Bright Idea: Energy Efficient LED Bulbs that Can Help You Sleep Better

Amber Plante for Zondits, October 5, 2015. Image credit: ErikaWittlieb

When we consider environmentally friendly alternatives to everyday products, like light bulbs, we likely base our decisions on whether the products are efficient, produce less waste, and are a better use of our money. But what if the environment in question is taken in a different context – meaning not the overall planet but our specific little world at home or at work? Can something as simple as an energy efficient LED light bulb affect our everyday lives on a scale beyond what we see on our electric bill and in our wallets?

Companies are jumping on the bright idea of harnessing the proven properties of different colors and wavelengths of light to improve our human condition and even help us fall asleep faster and feel better. Think: the anti-jaundice light treatments that preemies get in the NICU on the scale of your college black light.

Prominent examples of companies that have sparked this revolution include Philips with its app-controlled Hue lighting system, which allows you to adjust the wavelengths of light coming from its bulbs. General Electric has a similar, less whiz-bang system of a.m. and p.m. bulbs it calls GE Align that fit into your everyday lamps and fixtures. Digital Lumens takes this LED concept into the workplace, supermarket, and other industrial settings, while LumiFi’s system-based app helps you adjust lighting in participating hotels via predefined “moods.”

The truth is our lives are full of artificial light. From the moment you look at your alarm clock to the last click on your phone at night, you are propped up and illuminated by lighting that is not always best for your body. Typical LED lights that are often found in illuminated screens are made with short-wavelength, blue-spectrum light that scientists have proven reduces sleepiness and increases alertness by suppressing the natural, circadian release of melatonin when we should be tired. Combine that with our need to wake up early, and one reason behind the pre-shower beeline to the coffee machine becomes clear.

To better prepare your body for sleep and help regulate your circadian rhythms, experts suggest furnishing your bedroom with a yellow light with longer wavelengths – not, though, because these lights will help you fall asleep, but because they will interfere less with what your body naturally wants to do. Lighting Science, which uses wavelength-based research to development “lifestyle” light bulbs, is pioneering the field with its Sleepy Baby bulbs, LED lamps that purportedly make a baby’s body think it is dark inside their room but emit enough visible light that you can change a messy diaper or grab the laundry basket without flipping the overhead light switch. For adults, the same principle is true: Lighting Science’s Good Night biological LED lamp, which it boasts was developed for ISS astronauts, claims to fit the bill and comes with a money-back guarantee – a good salve when the bulbs are $60 a pop.

If sleep is your ultimate goal but you need a little stimulation prior to shutting your eyes, consider an e-reader such as the Kindle Paperwhite or Barnes and Noble’s Nook GlowLight, both of which use e-ink-style displays that do not backlight the screen – thus, they do not shine blue light into your eyes while you’re trying to wind down. The Paperwhite, in particular, uses an engineered screen to reflect light from the sides of the device down onto its surface, giving the user the same effect as if they were reading a paper page with a light shining over their shoulder. (It’s also important to note that, while LED screens are not good for nighttime reading, you can always dim the displays to reduce the amount of blue light they emit.)

When it comes to being happier, light has long been a treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). According to the Mayo Clinic, when natural outside light isn’t available – most often in the fall and winter and in locations, such as Alaska, that can go months without seeing the sun – light boxes can simulate the white wavelengths of natural sunlight to both replenish the body with the needed vitamins and change your brain chemistry to actually boost your mood. One model from the company Caribbean Sun is professional-looking enough to be used at your desk but has a power draw equal to only a 9-watt bulb. (It is important to note that, while light therapy can be effective, it is important to choose wisely: specific sunlight therapy boxes filter out most of the UV rays, but some at-home light therapy machines actually boost UV rays to help with skin disorders, which could, when used incorrectly, hurt rather than help.)

If getting up is a problem for you – or if you, like most of us do in the winter, rise before dawn – consider an alarm clock that uses white spectrum light to gently wake you by “rising.” The Philips Wake-Up Light simulates a natural sunrise to help wake you up, and the wavelengths help your circadian rhythm realize that it is morning.

Lighting can be boring and normal, but given the energy efficient options available on the marketplace and the current surge in technological advancements and biological advantages, it might finally be worth your money to purchase a lifestyle lighting LED lamp.