The Effects of Lighting on Sleep Cycles, Mood, and Mental Health

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“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

– J.K. Rowling; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Sunlight is a necessary component of life. It gives our eyes sight, our bodies warmth, and our spirits comfort. It provides the energy plants need to produce life-sustaining oxygen.

According to NASA, “Nothing is more important to us on Earth than the Sun. Without the Sun’s heat and light, the Earth would be a lifeless ball of ice-coated rock.”

In addition to the sun’s life-giving glow, we are surrounded by many other lighting sources every day. Artificial lights fill workplaces, grocery stores, and homes.

Even at night, homes, restaurants, and streets glow with fluorescent illumination. The earth is never completely dark.

Since our bodies and light are vitally connected, the light we’re exposed to greatly affects us. Its quality, color, and type can alter our perception and, therefore, our reality.

Effects of Lighting
Image Credit: Adobe

Even your bedside alarm clock produces light waves that your body acknowledges and reacts to. Light can affect sleep cycles, nutrition, mood, and mental health.

Lighting and Sleep Cycles

Your sleep cycle is determined by the circadian system in your body and is influenced by the light you receive. Exposure to bright sunlight causes the brain to release serotonin, a hormone associated with boosting mood and focus.

It is also known to play a key role in fighting depression. Exposure to dim light at night, however, releases melatonin, a hormone that triggers our body to sleep and repair cells. This rhythm of day and night, bright and dim light, keeps our bodies healthy. 

According to Ivy Cheung, author and Ph.D. candidate in neuroscience at Northwestern Medicine, “Light is the most important synchronizing agent for the brain and body. Proper synchronization of your internal biological rhythms with the earth’s daily rotation has been shown to be essential for health.”

While not receiving enough sunlight can damage your sleep cycle, so can the type of light you are exposed to. Blue light is one of the most triggering to our bodies. It awakes and alerts us. Although this reaction isn’t a problem during the day, it becomes an issue at night.

A mind stimulated by blue light will have difficulty falling asleep. Blue light is also known to negatively affect fat levels, brain function, insulin resistance, and even appetite. 

Too much computer, phone, television, and tablet use at night can damage your body’s circadian system, leading to poor sleep and negative mood.

To avoid disrupted sleep, put your devices away 30 minutes before bed, and don’t sleep with them near your body. 

Another way to ensure better sleep is by installing dimmers on your lights. As the evening approaches, the lights automatically dim to mimic the natural light of the sun.

Since LED lights tend to produce more blue light, you may decide to use dim or red lights in the room before sleeping. Red light has longer wavelengths that do not affect melatonin in the same way blue light does.

Lighting and Nutrition

Good nutrition involves a balance of vital nutrients and vitamins. People who don’t receive enough sunlight are often deficient in vitamin D, the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide.

Though this essential vitamin can be found in several foods, the best way to receive vitamin D is through exposure to sunlight. The UV-B light rays produced by the sun convert cholesterol into vitamin D.

In addition to promoting bone growth and health, vitamin D also plays a role in regulating the following:

  • Energy
  • Weight
  • Wound healing
  • Mood swings
  • Immune system
  • Musculoskeletal function

Since most windows block UVA radiation, you will not be able to increase your vitamin D levels by standing near a window. Instead, go outside!

According to the National Institutes of Health, between 5 and 30 minutes of sun exposure to your unprotected face, arms, legs, or back between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. about two to three times every week is recommended. Do not wear sunscreen during this time since it can block vitamin D production.

Lighting and Mood

You may have heard that mood lighting is defined as the customization of light in a space to elicit a certain desired mood.

However, I’m here to tell you that all lighting is mood lighting—meaning it all affects your mood! 

Every aspect of light plays a role in how you feel beneath its glow, but the top three influences of mood are color, intensity, and temperature.

Color — Colored light enhances the aesthetics of a room and provides incredible customization. It also greatly affects mood, depending on the color. The effects of these colors are caused by the color rather than the light. For a list of colors and how they affect mood, click here.

Intensity — Bright light can make you feel awake and ready to greet the day. One study suggests that our mood is linked to the brightness of the light, whether real or artificial, causing us to feel warmer and have more intense emotions. Harsh lighting, however, found often in workplaces, can damage an employee’s eyes, causing a lack of focus, eye strain, and migraines.

Temperature — A color’s temperature, whether hot or cool, also influences mood. Oranges, yellows, and reds are considered warm and encourage stress relief and relaxation. Cool-tone colors such as white blues and greens, however, boost productivity and focus.

Lighting and Mental Health

The Canyon Sunlight. Sun Rays Inside Scenic Arizona Slot Canyon.

Since lighting affects our moods, it should come as no surprise that it also affects our mental health. In particular, depression is associated with a lack of exposure to light.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that people experience during the fall and winter months.

Doctors believe SAD is associated with a lack of light during winter. Treatment for SAD includes light therapy, which proves effective. 

Psychologists have proposed a method for treating individuals with depression called bright light therapy.

Because natural sunlight and human psychology are connected, they believe that light exposure through the form of dawn simulation can work as an external antidepressant while improving circadian sleep problems. 

Let the Light In

Light is a huge influencer of sleep, nutrition, mood, and mental health. Although we’re surrounded by light every day, many people don’t notice its type or quality. I encourage readers to listen to their bodies and respond.

Your insomnia or depression could be caused by a dark room. Open the curtains, and let some light in. Then, when the sun goes down, be proactive with your choice of artificial light.

For more information about the right artificial light bulbs to use in your home, view our article “It’s too Dark! – Why and How to Fix the Lighting in Your Home.” By giving your body the light it needs, you can improve your health and happiness.

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