What to Understand About LED Lighting and Human Physiology

We spend a lot of time highlighting the many benefits of upgrading to LED lighting. Between dramatically improved energy efficiency, cost savings, a variety of rebates and incentives, and improved focus, mood, and reaction times in employees, LEDs have a lot going for them. But it’s not all sunshine and roses. Unfortunately, there is a drawback to LED lighting, and it’s directly tied to the effects of blue light on sleep and other circadian-mediated systems. Here’s what to understand about LED lighting and human physiology.

What is Blue Light?

Unlike the warm, yellow light emitted from high-energy sodium bulbs, LEDs have a blue light-emitting diode. It’s the same kind of light that comes from our smartphones, computers and televisions, which means our exposure is increasing. Those blue wavelengths can be beneficial during daylight hours, but they can become downright disruptive when the sun sets.

The LED Effect

The issue relates to LED’s effect on our circadian rhythm. Specifically, blue light can delay the release of the melatonin hormone, which promotes sleep, while also boosting alertness and essentially resetting the body’s internal clock. This is technically true of any light, but the effect is more dramatic with blue light. According to the National Sleep Foundation, this reaction is particularly noticeable in children who watch television or play on devices before bed, as well as in teenagers, whose circadian rhythms are already changing. Exposure to blue light before bed makes it harder to fall asleep, which means less time spent in REM and the sense of not feeling well rested in the morning. Disrupted sleep patterns impact overall quality of life, and they can take a toll on our physical and mental health, leading to increased risk of depression, diabetes, and cardiovascular problems.

There’s another, equally worrying implication. A paper published by the World Journal of Biological Psychiatry was authored by a group of psychiatrists looking at the potential link between LED lighting and mental illness. In particular, there may be cause for concern about the effect of excessive, poorly-timed light exposure on people with manic states. John Gottlieb, the clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago and one of the authors, noted that the larger public health hazard is smartphones, simply because of their omnipresence. Still, he acknowledges that streetlights and other nocturnal lighting are also contributing to light pollution, and our collective sensitivity may be growing.

Workarounds and Tips

The good news is that we aren’t forced to choose between personal health and energy-efficiency. The key is in moderation.

• Avoid bright screens two to three hours before bed. If they can’t be avoided, dim screen brightness significantly. Consider installing an app that will automatically warm screen colors at sunset.

• Don’t use LEDs in night lights in bedrooms or bathrooms. Dim red lights have a higher wavelength and won’t suppress melatonin to the same extent.

• Get exposure to plenty of bright lighting during the day. This will boost your ability to sleep at night.

• If you work at night, consider wearing a pair of blue light-blocking glasses.

Fortunately, the industry is already working to reduce blue light in LEDs. The physics can’t be changed, but coatings inside bulbs can help them produce a warmer, less blue light. In Nevada and California, Have Lights can recommend appropriate lighting for your needs. Contact us today, and let’s make a plan.