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What Color Light Helps You Sleep: Based On Scientific Research

For years we’ve been thinking that light sources, of any kind, can disrupt our sleep completely. The discussion usually revolves around artificial, or blue light as the main culprits for why people get sleep deprived. The reason for this lies in the fact that the more we use our gadgets before bedtime, the lower the chance we’ll fall or stay asleep.

However, recent studies show a different side of that story; it seems that even though light might prevent us from falling asleep, it might also help us fall asleep too. Therefore, in the following paragraphs, we’ll take a look at how light can affect our sleep, and which light color is the best at promoting sleepiness. So, let’s get right into it!

Light and Our Environmental Cognition

It has come to attention that light doesn’t just provide visual effects and enables us to see, recognize shapes, contrasts, and different perceptions, but it also has a biological or psychological effect.

What Color Light Helps You Sleep psychology

Image Source: Terry Cralle, RN

Light can improve our sleep, improve our mood, and well being, as well as cognition. Light is essential for the way we perceive the world and the environment around us; it makes us understand it, memorize it, remember it and it highlights what we need to know to interpret it. All of this was proven in numerous studies about light and our environmental cognition.

That is why light plays an important role in our circadian rhythm and the sleep-wake cycle. Light, its brightness, saturation, or even the lack of it affects our melatonin production and prepares our body for bedtime.

So, for example, the type of light in your immediate environment, or the bedroom, can make you sleepier or more wakeful, depending on the color, brightness, hue, and saturation.

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The Quality of Light In Relation to Color

To know which color is the best for sleep, it is essential to understand the quality of light first. Light has three main qualities, as mentioned before;

  • Brightness – This is the amount of light a light source produces. Studies show that the brighter the light, the more intensely it affects our emotions, and for that matter, our sleepiness.
  • Hue – this is a color or the shade of light. A natural hue affects your emotions and sleepiness differently than artificial light. That is why often people debate the artificial or blue light as promoting wakefulness before sleep.
  • Saturation – this is how we refer to the intensity of a light color. The more intense the hue, the more effective it is when it comes to our emotions. In art, which also applies to light, saturation can go from fully saturated or 100% pure color, to 0% saturated, or gray.

The combination of brightness, hue, and saturation contributes to the color being suitable for promoting sleep or promoting wakefulness. So, when choosing the light color, this must be remembered, regardless of the actual color of the light. Nevertheless, colors themselves affect our emotions and sleepiness for sure. For example;

  • Blue or white light – this type or color of the light makes us feel more energetic and more likely wakeful if exposed to before or during bedtime. The reason for this lies in the fact that our brain cells are simply most sensitive to blue wavelengths. Studies prove that blue wavelengths can even affect the blind and disrupt their circadian rhythm, even though they cannot see the color.
  • Red or amber light – this light is the most likely to impact our circadian rhythm and makes us sleepy. Red or amber light helps us feel calmer in the evening and promotes the secretion of melatonin. Some experts even suggest that red or amber light may improve our overall mood and mental health as well.
What Color Light Helps You Sleep blue light

Image Source: Terry Cralle, RN

The Lighting Effects And Its Relation To Mood And Sleep

Sometimes, it is not only the color of the light that affects our emotions and sleepiness, it is also the lighting effect or the direction of light. Here’s how the lighting effect or direction can affect our mood, sleep, and overall mental state;

  • Intense direct light, from above – makes us feel tenser, stressed, anxious, and overall emotionally and physically restless. It may promote wakefulness and sleep anxiety.
  • Low overhead lighting with warm color tones – makes us feel relaxed, calm, connected with the people we’re sharing the environment with, and prone to pondering and thinking.
  • Bright light, wall lighting with cooler tones – makes us feel more focused on the work, more concentrated, and provides visual clarity.
  • Low light level, warm light in the activity center, and dark areas in the perimeter – makes us feel more intimate, cozy, and eventually, more sleepy. Low and warm light promotes melatonin secretion and sleepiness.
Also Read: How Electronics Affect Sleep: Blue Light, Melatonin, and Sleep

So, What Is The Best Light Color To Promote Sleep?

To keep things short and simple, the best color to promote sleep is red.

Studies show that the red light color is ideal for the evening and sleepiness. Because it has a low color temperature and doesn’t make our brain sensitive to its wavelengths, red color is the best way to switch from daylight to night lights without disruption of the sleep cycle.

The red color simply eases you, both mentally and physically into the state of sleep, and because of that, your brain is likely to produce more melatonin as well. Let’s take a look at what studies have to say;

  • Study no1 – a 2018 research, conducted in Brazil, shows the effectiveness of red light therapy in cases of patients who suffer from sleep-depriving migraines. The result of the research shows that the red light did not only decrease the number of headaches and migraine attacks, but it was also the only therapy to improve sleep disorders in research participants.
  • Study no2 – a 2013 study, conducted in Taiwan, analyzed patients with sleeping disorders using their electrical brain activity, or EEG, before, during, and after exposure to the red light therapy. The results were incredible, as they showed patients being prone to falling and staying asleep after exposure to red light, despite their sleep disorders.
  • Study no3 – a 2012 study, conducted by analyzing Chinese female basketball players, showed how the exposure to the red light helped improve sleep quality and endurance performance in these women. The women were exposed to red light between 15 and 30 minutes, once a night for two weeks. The results of the study showed that the women did not only experience improvement in sleep quality, but also in their performance during games. Researches that participated in this study concluded that red light therapy should be essential in the treatment of sleep disorders.
red light therapy. The girl goes through a course of skin rejuvenation with the help of red light treatment.

Image Source: Terry Cralle


The Benefits Of Red Light For Sleep

Here are some of the most prominent benefits that red or amber light for your sleep;

  • Natural melatonin production – red light is shown to help the body produce more melatonin when compared to other types of lights, like blue light. Red or near red wavelengths don’t make the brain sensitive and alert, but rather calm and in tune with the natural sleep-wake cycle.
  • Sleep inertia prevention – exposure to the red light before and during sleep can prevent the groggy feeling we experience upon waking up (or sleep inertia). A study shows that exposure to red light had the participants feeling more alert and concentrated upon waking up. They also experienced better and more restful sleep, as well as performed better on a cognitive test.
  • Muscle relaxation – exposure to red light doesn’t just make you feel sleepy, it also promotes the relaxation of your body. It is believed that red light can promote muscle relaxation, since it has an overall calming effect on us, and helps release the tension in the body. Muscle relaxation can also further contribute to better sleep.

How Do I Achieve Red Light Therapy Effect?

Now, to achieve the red light therapy effects in your environment, you can utilize high-quality LED red light products. You can even try out the red bulbs, but do not go with the ones that are just tinted red; look for bulbs that emit red light color, instead of just being red themselves. You can even go with ambient light devices, that emit a range of different light colors, as well as red. However, we do recommend you go with the LED red light devices, because they only emit the red light wavelengths, and resemble the red light therapy the most.

Red Light Therapy

Image Source: Terry Cralle

Final Thoughts

Red light and ambient light colors are the best choices if you want to promote your sleep. We most certainly recommend you avoid blue, artificial, and bright lights in the evening and before bedtime, since they promote alertness, wakefulness and prevent the secretion of melatonin. Also, make sure not to turn all the lights in the apartment before bedtime; utilize your lamps, wall lights, and generally smaller sources of light, instead of turning on the ceiling lights. This way you will create dark areas in the perimeter, and a cozier atmosphere that will make you sleepy.

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