Light Up Your Life

The days are getting short and before you know it, us northern hemisphere first shifters will be going to work and coming home in darkness.  What. A. Drag.   Instead of wallowing in the deep night, here's some ways to keep your sanity and sleep cycles in check with appropriate lighting.

Lighting is so crucial to everything we do - in many ways it dictates our mood, yet so many people pay it so little attention.  Many people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) where the lack of full spectrum daylight sends them into a depressive state, but there are ways to help work around these challenges.

Pretty much everyone hates the stark bluish glow of fluorescent lights, but now there's so many options to suit your needs.  With the advent of smart lighting solutions and LED bulbs that last for ten years, you can easily modify your environment to be an effective workspace as well as an inviting place to relax.   

But first, a little lighting facts info and science refresher: 

Types of Lightbulbs

  • Incandescent - standard light bulb.  Being phased out because of energy inefficiency, mostly given off as heat. Incandescent bulbs function by an electric current passing through a tungsten filament. (Did you know the periodic table symbol for tungsten is "W" for wolfram as it is called in our countries?)
  • Fluorescent/Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFL) - what you know as "office" lights and what has quickly become the standard bulb.  Often seen in curlicue configurations. CFLs have to be disposed of properly due to small amounts of mercury contained in the bulb.  If you break a CFL, be careful about cleaning it up
  • LED - the best of both worlds, Light Emitting Diode lamps have the soft warmth of incandescent bulbs with the energy efficiency of CFLs.  LEDs have a long life of approximately 13 years and emit little heat.  
  • Halogen - often seen in commercial uses, and torchiere lamps, halogen bulbs are more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs, but heat up to about 1000F (compared to an incandescent's 350F) and are a fire hazard. Halogen bulbs produce a dimmable range of soft white light to super bright lights.  Because of the heat halogen bulbs produce, these are used as heat lamps to keep food warm.  
  • Gas-discharge lamps (e.g. metal halide, carbon arc "Klieg lights"  and mercury vapor lamps) - also seen in commercial applications, these lamps work by emitting an electric current through vaporized materials like mercury and halide gas or carbon.

Characteristics of Light

  • Lumens - the amount of light the source gives off, or what we think of as brightness.  Most people think watts measure brightness, but...
  • Wattage - how much energy the light source uses.   Historically, this is how we bought incandescent bulbs - higher wattage meant brighter light and also means more heat being given off. Nowadays, CFLs and LEDs use a fraction of the wattage that traditional bulbs do and a "60 W" brightness  bulb actually clocks in at about 13 W.
  • Color Temperature - measured in Kelvin (K), this is how blue (higher Kelvin, "cool" appearance) or red (lower Kelvin, "warm" appearance) the light is.  

Types of Light

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

I'm sure you learned about types of light somewhere in grade school...

  • Infrared (invisible, but can be picked up by heart sensitive sensors)
  • Visible spectrum (ROY G. BIV)
  • Ultraviolet - also invisible to the naked eye, but you can "see" it with special photosensitive coated bulbs, aka black light bulbs.  

We'll concentrate on the visible spectrum and talk at (wave) length about color temperature.

Color Temperature

Visible light comes in the colors of the rainbow as you know it - ROY G. BIV. When all the colors come together, it produces white light.

Color temperature is kind of weird because colors we think of as "cool" - blues and greens - are actually indicative of a higher temperature whereas "hot" colors red and orange have a lower color temperature. Think of it like colors of fire. Color temperature is the key to mood lighting and it makes all the difference.

  1. 1900K-2250K is the perfect color temperature for setting a relaxing and soothing mood for entertaining. The soft red-orange glow is very flattering to skin and puts people at ease.
  2. 2400K is about the same as a soft white incandescent bulb and this is perfect for bedside lamps and other places that soft lighting is desirable. I prefer a dimmable halogen light by my bedside for evening reading.
  3. Try daylight bulbs in kitchens and workspaces (5000-6000K). These bulbs produce intense, but friendly white light that allow you to see what you are doing, and this spectrum of light stimulates plant growth. These bulbs are also great for people with SAD as they mimic the spectrum of the sun. In these cases, you also want to choose bulbs with a higher lumen output.
  4. But don't overdo it. This is great in the daytime as the blue improves alertness by disrupting naturally occurring melatonin but really sucks for your sleep health at night. LCDs and CRTs give off tons of blue light as seen in the chart, so do your sleep hygiene a favor by stepping away from the screen an hour before bedtime. Can't bear to be seperated your your device that long? Turn the brightness way down and Switch to Night Shift on iOS devices or Night Mode on Android phones to tint your screen red and get some shuteye.

Smart Lighting 

Lighting has come a long way since the days of Thomas Edison. Nowadays, you can even have smart lighting, one of the first products in the Internet of Things.  Philips Hue had pioneered this with products that allow you to change the color, mood, and duration of lighting from the comfort of your smartphone. 


How to Buy Lighting

LEDs seem to be the way to go for new lightbulbs - while they cost a bit more upfront, they have approximately a ten year lifespan before needing to replace them.  While LEDs do not contain mercury, they have been found to contain other heavy metals, so care should still be taken in cleaning up if you happen to break an LED bulb.  

Lately, lighting has really gotten to be cool with the introduction of vintage-style Edison and Victorian type bulbs.  These allow for really interesting lighting solutions without the need for lampshades or chandeliers.

All in all, you can now shop for lighting with confidence - since 2010, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission   has required lighting manufacturers to put "Lighting Facts" on their products.  Knowing a handful of concepts can help you dramatically change the atmosphere of your home or workspace.