Ever leave a large public venue feeling tired and just off? Like a department store, grocery store, or even a gym. You didn’t feel mentally or physically lethargic before entering, but somehow left a walking zombie. You probably haven’t even considered the true culprit:Bad light destroys our health in the same way as junk food. Click To Tweet
What’s bad light?
Light incompatible with our evolutionary biology.
And the modern era has changed our relationship with light. Instead of alternating between healthy light (like the sun) and shade, we now spend our days inside buildings designed to shield from natural light. Light bulbs keep us productive into the wee hours. Until recently, light bulbs mimicked the sun.
Light conveys information to the deepest levels of your biology. Each ray can be healing and health-promoting, or damaging and health degrading.
What is Light?
Light falls into a spectrum between the invisible ultraviolet on one side, and invisible (but felt) infrared on the other. We can see everything in the middle of the spectrum ranging from violet to red (pictured above).
The sun’s light spectrum shifts throughout the day, giving sun-dwellers exposure to each of the different spectrums. Humans evolved alongside sunlight. We’re great at handling it.
Similar to the way you form skin calluses to protect against friction and pressure, you form “sun calluses” to light. This explains how outdoors workers can withstand entire days under the sun, but the weekend office-working warrior gets burnt to a crisp in a matter of hours.
Generally red and infrared light is most healing.
The two most important factors when considering any light are brightness and spectrum.
Technological breakthroughs have made light more “efficient”. A process done by concentrating certain colors and removing others. Our electricity bill isn’t the only thing decreasing.
How Junk Light Impacts Your Biology
Blue light isn’t bad.
Contrary to what you’ll hear by the blue-blocking crowd, the sun naturally produces it during the brightest hours of the day. Proper exposure reinforces a healthy circadian rhythm. Today, most of us get plenty from artificial sources.
But at the wrong time it can ruin sleep. Laptops, phones, and TVs are big sources, but not the only.
Light bulbs too.
Some junk light may appear a warmer (yellowish) hue, but it’s really highly concentrated blue light. Too much exposure does a number on your body:
- Weakens your eyes so you’ll need glasses sooner.
- Damages your retina.
- Disrupts your sleep and circadian rhythm.
Junk light drains your brainpower.
Screens and bad lights both flicker on and off at rates of around 20,000 times per second. You don’t perceive it thanks to behind-the-scenes work. Your brain expends huge amounts of power to filter out this rapid flickering.
Don’t believe me?
You can see this effect yourself by videoing the light. It’s easiest to spot with old phones (have an iPhone 4 handy?), as newer ones have better filtering software.
Flicker is a stressor.
Your skin contains photoreceptors, sensory cells that react to the presence of light. Neurosurgeon Jack Kruse partially attributes muscle pulls and hamstring issues, headaches, increased risk of concussion, and other muscle-skeletal injuries to bad lighting:
“Fluorescent lights and LED lights are always found in professional gyms, sports team facilities, and in film rooms. Most use them because they believe they are energy efficient but they have no idea they are harming the redox potential of their star athletes. Light from these sources penetrates the skin directly to cause damage to muscle below…”
The more digital our lives become, the higher our risk.
Flicker also impacts your productivity. Lighting expert Dr. Alexander Wunsch explained on a podcast that junk light can reduce your productivity by 20 percent.
Other documented effects of flicker include:
- Visual effects
- Both neurological and physiological symptoms
It’s becoming clear that the danger of bad light extends beyond your vision.
Designing Your Perfect Light Environment
Time to put our knowledge to practice.
We’ll transform you light in environment in two steps:
- Ruthlessly eliminating junk light
- Adding lots of good light
First, comes the worst junk light offenders.
Worst Sources of Junk Light (to Replace)
Here we have the hidden health sabbateurs.
You’ll notice a pattern with sources of junk light. They’re:
- Newer lighting technologies.
- Brighter, putting out more LUX, a measure of light power.
- Ubiquitous throughout modern life.
None of these deserve any place in your life. You cannot always remove them in public spaces (but you can protect yourself). Your home environment can become a high-quality sanctuary. Remove and shield yourself against these junk artificial lights.
Fluorescents, CFLs, and LEDs
Surprised these newer technologies made the naughty list?
I was too until I looked into how they work.
They save energy in two ways:
- Heavily concentrating the damaging blue light emissions
- Flickering, or turning on and off very quickly
These two “features” qualify them as junk light. All above side effects apply.
In addition, LEDs & fluorescents excel at interfering with your sleep. Why?
Merely 200 LUX suppresses melatonin production. They put out a lot more.
An app called myLux pegs an LED lamp in my apartment at about 34,000 LUX, the same amount as direct sun exposure during the daytime!
The light didn’t look that bright, so I wouldn’t have ever known. A sleep wrecker that I otherwise wouldn’t have known.
Screens & Technology
You know that person ahead of you in the movies? The one inconspicuously texting throughout the film? Not aware of their neon-blue glowing seat.
iPhones are notoriously bright.Dimming your iPhone solves the brightness issue, but drastically worsens screen flicker. You've just traded one problem for another. Click To Tweet
Or you can setup your phone to add a red hue overlay.
It’s an imperfect bandaid.
Better yet, my two favorite options to use technology with greater peace of mind are blue blocking glasses, and special software.
Wear Blue-Blocking Glasses
Sometimes you have to venture out of your melatonin-protected sanctuary, into a world overpowered by bright (blue) light. Blue-blocking glasses to the rescue.
Blue-blockers do exactly what you would expect: they filter out blue light. With less blue light, melatonin can remain elevated as it should through the night. There are lots of good brands from super cheap to premium options.
No glasses are perfect. They block most but not all blue light. Quality products usually block more of it. As an added bonus, sometimes they block other melatonin-disrupting (to a lesser extent) spectrums like green.
I rock these most nights or when I enter areas with bad lighting, like warehouse grocery stores.
Use IrisTech Software
I won’t lie; I log a lot of hours in front of my computer. I’m unlikely to stop anytime soon.Advanced software called IrisTech offsets most of the damage caused by heavy laptop use, even at night. Click To Tweet
Like f.lux, macOS’s NightShift, and other software in the category, IrisTech reduces how much blue light your laptop emits.
But IrisTech goes far beyond the others.
So much so that I recently wrote an IrisTech review post. This software does some pretty neat things:
- Uses special technology to offset retina-destroying LED screen flicker.
- It allows a wider morning/evening color spectrum.
- Prevents eye strain.
- Reduces eye pain.
- Works everywhere (including external monitors, docking stations and projectors).
Filtered Natural Sunlight
One small change ruins sunlight. It instantly turns into junk light.
The one ruiner?
That’s why truck drivers faces age faster on one side.Sun rays coming through windows might feel good. They turn an otherwise beneficial healer into another junk toxin. Click To Tweet
Recall from earlier that infrared light provides signals and healing information to the body in response to light exposure. Infrared makes up 40 percent of sunlight. Glass filters out all healing infrared light.
Ultraviolet light comes in three forms: UVA, UVB, and UVC. We’ll focus on the more researched first two:
- Too much UVA penetrates deep and ages your cells. It isn’t all bad though.
- UVB helps your body manufacture vitamin D. UVB also gives us the telltale sign of sunburning — a signal to seek shade. That’s the issue.
Unless you like the leather-skinned look of a beach dweller, filtered light won’t help.
Without infrared light or UVB, sunlight lacks the beneficial healing properties while penetrating deeply and accelerating your aging.
Premium lighting has survived the test of time. Enjoy any of these best old-school lighting technologies.
Best Lighting Options
There are three great light sources.
- One natural: sunlight
- Two man-made: incandescent & halogen.
These two artificial light sources provide the full spectrum of light, so they use more power than CFLs or LEDs. I came up with a great hack to reduce electricity usage: I turn them off when I leave the room ;).
Macular degeneration and starting a lifetime of reliance glasses at an earlier age isn’t necessarily cheap or good for the environment either.
What do the Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, Incans, and Assyrians have in common?
They all practiced Heliotherapy: sun exposure prescribed as a cure for various ailments.
Sans any glass windows. Completely out in the open.
Without adequate sun we’re more vulnerable to:
- Autoimmune thyroid disorder
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
- Multiple sclerosis
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Cardiovascular disease
- 25 types of cancer
Clearly no laughing matter.
Just ten minutes on bare skin in the morning or evening can make a big difference.
Aesthetically and biologically pleasing. An original form of lighting.
For several years, only stockpilers had access to these eye-savers.
Banned in the USA by the Obama administration, Trump recently reintroduce Incandescent lighting.
Incandescent bulbs look good and come in countless different color spectrums. You can find something good for every room.
When choosing a product, make sure it isn’t actually an LED in disguise. I like this brand.
Halogen is more complicated.
They are more expensive to install and operate. Quite a bit more expensive.
You see them in use every day. Halogens power most car headlights, stage lighting, and projectors.
Even more than incandescent bulbs, halogens mimic the spectrum of the sun, sometimes including small amounts of UV.
Before rushing out to re-outfit your entire house with halogens, you should know a few things:
- Heat is an issue. Since they emit large amounts of infrared light (heat), the bulbs get quite hot.
- Safe. Unlike other bulbs, halogen lamps do not contain mercury.
- Glass filters out most UV. For use in bedrooms, and other places you spend time before sleep, consider shielding the bulb with glass.
- Bright & light. Halogens illuminate effectively at a higher color temperature. They put out a lot of light. Great for workstations.
I’ve stuck primarily to incandescents, so I cannot recommend any brands.
Your Natural & Artificial Light Therapy Plan
Armed with the right lighting, let’s dig into what you can actually do to tip the scales in your favor.
I like to think about my exposure to light in three parts:
- Sunrise through morning
- Throughout the work-day
- Sundown through sleep
Your circadian rhythm aligns with the sun, so it makes sense to align your light exposure accordingly. Even when you plan on spending time indoors.
How does natural sunlight color and brightness change throughout the day?
Red —> Blue —> Red
Dim —> Bright —> Dim
Natural environments shift (very slowly) between the above stages, on a second-by-second basis.
I build my environments accordingly with either incandescent or halogen lights (when I had them):
My bedroom has the reddest (2000K) bulbs I could find. They are dim and barely light up the room. Very conducive to gently falling asleep and waking up.
My home office has two types of lights, both brighter and more blue than the bedroom.
- One is a dim transition light (4000K).
- The other is powerful and very blue (6000K).
I start and end my work day with the 4000K bulbs, and throughout the middle of the day use 6000K lighting.
Make One Healthy Lighting Change Today
All these changes can seem overwhelming.Cheap and easy lighting changes can eliminate bad lighting, protect our sleep, keep us protective, prevent injury, and save our eyes. Click To Tweet
While the cleanest setup includes nothing but the best lighting, make one change and get started today. Then, when you sleep like a baby and wake up feeling great, you will feel motivated to continue on biohacking your environment lighting.
- Remove: Eliminate as many sources of LED lighting as possible.
- Replace: Change out LEDs with more natural incandescent or halogen options.
- Shield: On the devices necessary to your life, shield with software, glasses, or both.
What does your lighting setup look like?