What Color Light is Best for Sleep
In today’s digital age, we’re constantly reminded that exposure to electronic devices too close to bedtime can negatively interfere with sleep quality. Not only are the images, colors, and movements on our television, computer, and phone screens overstimulating for the eyes and brain, but the light itself can damage our body’s natural sleep-wake cycle.
Digital devices emit a certain kind of blue light that tricks the human brain into thinking it should be awake and alert instead of calm, relaxed, and prepared for sleep. When this occurs, the brain stops producing a natural sleep hormone known as melatonin. Melatonin is naturally produced when the sun begins to set and your surroundings become dark. It signals your brain that it’s time for sleep. Without healthy amounts of melatonin, you may find it increasingly difficult to fall and stay asleep at night.
Now that we know blue light may harm our sleep patterns, you may be wondering what color light is best for sleep. Whether you’re investing in a night light or an illuminated sound machine, certain color lights can facilitate sleep better than others. Keep reading for an in-depth look at what each color means, how it affects your sleep quality and ways to enjoy the benefits without aggravating your current sleep troubles.
How Does Light Color Affect Sleep?
In a perfect world, your bedroom is completely dark and quiet during the nighttime hours. This type of cool, dark, and silent sleep environment is best for achieving deep, restorative sleep. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible.
Another factor to consider is getting up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, change your sleep position, or get a drink of water. When you wake up during the night, the type of light you’re exposed to matters. This includes everything from the color to the brightness to how long you’re exposed to it. Knowing what color light is best for sleep can help reduce the amount of time you’re awake throughout the night. It can also make it easier to fall back asleep after being awake.
These same sleep studies determined that light with wavelengths between 450 and 480 nanometers impacts sleep receptors in the brain the most. For many people, this type of light appears blue and is produced by the electronic devices mentioned above. Other research suggests that just as blue light may cause you to feel more alert, other colored lights can help lull you back to sleep more quickly. These colors are often warm, like reds and pinks, versus cool, like blue.
The Best Light Colors for Sleep
While many individual factors are at play here and research is ongoing, here’s a look at some of the best light colors for sleep.
Let’s start with the best. Most sleep specialists and doctors are in agreement that red light is the best for sleeping. It’s believed that this rich, warm color can not only facilitate melatonin production but may actually stimulate it.
One study conducted in 2012 observed the effects of red light therapy on a group of 20 female basketball players. The girls were exposed to a red light for 30 minutes before bed. After a 2-week study, the players who received the red light therapy noted improvements in their sleep quality. They also exhibited melatonin levels significantly higher than the girls who didn’t receive the red light therapy. Another study conducted on mice showed that exposure to a red light with an intensity of 10 lux or higher helped induce sleep.
The science behind why red light is best for sleep is fairly easy to understand. Your eyes are made up of photosensitive cells that receive light and use it to control your internal biological clock (also known as your circadian rhythm). These cells are sensitive to certain wavelengths which determine what signals are sent to your brain. As mentioned earlier, the human eye is most sensitive to blue light, with green coming in at a close second. Both of these colors are absorbed quickly and signal your brain that it’s daytime. Another interesting fact about red light is that it can actually remove the presence of green light in certain situations, making it one of the most relaxing and beneficial light colors for sleep.
Not only can red light exposure before bed help you sleep better, but using a red night light in your bedroom or bathroom can help you fall back asleep more easily. Exposure to red light in the middle of the night is much less disturbing than being faced with a traditional night light that emits either blue or green light.
Red light bulbs are designed specifically to emit zero blue or green light. Because of this, they shine slightly dimmer than other color lights. Red lights are best reserved for bathrooms, and bedrooms, and for use as a night light or reading light. Red bulbs may not offer enough light in your kitchen or living room to safely perform daily tasks. Used at night, red lights offer a warm, soothing glow that resembles the deep orange hue of a sunset, which is relaxing in and of itself!
Amber light is a version of red light that also offers benefits for sleep. Made of 75% yellow and 25% red, amber is calming and, for some people, less harsh than red. Amber light can help elicit feelings of calm and relaxation, while also reducing anxiety and promoting melatonin secretion. Some studies suggest that amber light may even improve your overall mood.
Amber light is much softer than harsh blue or green light and slightly warmer than red light. Studies suggest that any light on the warm amber spectrum has no effect on melatonin, which means your body can naturally release this hormone and help you drift off to sleep. Amber light is similar to the wavelength of light produced by a candle, which is said to be extremely calming and may help you fall asleep faster.
As calming as amber light is on its own, it may offer other unique benefits as well. For example, amber light is designed to block blue light. By using amber colored light bulbs in your bedroom and throughout your house, you can reduce the amount of blue light your eyes absorb during the daytime hours. The best part is, amber light provides sufficient brightness for performing everyday tasks. Simply swapping the traditional or LED light bulbs in your house with amber ones, you can not only protect yourself against harmful blue light but also create a warm and soothing atmosphere.
The Worst Light Colors for Sleep
You’ve probably already guessed that both blue and green light are the worst for sleep. Let’s see why! Cool colors like blue and green mimic daylight. Exposure to these strong light wavelengths too close to bedtime play tricks on your brain and body. Your brain sees this light as a signal that it should be awake and alert. In an effort to meet these needs, there’s a delay in your brain’s melatonin production. Although melatonin isn’t a requirement for sleep, it plays an integral role in relaxation and enables your mind and body to naturally transition from being awake to being asleep.
Both blue and green light is commonly found in LED lights, fluorescent bulbs, and electronic screens. A 2016 study on mice showed evidence that green lights can negatively impact melatonin production and levels in much the same way as blue lights. This same study showed that violet light can also be damaging to the body’s circadian rhythm and melatonin production. Because violet and blue are on the same light spectrum, this theory seems valid although there’s been no research done on these effects on humans.
Factors to Consider When Choosing the Best Light for Sleep
It’s not just the actual color of the light you use that matters. Colors have different attributes like saturation, hue, and brightness. The direction of the light also matters. Here’s a closer look at what factors to consider when choosing the best light color, products, and position for sleep.
- Brightness – Lower levels of brightness can affect both sleep and your overall mood. Research suggests that brighter lights can make people feel more sleepy, whereas dimmer lights have the opposite effect.
- Saturation – This describes the intensity of the color’s hue which can also impact your emotions. The more intense the hue of a color is, the more intense its effects are said to be.
- Hue – The hue of color describes its “color family”. For example, cool colors like blue and green which are known to disturb sleep are in the same family, whereas more relaxing hues like red and orange are grouped together.
- Low overhead lights using warm colors – Warm lights like amber and red have a yellow hue that mimics natural light. These colors are often more welcoming, warm, and cozy. Warm overhead lights not only help you feel more relaxed but may also boost productivity. These lights mimic a candle, which also offers calming benefits.
- Bright lights in cooler tones – Exposure to bright light during the day can help increase concentration and regulate your mood. Adding bright lights in cool tones to the main living areas of your home can help align your circadian rhythm and may even prevent illness and other conditions including nearsightedness.
- Direct or intense light – Intense light from above, including ceiling lights and harsh fluorescent bulbs can trigger feelings of restlessness, stress, and anxiety. All of these negative emotions can cause insomnia and other sleep disturbances. This is one reason harsh overhead lights are found in many offices not designed for sleep. For this reason, avoid adding these types of intense lights to your home.
The Benefits of Using Calming Lights for Sleep
These calming light colors can offer many benefits to not just your sleep quality but also your mood and overall health. Lack of sleep, poor sleep, and chronic sleep deprivation put you at greater risk of developing other serious health conditions. It can also cause depression and anxiety in some people. Lack of motivation, impaired cognitive function, and excessive daytime sleepiness are just some of the reported side effects of poor sleep quality.
With that being said, there are countless reasons to start using these light colors in your home and daily lift. Here are a few other benefits to consider.
- Facilitates muscle relaxation
- Helps you feel calmer and in tune with your internal clock
- Balances and aligns your circadian rhythm
- Prevents sleep inertia
- Can help deliver better, more restful, and restorative sleep
- Facilitates natural melatonin production and secretion
- Creates a warm, cozy, and inviting atmosphere
- Helps you fall back to sleep faster after waking up during the night
It’s also important to note that just incorporating these lights into your home isn’t enough. It’s not just seeing a red or amber light that helps improve your sleep. It’s also about the ability of red and amber lights to reduce or eliminate harmful blue and green lights from your surroundings. These are lights that aren’t visible to the naked eye. If the red and amber lights you’re using are still emitting blue and green hues, they can be just as harmful as regular blue and green lights.
To prevent this, only use pure red and amber lights. The package should indicate that the bulbs or products emit “zero” blue or green light. The lights you choose need to only emit the specific wavelengths you want (red and amber) without emitting any blue or green light wavelengths. These are considered “high energy” colors and will have the opposite desired effects.
FAQs about Light and Sleep
Do you still have questions about the best color lights for sleep? Here are a few frequently asked questions and answers to help put your worries to bed (pun intended).
What are the best color lights to help babies and children sleep?
If your infant or young child is struggling to fall asleep at night, their pesky night light could be to blame. Both babies and young kids have shown negative reactions to both white and blue light exposure before bed. Replacing your child’s night lights and the light bulbs in their bedside lamps with red, amber, and other warm-colored lights can have calming side effects that reduce sleep troubles and improve sleep quality and duration.
A study conducted in 2018 tested the effect of yellow and whitish-blue lights on both children and adults. The results indicated that kids were more susceptible to melatonin suppression than adults and that yellow light causes even more suppression than blue light. If you’re nursing your baby, try to do so in a dark room with minimal light exposure. Use a red or amber light that blocks harmful and disruptive blue or green light wavelengths and allows your baby to gently and easily drift off to sleep. A separate study suggested that limited exposure of 15 minutes or less to brighter lights during nighttime feedings may not be overly harmful.
How do I incorporate these light colors into my bedroom?
This is the easy part! Swap your current harsh LED light bulbs for overhead fluorescent lights with red or amber bulbs. You can also invest in lights that block or reduce blue and green lights in your environment. Think of all the lights you use on a regular basis from lamps and reading lights to nightlights and overhead chandeliers. The more warm light colors you can use throughout your house, the better.
Other Tips for Improving Sleep Quality and Your Sleep Environment
In addition to eliminating blue and green lights and introducing more calming and sleep-inducing light colors into your home, here are a few more ways to facilitate sleep so you can wake feeling rested, rejuvenated, and focused.
- Avoid ingesting caffeine too late in the day
- Avoid consuming alcohol in excess
- Set a sleep schedule and stick to it (even on weekends and holidays)
- Avoid taking long naps or naps too late in the day
- Limit exposure to electronic devices (tablets, televisions, phones, computer screens) before bed
- Increase exposure to light during the day and morning hours
- Get regular exercise and physical activity (preferably earlier in the day)
- Create a quiet, dark bedroom that’s conducive to deep, uninterrupted sleep
- Maintain a comfortable, cool temperature in your bedroom (around 65 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Perform a relaxing nighttime routine
- Invest in quality bedding (mattresses, pillows, blankets, etc.)
Shed Light on Your Sleep Troubles
Who knew that the lights you have in your home and bedroom could actually be sabotaging your sleep? It’s been proven that the blue light emitted from electronic devices interferes with your body’s natural melatonin production. But recent studies have also shown that allowing warm-colored lights like red and amber into your life and your bedroom can actually promote sleep and may even increase melatonin secretion.
In addition to the above-mentioned tactics for achieving quality sleep, cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia (CBTi) works with your individual needs and triggers to help you adopt healthy sleep habits and improve both your sleep quality and your quality of life. Click here to learn more!