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Tuning Home Lighting Into Your Circadian Rhythm

‘Different kinds of light tell our brain that it is time for specific activities such as sleeping and waking, which of course impacts our energy levels’

You’ve likely heard the term circadian rhythm, particularly surrounding the sleep-wake cycle. It’s essentially the body’s internal clock that’s cued by light or lack thereof.

Our bodies naturally rely on the sun’s rising and setting patterns to dictate when we sleep and when we wake. Generally, when the body’s circadian rhythm is in sync, the sleep-wake cycle is restorative. But when it’s not, sleep can be troublesome.

“Most people don’t know that our sleep patterns are heavily regulated by the intake of light,” says Summer Jensen, CEO and principal of Hawk & Co design in Laguna Beach, California. “Depending on the time and amount of light you receive, you can change your circadian rhythm.”

What’s more, “different kinds of light tell our brain that it is time for specific activities such as sleeping and waking, which of course impacts our energy levels,” said Robert Soler, co-founder and executive vice president of biological research and technology at BIOS Lighting, a biology-based lighting company in Carlsbad, California.

This may all sound super scientific, but from a décor perspective, the lighting you have in your home can help make a difference in promoting a healthy sleep-wake cycle if it’s attuned to the body’s circadian rhythm.

Getting the Lighting Right

To encourage a healthy circadian rhythm, natural light is ideal.

“Natural light improves mood, increases alertness and regulates circadian rhythm,” Mr. Jones said.

When building, he considers the orientation of each home to provide the greatest amount of natural light throughout the day. “Large windows, skylights and expansive glass pocket doors bring in abundant natural light, reducing the need for artificial lighting and providing the home's occupants with a connection to the natural environment,” he said.

Being able to see the sun for moments throughout the day can help influence your natural rhythm to mimic that of the sun, Ms. Jensen said.

While living in a glass house isn’t possible for most people, there are lighting solutions that mimic the natural sleep-wake cycle.

“Circadian lighting refers to bulbs or lamps specifically designed to mimic the sun and produce the same biological response you would have from natural light throughout the day,” Mr. Soler said. The type of products available for circadian health vary widely, from LED bulbs that come in different colors and sunrise alarm clocks that gradually wake you up with increased brightness to light-therapy boxes to boost energy and mood.

"Keep in mind, there is an important distinction between tunable or dynamic white lighting and true circadian lighting. Tunable or dynamic white lighting means the color temperature can be changed dynamically".

Dynamic white lighting can still be beneficial, he noted. “What is clear is that intensity of lighting is a very important factor, therefore going outside in the morning and getting bright sunlight will help your body wake up and set your clock, while having dim lights in your home and in the bedroom in the evening will help your body sleep,” Mr. Simon said.

For instance, when Ms. Jensen uses interior lighting, she prefers dynamic white lighting on a control system, which she can tune to be “cooler in the morning, which helps to waken the senses with a brighter white and skews to warmer white in the evening hours to wind down.”

“Indirect light mimics northern light which is ambient, consistent and more neutral than direct or southern light. Lighting that causes harsh shadows is fatiguing, so avoid spotlights and intensely focused light unless it’s for artwork or a specific task,” he said.

Keep in mind where you install these lights really depends on where you spend the most time during the day. “The goal is if you’re not exposed to natural light to be near artificial circadian light as much as possible throughout the day,” Mr. Soler said.

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