Lighting for Better Health and Wellness

Light plays a big role in our lives.  Have you ever noticed a mood shift during the winter, particularly when those short and sometimes gloomy days start to stack up?  The decrease in sunlight can disrupt our internal clocks and lead to a drop in the brain chemical serotonin.  This can cause changes in mood and sleep patterns, which often zaps our energy levels. In some cases, it can even lead to seasonal affective disorder. But it isn’t simply the absence of sunlight that can be detrimental to our wellbeing. The presence of certain forms of artificial light can also disrupt the body’s natural sleep patterns. Insufficient lighting can lead to headaches, eyestrain, and increase the risk of tripping or falling. The right lighting choices in your home can help stave off mood shifts and improve cognitive function year-round. Let’s look at some of the ways lighting can improve your health and wellness at home.

Lighting and Your Natural Circadian Rhythm

No doubt you’ve heard of something called the circadian rhythm.  This is your body’s 24-hour clock that cycles your brain and your body chemistry between rest and alertness at regular intervals.  When it gets dark at night, your eyes send a signal to your brain, your brain releases melatonin, and this triggers your body to feel tired.  When you expose your eyes to bright white daylight, your body releases cortisol. Cortisol raises your core body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure, serving as a wake-up call to the body.  This is why our circadian rhythm tends to follow day and night cycles.  In this age of technology, however, there are plenty of things that can disrupt our natural circadian rhythm which can lead to adverse health effects. 

The Pros and the Cons of LED Lighting

One big culprit is LED lighting.  While LED lighting is a great choice for lower energy consumption, many mainstream LEDs produce light in the ‘white’ or ‘cool’ spectrum.  This type of light is great for waking you up in the morning and keeping you alert during the day.  However, exposure to this spectrum of light – commonly known as the blue spectrum – needs to be limited at night to maintain your circadian rhythm.  Just as the sun sets at the end of the day, the spectrum and intensity of light in your home should change, too.  This will help your body start the process to prepare you for a good night of sleep.  There are many companies now that offer LED lighting for your home to support your sleep and wake cycles.  This is accomplished through LED bulbs that offer variable color and intensity.  You still get the energy saving and long-life benefits of LED bulbs, with the added bonus of a well-lit environment that supports your wellbeing.  Some companies even offer LED lighting systems that are automated, so you can program how your home lighting changes throughout the day, and wi-fi connected so you can control the light in your environment at any time from your smart phone.  When it’s time to specify the lighting for your new custom home, be sure to talk to your architect and interior designer about LED lights that support your health and wellbeing.

Natural Lighting in Your Home

Another way to help your body maintain its natural circadian rhythm and boost your cognitive performance is maximizing the natural lighting in your home.  In addition to increasing the resale value of your home, natural lighting supports your wellness in several ways. Similar to the benefits of outdoor living, bringing more natural light into your home can help increase your focus, reduce your blood pressure, reduce stress and anxiety, boost your immune system, improve your mood, increase your energy levels, and help you get better sleep.  Be sure to talk to your architect early on in your project about maximizing the natural lighting in your home.  This will help guide several decisions throughout the process of designing your custom home.  If environmental sustainability is one of your top priorities, this can be accomplished with natural lighting in mind as well.  Some window and door companies are stepping up their game to provide the most environmentally friendly solution to letting natural light into your home.  For example, Alpine Windows uses eco-friendly materials that are recyclable, further diverts waste from landfills with their window buy-back program, and reduces your home’s energy consumption with Energy Star rated products.

Front entry with curved floating staircase and lots of windows to let in natural light, which helps with health and wellness at home.

Lighting for Space Perception & Psychology

Beyond regulating your circadian rhythm, lighting in your home is critical for space perception.  Our perceptual system is responsible for gathering sensory information from our environment, interpreting, selecting, and organizing it.  During this process, the brain often filters out a lot of information.  This helps us to function in bustling environments where we might otherwise become overwhelmed.  Well-lit environments can help us organize sensory information in a space quickly and more efficiently, freeing up some of our brain’s processing power for the task at hand.  A good formula for lighting design in your home is to start with task-based and accent lighting.  From there you can add in general or ambient lighting.  This process of layering light can help establish hierarchy in a space, aiding our perceptual system.  Thoughtful lighting in your home can help put your brain at ease by being able to quickly and effectively make sense of the space.

Enhancing the Architectural Experience

If designing a new custom home is on your radar, it’s well worth it to include a lighting designer as part of the team.  Experienced lighting designers can ensure the light in your home supports the architectural vision that you’re creating with your architect.  There are many ways that light in a room can change the feel of the space.  For example, bright and even lighting on a ceiling makes a space feel larger, whereas the opposite can make a space feel quiet and more intimate.  Controlling angles of light can help to rebuild texture in a space.  Light can showcase the primary function of a room by creating interest and focal points on vertical planes, enhancing your overall experience. Techniques like wall-washing create a glowing plane of light and are great for highlighting architectural features like a smooth fireplace or floor to ceiling cabinetry.  Wall washing also offers you flexibility over time if you want to create a gallery-like space with rotating pieces.  Thoughtful lighting in the home can help craft your experience, inform the message of what’s happening in the space, and tell a story.  If you’re in the Denver area, Circa Lighting and Urban Lights both have incredible lighting showrooms where you can go for inspiration and to get help from design pros.

Healthy Lighting Behind the Scenes

We’ve covered several ways to use lighting for better health and wellness at home.  This last method is something that exists out of sight, but is certainly top of mind for many people right now.  As we continue to navigate COVID-19, anything we can do to ensure a clean and safe home environment is worth considering.  A recent article suggests that HVAC systems could possibly recirculate the virus, particularly if you have a sick family member in your home.  This is where ultraviolet lighting comes in.  Ultraviolet lights have been shown to kill mold, viruses, and bacteria and are used in hospitals, restaurants, and grocery stores for this purpose.  UV lights can be added to your heating and air conditioning system during construction or as a retrofit option in your home.  These UV lights can provide some peace of mind knowing that they are working to sterilize the air in your home, at least from airborne germs and mold. It’s important to note that while the results of HVAC ultraviolet germicidal irradiation lights against COVID-19 are described as promising, they are not yet proven to kill the coronavirus.

Lighting is an important consideration in your home to support wellbeing from a physiological, emotional, aesthetic, and physical standpoint.  An increased awareness of the benefits and detriments of certain forms of light can help you make healthier decisions for your home.  If you’re looking to improve the health and wellbeing of your family in a new custom home, be sure to talk to your architect about lighting options that can boost mood, health, productivity, and wellness.

About the Author

Shannon joined KGA in March of 2019.  A native of Albuquerque, New Mexico, she now calls Boulder home and can’t get enough of the Colorado lifestyle.  Pretty much any time of the year you can find Shannon and her fiancé enjoying the outdoors with their rescued black lab, Shadow.  Some of their favorite activities include backpacking, trail running, gardening, and winter camping.  Shannon is passionate about living sustainably both in terms of reducing waste and prioritizing well-being.