a dramatic impact on our moods and psychology. Two influential qualities include variations of hue and light distribution.

    When it comes to light hue, certain psychological effects and associations have been linked with certain colors. There are some overlaps among the colors. 

    Red - Warmth, intimacy, passion, romance

    Pink - Fun, femininity, whimsy

    Orange - Warmth, happiness, creativity

    Yellow - Happiness, social connection, creativity

    Green - Nature, health, wealth, tranquility

    Blue - Refreshment, tranquility, intelligence

    Purple - Eccentricity, mystery, romance, whimsy

    White - Purity, energy, cleanliness

    Light distribution can have a similarly powerful influence on the psychological effects that arise, as it controls what parts of a room are emphasized, what activities are encouraged, and how much brightness an occupant is exposed to. 

    Non-uniform lighting

    Non-uniform lighting has light sources and intensities unevenly distributed in a space. The psychological effect can strongly differ depending on this composition. For example, intense, direct lighting from overhead is known to cause feelings of tension (i.e. interrogation rooms). In contrast, a relaxing space will have dim overhead lighting and some warm lighting at the room’s perimeter. Private, intimate areas will also be dim, but with even more areas of darkness. 

    Uniform lighting

    Uniform lighting is quite evenly distributed throughout a space. This is usually achieved with bright overhead lights. Small differences in degree of brightness and the placement of the brightest lighting can yield different feelings, however. A work-oriented environment that stimulates engagement with the task at hand will have its greatest level of brightness focused above the direct working zone, with the room’s perimeter being dimmer. Conversely, an area that is designed to feel spacious will focus brightness on the walls and ceilings, drawing the eye to the room’s furthest reaches. 

    How Light Affects our Circadian Rhythm

    As noted above, certain types of lighting can affect whether we feel relaxed or energized. This goes beyond the psychological, having a concrete impact on our physiologies. Specifically, lighting can influence our circadian rhythm.

    The circadian rhythm is essentially our biological clock. It’s a physiological process that determines our natural sleep and wake cycles. The rhythm spans 24 hours, with certain points at which the body starts and stops production of melatonin, the main hormone that makes you feel sleepy. 


    Circadian Rhythm


    A common problem in today’s era is the negative effect devices like smartphones, tablets, and televisions have on our melatonin production. Because these devices emit blue light (most similar to bright natural daylight), they can delay the time at which your body naturally starts to produce melatonin. The effect is typically seen when you use these devices in the evening hours. This is also true of “cool” or higher Kelvin rating light bulbs.  For this reason, we choose a warmer hue bulb in residential settings.

    Lighting with low (warm) color temperature has been found to promote melatonin production. Red light shows no negative effect, while orange and yellow shows only minor effects. Exposure to brighter lighting is recorded as delaying melatonin production when it occurs later in the evening. Conversely, exposure early in the morning pushes the circadian rhythm forward, prompting melatonin production to occur earlier than normal. 

    Both brightness intensity and exposure duration have proved to contribute to these effects. Additionally, research concluded that being exposed to bright light in intermittent bursts had a similar influence on the circadian rhythm. 

    Keeping bright light exposure limited to daytime hours allows for longer periods of sleep and more slow-wave (deep) sleep. Having lights on while sleeping has a particularly harmful effect on the amount of deep sleep one can get. Light is still transmitted through the eyelids, triggering physiological response even when unconscious. It is important to note that even low-temperature hues like orange and red light do have some negative effect on circadian rhythm when they are present during sleep. 

    Negative Effects of Disrupted Circadian Rhythms:


    Using Lighting to Better Your Health

    If the habits and effects described above sound familiar, the good news is that it’s easy to change your daily light exposure to a healthier pattern. We have a few tips that can help you reinforce your natural circadian rhythm and avoid negative impacts of artificial lighting.

    Limit your device usage after sunset. Instead of winding down with technology that produces blue light, try more rest-inducing alternatives like reading a book (or listening to an audio book), listening to music, solving puzzles, playing board games, or simply chatting with family about your day. Limiting blue light exposure is especially important during the 2-hour window before you want to sleep. 
    When the sun goes down, so do your lights. The lighting of your home’s interior should get dimmer and warmer once evening comes, to mimic the same change of natural light at sunset. Light fixtures used at this time are best outfitted with warm-hued bulbs. Bonus points for variable dimness settings. Avoid harsh overhead lighting and instead use sconces, table lamps, or floor lamps that provide gentle illumination. Keep in mind that these rules are also true for the early morning hours, when our circadian rhythms can be “pushed forward” by exposure to intense light. 
    Make use of task lighting. We know that life doesn’t always allow you to postpone important duties until daylight hours. This is why it’s important to have lighting that allows you to get work done in the evening without requiring the entire room to be bathed in intense light. Task lighting that is designed to illuminate only a specific work area, such as a desk or a countertop, is an invaluable tool for keeping overall illumination at healthy levels while still accommodating practicality. 
    Turn lights off at bedtime. It’s common for many people to keep bedside lamps on when sleeping, but this can seriously compromise your quality of sleep. If you need nightlights for when you get up in the middle of the night, keep the ones in your bedroom dim, warm, and placed where they will not shine directly into your eyes. 

      Get Expert Help with Your Interior Lighting

      Here at Lucent Lightshop, our goal is to make your home’s lighting a positive influence on your health and happiness. If you need help selecting fixtures that will allow you to maintain healthy illumination levels at any time of day, we’re happy to give you some insights. Send us a message to get in touch with a member of our team.