How to Optimize Lighting for a Healthier Home

By Mike Elgan, Houzz

We tend to think of lighting choices as a matter of personal preference, something that’s part of the lamp-shopping checklist. But it turns out that the most important lighting decisions have nothing to do with lamps. And lighting decisions can actually make or break your family’s health, happiness and well-being.

bathroom lighting
Brighter Concepts Ltd, original photo on Houzz

In fact, recent science has discovered that making the right lighting decisions in your home could even protect you and your loved ones from degraded eyesight, depression, weight gain, cancer and a host of other problems.

This ideabook contains bright ideas for optimizing the light in your home, not just for aesthetics but for improving the overall quality of your and your family’s lives.

lamp
 Glo, original photo on Houzz

Multiple studies demonstrate that sleeping in a less-than-dark room can harm your health.

The American Medical Association last month issued a policy advisement saying that "exposure to excessive light at night, including extended use of various electronic media, can disrupt sleep or exacerbate sleep disorders, especially in children and adolescents." This is particularly true of devices that emit “blue” light, such as TV screens and touch tablets. Also:
• Researchers from the Ohio State University Medical Center found that sleeping in a dimly lit room can lead to depression and weight gain.
• Scientists at the University of Haifa in Israel found a “clear and strong” correlation between women who live in areas that are not dark at night to an increased risk of breast cancer.
• University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine researchers found that night-lights in children’s rooms could predispose them to myopia, or nearsightedness.

To summarize all this research: Almost everybody is doing it wrong.

TV, video games and eBook reading just before sleep are bad. Light coming in from outside at night is bad. Gadget lights on everything you own are bad. Night-lights are bad.

What should you do about all this light?

Block outside light with good shades. Don’t read on a screen or watch TV just before going to bed. If you’re going to use an eBook reader before bed, choose the kind that requires an external light source. Unplug or cover with electrical tape all those little status lights on electronic products.

If your children truly need a night-light, one option is a product that fades to black after the kids are asleep. The Glo light from Boon (first photo) is a fun option, for example. The light illuminates glow-in-the-dark balls, which can be removed and put into bed with the kids if they want. They have a night-light, but only for a short time. The balls fade gradually, allowing kids to fall asleep with a light but later sleep in darkness.

The bottom line is that the health and happiness of you and your family will generally benefit by sleeping in total darkness, and it’s important to do as much as you can to darken rooms during sleep.

suntracker
Ciralight Suntracker, original photo on Houzz

Let there be light!

The previous section on sleeping in darkness is all about your eyes expecting a lack of light at night as a biological necessity. But the same goes for daytime. Just as your eyes expect darkness at night, they expect sunlight during the day.

Related: Control Sunlight With the Right Curtains

Australian National University researchers have explained radically divergent rates of childhood nearsightedness to the amount of direct sun exposure received by the kids. They found, for example, that nearly 90 percent of children in Singapore have myopia and spend an average of 30 minutes outside every day. Children in Australia, however, suffer from much lower rates of myopia — just 10 percent — but spend an average of three hours outdoors each day.

Scientists believe that developing eyes in young children need the body to produce dopamine, which is triggered by direct sunlight going into the eyes.

Meanwhile, there’s an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency in part because people aren’t getting enough direct sunlight. As many as three-quarters of the teen and adult populations in the United States may be deficient in this vitamin. This is bad, because vitamin D deficiency has been linked with increased risk of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, Parkinson's and other diseases.

Part of our sun deficiency is related to fear of skin cancer. However, what people should fear is any degree of sunburn. According to the Vitamin D Council, your body gets all the exposure it needs for health long before the skin starts to redden. So getting sun in small, frequent doses is healthier and less risky than avoiding the sun part of the year, then getting occasionally sunburned.

The takeaway here is that most people living outside the tropics just aren’t getting enough sunshine. And the best way to get sun is in small doses very frequently.

Let the sun shine in

For example, where to invest on home improvement? Retile the bathroom or install skylights? Buy an expensive new TV and home-entertainment system or playground equipment in the backyard? Replace a wall with drywall or floor-to-ceiling glass windows? Add a pool table or a pool?

One interesting possible upgrade is a “smart" skylight called the Ciralight Suntracker. With a typical skylight, a patch of sunlight is cast on the floor or wall of your home, and moves throughout the day as the sun moves. The Suntracker uses GPS, and mirrors track the sun throughout the day and bounce it directly down onto a diffuser. So as long as the sun is up, the skylight is capturing all available sunlight and beaming it into the house in a way that maximizes light. Most Ciralight customers are industrial or retail companies, but the company also offers home installation. The price is about $1,100 to adapt a commercial unit for a residence, and they're working on a 2-foot-square model for homes (price to be announced).

Science is telling us that lighting decisions can have far-ranging consequences for our happiness and well-being. Investing in darker nights and sunnier days may be the brightest idea for your family’s health.

Content Tools