Strings of lights, be they multicolored, red or white, define a winter’s night. Light is always on my mind this time of year. I’m not thinking about Christmas lights though. For more than a month I watch as the daylight window closes earlier each day. We’re upon that window’s shortest opening with the winter solstice on Dec. 21.
The good news, I tell myself, is we start gaining daylight Dec. 22. At first, it’s by seconds, then minutes and later noticeably by hours. The promise of more daylight is encouraging, but it can only go so far. As someone with seasonal affective disorder, I use light therapy to boost my mood and energy.
When used purposefully and thoughtfully, light can improve our health. People today, however, lead blue-light lives. Working at computers for eight hours, scrolling through feeds on smartphones and lighting homes with fluorescent and LED bulbs all contribute to excessive blue light exposure. This can cause eye strain in the moment and possibly macular degeneration later in life.
The amount of time and proximity to blue light act as a stimulant that affects sleep. So great is that stimulant that I keep my phone far away from the bed. If I wake up in the middle of the night and have access to my phone, I am guaranteed to be up for an hour or more.
That is not to say blue light doesn’t have a place in our lives. The sun is a natural source of blue light. It’s a matter of getting the timing right. The appropriate time is when we are most alert and productive, around midmorning through midafternoon.
Why limit light’s health benefits to a season? We could be benefiting daily from programmable LED lights. By aligning lighting’s color temperature with the circadian rhythm, people can improve their health by getting better sleep.
What would aligning color temperature to the circadian rhythm look like? Lighting color is measured in temperature on the Kelvin scale. The lower the number, the warmer the light is. Morning lights will glow a warm amber like a sunrise at 2700 Kelvin. They will soften to pink-purple at 4600 Kelvin. At the sun’s highest point, it will reach blue light at 6500 Kelvin. In the afternoon, the light begins to blush at 4600 Kelvin. The setting sun returns the warm glow at 2700 Kelvin.
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In the evenings, programable LED will lower the temperature more to produce a red glow. Red light has a soothing effect and helps the body transition to sleep.
There are alarm clocks with lighting features to mimic the day’s color transition. A set time before the alarm goes off, the light produces an amber glow that gradually brightens to a white light.
We have the lighting tools and technology to adjust color temperature. Intensity tuning allows for a set color temperature and the ability to adjust the intensity with a dimmer. Color tuning adjusts the light intensity and color temperature to align with the daytime and nighttime cycles. Stimulus tuning replaces “bad blue” with “good blue” light wavelengths and limits blue light at night.
When shopping for replacements, look for smart LED bulbs that are Wi-Fi connected. They will be labeled as color changing light or tunable white and are adjustable through an app.
Let’s leave bad blue-light habits behind in 2020. May we all have a bright and healthy 2021.
Erin Owen graduated from the interior design program at Kirkwood Community College. She has worked as a commercial and residential interior designer. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org