10 Ways Lighting Influences Your Mood and Space

Lighting can affect our mood without us even knowing it. It can impact our health and wellbeing. Craig Bernecker, a professor at Parsons The New School for Design, also pointed out how lighting can influence human performance, environmental preference, perception, impressions, and behavior in work environments.

Just like how sunny days lift our mood, how we choose to light our home environment can also affect how we feel. By understanding how light affects us, we can better create spaces that promote a more balanced mood, more relaxation, and improved productivity.

First, rethink the role of lighting

Going beyond functionality, lighting is an enabler that can influence our emotions and how we relate to our space. Based on the work of John Flynn, lighting can influence our feelings of relaxation and even reinforce our perception of spaciousness. 

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In Kaplan and Kaplan’s published study titled, “The Experience of Nature: A Psychological Perspective“, they discussed ‘Environmental Cognition‘, which refers to the way we process our surroundings to find a cognitive match for the environment in our memory in order to help us interpret and understand a new environment. 

In this scenario, lighting can be used to highlight spaces, textures, and certain areas that people may find familiar to create a feeling of coherence. Highlighting areas like a comfortable reading area can resemble a library someone is fond of, or highlighting a painting makes one think of their old house. 

Lighting plays a big role in our relationship with our space. 

Lighting, like other environmental factors, can relax, excite, activate, or stress us out. We should not overlook it when it comes to designing our work and sleep environments. Understanding the effects of light enables us to design our space in a way that can help influence the right mood or behavior we want to nurture.

Here are 10 ways that lighting can affect your mood, emotions, and productivity:

1. Bright light can heighten emotions

Emotions, no matter positive or negative, can be heightened under bright light. A study shows that excessive bright lights can increase the intensity of our emotions. The effect of the increased temperature is perceived as heat, which can trigger our emotions. 

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You may observe that high illumination lights are used for expensive products such as jewels or engagement rings as it intensifies our emotions. Similarly, if you’re fond of crime movies and shows, you’ll also notice that interrogation rooms are usually very brightly lit tiny spaces. At the same time, it is best to dim down the lights when you are stressed out or when making important decisions.

When it comes to designing your home, bright lights can be used to draw eyes to an art piece, painting, or fixture you want to accentuate. Doing so can also make a small space look and feel more spacious.

2. Ambient lighting can calm you down

Yellow tones or warm lighting helps us gain deeper relaxation and feel more comfortable. It is reminiscent of the glow of a fireplace or candle. This also helps to create a cozy ambiance that can help reduce negative feelings or anxious moods.

A study shows how ambient lighting is more effective in calming anxious elderly than neutral ambiance. This is also related to the dimmed lighting that most spas use to create an ambient atmosphere for stress relief. We are more drawn to soft lighting when we seek to slow down and unwind.

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This calm and soothing lighting is often recommended for the bedroom. You can choose to use warm and dim lights to create a feeling of safety and relaxation. Pendant lights, recessed lighting, and cove lighting are great options to make your space more intimate. These lights can also be used to define a separate reading area within your room.

3. Low light levels with perimeter can create areas of privacy and intimacy

Using low lights are a great way to create intimacy in your space and set the mood for a more casual and comfortable atmosphere. Just like a candlelit table can make a couple feel like they’re the only people in the room, low light levels can create a feeling of privacy and safety.

Creating that hygge environment, this is the perfect lighting for romantic dinners, for sharing stories with an intimate group of friends over drinks, and for reading a good book.

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By positioning the lights below eye level, you can also feel more casual and at ease with your space. Table lamps or dimmed lanterns would be a good way to get this kind of lighting indoors while string lights would be ideal for outdoor patios.

4. Proper lighting attracts attention

Lighting tells you where to look. In Eugene W. Sucov and Lyle H. Taylor’s study, The Movement of People Towards Lights, they found that when people had to cross a path, they tend to take the one that is more brightly lit compared to a dimly lit pathway.

This goes to show that increasing relative brightness can create a focal point within a space. Inside a space, it can be used to attract people towards a particular point or design in the room. In public spaces, like movie theatres, museums, and airplanes, it can assist in wayfinding.

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5. Cooler color tones can help with work/visual clarity

Lighting can also be an enabler of task performance. In this case, blue light is utilized to make you feel more alert and productive. It also promotes cognitive activity as it strengthens the connection between the brain areas involved in the process of emotions, language, reasoning, and attention.

A study conducted by the Brigham and Women’s Hospital determined that blue light stimulates the brain more than any other light. Participants of the study rated themselves as less sleepier, had quicker reaction times and fewer attention lapses during performance tests. 

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Blue-enriched LED lights are an effective way to counter morning drowsiness especially for rooms with insufficient daylighting.

Using blue-enriched LED lighting in home offices and study rooms is a good hack to improve your productivity while working or studying. However, it is important to note that while this is good in terms of boosting alertness and productivity, exposure to blue light reduces melatonin and may affect your circadian rhythm.

6. Blue light affects our sleep

Our circadian rhythm is a part of the body’s internal clock that helps coordinate sleep cycles. For this reason, our circadian rhythms are closely linked with night and day. Light plays a big role in influencing that cycle – light exposure during the day signals our biological clock to stay alert while night time signals our biological clock to initiate the production of melatonin.

Exposure to blue light before bedtime disrupts the natural production of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep. That’s why exposure to blue light, or bright light, before bedtime can shift your sleep cycles which may cause you to end up falling asleep later.

In the study, The Effects of Blue Light Filtration on Sleep and Work Outcomes, Gurana concludes that using blue light glasses before sleeping can “create a form of physiologic darkness, thus improving both sleep quantity and quality“. 

However, the best way to manage blue light is to lower exposure well before bedtime. This will not only give your eyes a break, but it will also reduce stimulation. Pair this with blackout curtains that cut external light and create a darker environment to promote relaxation and foster the right mindset for sleep.

7. Natural light can be a mood booster

Natural light can help you feel more energetic, alert, and motivated as it increases your serotonin levels.

According to Liberman in his book, Light: Medicine of the Future, “the majority of humans prefer a daylit environment because sunlight consists of a balanced spectrum of color, with its energy peaking slightly in the blue-green area of the visible spectrum“. 

In Daylighting: Design and Analysis, Robbins states that exposure to natural lighting promotes better mood, enhanced morale, and lower fatigue. It reduces symptoms of depression and improves our sense of well-being.

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As such, lighting design is an important factor in setting the mood for a space. Studies have shown that exposure to natural light has a positive impact on performance, mood, and well-being. Productivity is higher in well daylighted workspaces than in workspaces that only use artificial light. It enhances performance and creates a better indoor experience.

According to Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist, consistent exposure to natural light in the morning and avoiding light as we approach the evening can also help anchor our cortisol and melatonin rhythms to the circadian cycle. Doing so can help remedy stress and anxiety in our day-to-day lives.

To use more natural lighting in your home, maximize the use of windows and biophilic design elements such as the use of outdoor seating, thin furniture that doesn’t obstruct the flow of light, and open plan spaces that use natural light for illumination. This can help foster a more positive environment for work-from-home setups.

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8. Lighting can affect your appetite

Manipulating environmental light exposure for humans may represent a novel approach of influencing food intake patterns and metabolism,” Ivy Cheung

Studies have found that as softer lighting can make us less alert, we are more likely to eat at a leisurely pace and also more likely to order unhealthy foods in restaurants with dimmer lighting. On the other hand, exposure to blue light before and during your evening meal can cause higher hunger levels.

A study showed that ambient lighting can also influence how wine tastes. It goes on to conclude that we tend to perceive the wine to be pleasant when we are exposed to pleasant lighting conditions.

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9. Using the right color temperature can set the right mood

Color temperature measures the warmness and coolness of light. A high color temperature triggers the release of serotonin which can make us feel more alert and energetic. While a low color temperature triggers the production of melatonin which causes us to relax and slow down. Adjusting our lighting at home to high or low color temperatures can help us create the right mood.

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Based on The Light Bulb, using different color temperatures can also create a visible difference in the appearance, feel, and functionality of any space.

  • Very warm white and warm white – equivalent to the color temperature of dawn, dusk, and candlelight so it’s ideal for creating a warm and cozy environment. These are suited for creating relaxing spaces to wind down.
  • Cool white- This kind of lighting can trigger us to stay alert and focus on performing tasks. This is good for creating a productive work environment.
  • Daylight – This emits a color similar to sunlight so it can help create a vibrant and energetic mood. This lighting range is best for reading and utility areas.

Today’s LED lights provide dynamic color tuning systems that allow users to control their light based on their preference and application. It is possible to follow the sun’s natural east-to-west course throughout the day to replicate natural lighting.

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10. Colored lighting enhances the impact of color

Just like how the color of a room can affect our mood, colored lighting also acts as a cue that can impact how we feel. Green lighting can enhance learning and concentration, yellow lighting can create a relaxed and cozy atmosphere, and orange lighting can increase mental activity.

White is negative; the convalescent needs the therapeutic reaction of the positive colors that nature has spread so lavishly for her children. … Our eyes were made to find rest and contentment in soft greens, pale blues, an occasional touch of red, but above all, the glorious golden yellow of the sunshine.” – William Ludlow, architect advocating the use of color in modern hospitals.

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Faber Birren’s work on Psychological Implications of Color and Illumination, makes a case of using different lighting indoors to create pleasing spaces. It also touches on how cooler hues (blue, green, turquoise) and lower brightness make it easier to concentrate on difficult visual and mental tasks and the conditions we can set to replicate natural lighting.

Light is the finishing touch that can affect the look and feel of your room or space. Use lighting to influence your mood, help manage it and enhance your behavior.

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