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Circadian-Attuned Lighting

As we emerge from the winter months our days are getting longer, making our mornings and evenings feel brighter than before. It not unusual to feel “lighter;” an uplift, greater energy, and better mood than usual. While most folks would credit the fact that the world just looks prettier with emerging leaves and blooms, it’s more likely that the reason is light.

 

What does light mean for your health?  

We all know that light has a utilitarian, functional purpose- we need it to see. But it also affects the internal clock that governs our activity. That internal clock affects our energy levels- telling us when to wake up and when it’s time to prepare for sleep. That active/rest cycle is commonly called our “circadian rhythm.” 

Your internal clock, not surprisingly, is linked directly to the nerves in your eyes. When daylight fades, your eyes signal your brain to release more melatonin, a hormone that makes you feel sleepy. And when the sun rises again, those same signals tell the brain to turn those melatonin levels down.

According to the Harvard Medical School, circadian rhythms affect more than just sleep patterns too- they regulate hormones, body temperature, and eating habits. When those things get out of sync we start to see bigger problems like diabetes, obesity, seasonal affective disorder, and depression.  

 

What does this mean for your home?

Awareness of the role of light on our physical and mental wellbeing is important, and understanding that it’s specifically linked to the natural world is key to taking advantage of it in our spaces. The goal in what we call “circadian-attuned” lighting is to, as much as possible, replicate the arc of the sun. You can achieve this using the following two big concepts in lighting:

1.     Color Temperature

Think about how the light outside looks during different times of the day. In the morning, especially if you want to wake up gradually, make use of more warm, pinkish or golden light. In the middle of the day, and especially in offices and other daytime settings, choose bluer, whiter lights that tell our body to be alert and awake. And in the evening, choose sunset colors with warm or red hues.

Technology companies are already on board with these ideas- that’s the reason that your smartphone, tablet, or computer screens shift colors later at night. The industry discovered that folks using their devices before bed were running into issues with sleep. It turns out that exposure to the bluish light from their screens was interfering with their circadian rhythms.

2.     Position and Intensity

It’s not just the color of the sun that changes during the day, but also its position. Softer light coming from the side is associated with the morning and evening, while light from directly above tells us it’s high noon.

Today, most homes are constructed with ceiling lights in every room. Unfortunately, overhead lights at full intensity create more than just glare and unpleasant shadows—­they also tell the body that it’s the middle of the day. That might be great while trying to work, but not so great when hosting a cocktail party or unwinding at the end of the day.

How do you fix this? Add dimmers along with additional light sources at different heights. This includes more than just table and floor lamps. Incorporating multiple decorative, low-intensity fixtures on walls, bookshelves, and on pictures will produce an appealing and more flattering glow.

 

Your friends will notice the difference.

I’m a designer, so I instinctively know that lighting can make or break any project. And the one place I have the most control over is my own home. So, I made sure that all of my lighting is color-tunable white (each bulb can go from bluish-white to deep golden-red), and the light from overhead fixtures constitutes only about 25% of the light in my space. The rest comes from picture lights, small accent lights, and floor lamps.

Not only that, but I’ve made use of smart home technologies to change the lighting in my home to shift during the day. It automatically comes on for me as softer during the morning, bright and bluish from above to match daylight at noon, and golden-red from the sides during the evening. Just like the sun.

The end result? I’m not the only one who really enjoys being in our space. One of the first things that guests say when they walk in is how much they like the feel of our home. Note that they don’t say look, but feel. I’m pretty proud of that.

 

Sound complicated? We’re here to help.

While all this might sound complex and laborious (turning lights on and off, adjusting, tweaking colors) it really doesn’t have to be. With just a little guidance from the team at Dominion, you can create a system that can grow and adjust with your own schedule and budget, and maintain an environment that doesn’t just look great, but feels great as well.

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