How to use light to support your wellbeing

Kathryn Wheeler
By Kathryn Wheeler,
updated on Dec 5, 2021

How to use light to support your wellbeing

Capture the wellbeing effect of this powerful photon, and let there be light

Most of us have experienced a shift in mood that comes with spending time in particular environments, but it’s not always immediately obvious what specific factor is influencing that change. That said, the chances are it could have something to do with the way that a space is lit and, here, we’re exploring how light impacts our mood, and delving into what you can do to harness that knowledge in order to make practical adjustments to your environment.

Natural light

A favourite on home-hunting TV shows, natural light gets a lot of hype, and for good reason. In a survey by the Harvard Business Review, 47% of employees reported that they feel tired or very tired from the absence of natural light or a window at their office, and 43% report feeling gloomy because of the lack of light – additionally, several studies have examined the way that artificial, fluorescent light can trigger our stress response. And if that wasn’t enough, natural light also boosts our vitamin D levels, can help those struggling with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and even improve our sleep patterns.

Besides completely overhauling a space, mirrors bring bountiful light into a home. You could also suggest ‘walking meetings’ to colleagues, arrange furniture at home and in a workplace so that it’s near to windows, and take breaks outside with mindful walks.

If you’re planning on getting out and about to soak up some rays, multiple studies have also found that doing so in the morning can be extra effective for improving our health – in particular for addressing depression, anxiety, sleep, and SAD. So, a quick walk in the morning, or even just stepping outside and breathing in the fresh air, could be a great way to start the day.


Artificial blue light

Blue light is a high energy, high-frequency light that primarily comes from sunlight during the day, but is constantly emitted by LED lights and technology such as televisions, phones, computers, and tablets. Inevitably a staple part of our lives, it’s the artificial blue light that you should be relatively wary of.

Blue light signals to our brains to lower the levels of melatonin – the hormone that regulates our sleep-wake cycle. This disruption to our circadian rhythms can inevitably affect our sleep patterns, perhaps leading us to have trouble drifting off, or disturbed and restless nights. Additionally, an imbalance of hormones can also impact our mood, exaggerating anxiety and depression.

This said, artificial blue light is sometimes used to help treat SAD – replicating the natural light we get on brighter days – and may be done in the form of lightboxes. It can also be used to help those who are trying to adjust to night shift work, and blue light therapy has even been used to support those with Alzheimer’s and dementia, with studies finding that when used in this context, artificial blue light can improve sleep, depression, and agitation in older adults.

Don’t get duped by popular blue light glasses (these glasses are targeted at people who work on computers, and claim to filter out blue light – unfortunately, they do no such thing), but do consider the ways that you come into contact with blue light throughout your day, and try to stay away from tech for at least an hour before going to sleep at night.

Red light

If your mind automatically goes to ‘red light district’, you’re on the right track with this one, as a growing body of research into red light therapy finds that it has the potential to boost our libidos. Studies into this phenomenon actually first began in the 1930s, and since then have continued to confirm that testosterone (the sex hormone that gets those of all genders in the mood) levels can be increased with light therapy.

So, what is it about red light that is particularly effective? Well, there are a couple of theories. Firstly, when the body absorbs red and near-infrared light, it increases adenosine triphosphate, or ATP (a compound that provides the energy that drives the processes in living cells) which, in turn, increases energy and hormone production.

Another theory from a 2016 study by the University of Siena, in Italy, believes that light therapy blocks the pineal gland in the brain (a small gland that regulates some hormones, including melatonin), which results in the production of more testosterone.

On a more holistic level, red is the colour of passion and romance, power and seduction. So it’s easy to see how introducing a dash of red into the bedroom can help set the mood for amorous activities.

Bright light

In 2014, a study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology asked participants to rate the aggressiveness of a fictional person, the attractiveness of three women, and the appeal of a selection of spicy chicken wing sauces. What the researchers found was that, overall, volunteers who were sat in a brightly lit room judged the character as more aggressive, the women more attractive, and expressed a preference for spicier chicken wing sauces. What the researchers concluded was that being exposed to bright light enhances our emotions – both positive and negative ones.

Reflecting on what we already know about the ways that light can increase our awareness and energy levels, it all comes together to make a lot of sense – and you can see how in a brighter room where we are more alert, our emotions might also be heightened. Likewise, in a low-lit room, we might feel calm and relaxed, and able to deal with the things that come our way.

"Being exposed to bright light enhances our emotions – both positive and negative ones"

Warm and cool light

In a similar way that bright and dim lights can affect our mood, so does warm and cool. The warmth or coolness of light isn’t to do with the temperature, instead, it’s the tone – with warm light tending to be yellows and oranges, and cool light more white and blue.

Cooler lights have been found to make us more productive, and create a stimulating environment, whereas warm lights create a relaxed and welcoming space. It’s a technique that’s actually utilised in retail, with lighting regularly used to try to influence shoppers (think about cool-lit bargain-hunting stores that need to get as many people as possible in and out, versus warm luxury stores where browsing at your own pace is encouraged). Additionally, workplaces and schools often use cool lighting – though this could potentially be a contributing factor to fatigue.

Back at home, if you have certain spaces for activity (kitchens and studies) that would benefit from a spark of energy, you may opt for cool bulbs. Likewise, warm, relaxed living rooms make for calm and welcoming socialising spaces.

So, that’s what the researchers say about light and the ways that it can affect our wellbeing – now’s the time to reflect on your own relationship with your environment. What kind of space leaves you feeling energised, soothed, safe, and confident? And how can you adjust the light in your day to optimise your mood? The benefits are clear to see, so why not provide yourself with some light relief? It sounds like a bright idea!

To connect with a life coach to find out more about how your environment can affect your wellbeing, visit lifecoach-directory.org.uk

Join 100,000+ subscribers

Stay in the loop with everything Happiful

We care about your data, read our privacy policy
Our vision

We’re on a mission to create a healthier, happier, more sustainable society.