Impacting our Energy Levels with Light

A range of lights in various color temperatures.
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Daylight saving time is here which means one less hour in the morning to rest in bed until we can get adjusted. It's a bit rough, I tend to treat it with more coffee but there may be an easier way to help get our bodies into a wakeful mood. The human body has an incredible capability to react and adjust to changes in its environment, one of the ones that it has developed is to suppress or leave alone the production of melatonin which makes it easier to enter a relaxed and restful mood prior to sleeping.

The process works based on the light frequencies entering our eyes and tends to track with the natural progression of the sun's color changes through the day. In the morning the sun produces a much 'cooler' light which means there is more of a blue component to it. This blue aspect suppresses the body's natural production of melatonin and makes it easier to be wakeful. As the day comes to a close you get the 'golden hour' famous in photography and the wavelengths present in the sunlight have shifted to a 'warmer' end meaning there is more red to the light.The red wavelengths do not suppress our melatonin production and make it easier to fall asleep. 

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The use of lighting colors is becoming a hot topic as we look to improve our wellness and look at the impact our habits are having on our sleep. More screen time is resulting in more exposure to blue light closer to bedtime making it harder to get a restful night's sleep. Our portals to the world of information are making it harder for our bodies to fall asleep naturally.

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Melatonin suppression peaks around 460-480nm but the range from 400nm to around 580nm all have a suppressing effect. These wavelengths give pretty extreme blue light outputs which can be tough to work under so we can think about them instead within the white light range and talk about whether the light has a cool or warm color temperature. Cool white which will keep you wakeful is generally 5000K to 8300K. Warm white which is good when you are trying to rest is generally 2600K to 3700K. The color temperature numbers come from the Plankian Locus which is the path that the color of an incandescent black body would take as the black body temperature changes.

The nice thing when looking at LEDs for your project is you can tend to specify what color temperature you want. Among white LEDs you can quickly find a range from warm to cool and some marketed as daylight which try to mimic the natural spectrum of the sun. At the lower end of the power spectrum you have LEDs like the OSRAM DURIS S5 which outputs about 112 lumens, similar to a 10 to 15W bulb, and has a color temp range of 2700K to 6500K that you can specify pretty tightly. When you need more light there is the Cree XLAMP XM-L which can get up to 740 lumens, similar to a 65W light bulb, and has a color temp range from 2600K to 8300K. If you want specific light temperatures you can also work with LED manufacturers like Cree and OSRAM to have your parts binned around that temperature. By binning you end up with an averaged color temperature right around what you are looking for and if your controls are set up right you can range the temp cooler and warmer through the day by increasing power to sets of LEDs.

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Things to think about when designing your next device, do you need to help people remain alert or do you want them to be able to settle down?

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