What Color Light Helps You Sleep? Science has the Answer!

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We’ve all been taught that light in any form is bad for your sleep. We throw around phrases like “lights out” and make it known that light—streetlights, lamplight, and blue light alike—mess with our sleep. It makes sense, of course, that light would be considered almost the antithesis of sleep. This may be largely true, but the issue gets a little less black-and-white when it comes to colored LED lights.

The glowing decorations have been growing in popularity in recent years, lining almost every teen and young adult’s bedroom walls across the globe. Many just put them up to create a calming atmosphere to enhance time spent with friends, and it’s common to fall asleep with them still on. However, a few people may wonder if these glowing strips have an impact on sleep. Do the lights make a difference, and does it really matter if you bathe your room in a blue, red, green, or purple glow? As always, we are no strangers to consulting the science of sleep.

Best color light for sleep

The Psychology of Color and Light

There are a few decent reasons behind the common reluctance to sleep with the lights on, and a big one is melatonin, “the sleep hormone.” As a key ingredient to our circadian rhythm, it is gradually produced in greater quantities as the hours grow later. In order to understand melatonin, we must understand the pineal gland, our brain’s chief producer of melatonin. This gland is only able to release the hormone after receiving a signal from our light receptors (hosted in our eyes) that it’s getting dark. However, bright light disrupts melatonin production, as our nervous systems treat it like daylight. When this happens, we often have to wait for melatonin production to start up again, throwing off our bedtime and our ability to stay asleep. For similar reasons, we generally advise staying off your smartphone and dimming bright bedroom lights in the hour before bed. 

We have plenty of cultural and psychological associations with color, and we’ve even talked about the best bedroom wall colors for sleep before. We may associate blue with serenity, green with vitality, red with aggression, purple with spirituality and yellow with joy. It’s not unreasonable to infer that perhaps your personal associations with color may help you sleep; maybe if your room is bathed in your favourite hue, you’ll feel a bit more at ease. However, popular associations with color aren’t necessarily the same as our sensory experiences with colored light. 

Even then, experiences with colored light may differ depending on the individual. According to a 2017 study, sleep study participants who slept under the glow of their preferred color of light fell asleep up to ten minutes faster than those who fell asleep in the dark, under white light, or under a randomly-selected colored light. Of course, this data was collected within the context of a monitored, unfamiliar test room with EEG sensors, so we can’t be one hundred percent sure that the results would be the same in a typical bedroom. Perhaps participants who were given the agency to choose their own color fell asleep faster due to a greater sense of security and peace of mind.

So, What Color Light Makes you Sleepy?

1) Red

The matadors wear red to aggravate bulls, so you might be surprised to learn that red light has been widely deemed the most relaxing light color for sleep. In stark contrast to most forms of artificial light, red light may actually increase melatonin production, improving sleep quality and length as per a 2012 study. This study, performed on Chinese female basketball players, also showed increased endurance performance the next day. This makes sense considering the correlation between a good night’s sleep and your physical fitness and energy. In fact, the study’s authors even concluded that red light irradiation had potential as a sleep disorder treatment.

In fact, red light therapy devices are now widely available online for people who struggle to fall asleep at night. As a cost-efficient alternative to seeking professional sleep therapy, customers can sit under a nice red glow for about 10-20 minutes each night to help them fall asleep. 

2) Pink

Technically, pink could help you sleep because it’s a combination of purple and red, both warm or potentially warm colors. If you’d like a softer glow at night, pink might be worth trying out. However, there’s no currently available research backing pink’s viability as a sleep aid.

Which Color Lights Are the Worst for Sleep?

1) Blue

Most of us are no strangers to the dangers of blue light from screen-based electronics. In the past, we’ve talked about the risk factors of falling asleep next to your phone, one of them being blue light. This kind of blue light keeps us up for longer and makes our sleep cycle overall less fulfilling. As we discussed earlier, the pineal gland is reliant on photoreceptors to induce or halt melatonin production. A 2017 studies review revealed that these photoreceptors are especially responsive to light with a wavelength falling between 450 to 480 nanometers (nm), which looks blue to most of us. There’s a reason why night lights are usually warm-toned—cool colors tend to wake us up. 

To mitigate the effects of techy blue light, you can download a blue light filter app on your phone, invest in blue light glasses, or at least lower your brightness on your phone. Fluorescent bulbs tend to emit a cool-toned light, so we recommend warm-toned light bulbs. 

Similar effects have been mirrored on studies of mice, showing that blue light delayed sleep for them as well. Mice also experienced delayed sleep under the influence of violet light, but not to the same extent as those influenced by blue light. However, it should be noted that mice are generally nocturnal and color-blind, so their mechanisms may be a bit different. 

2) Green

While green light doesn’t have the exact same effect as blue, it still has a significant effect on sleep. Despite its calming effects, green is a highly energizing color, often used by gamers to improve alertness late into the night. Green is exceptionally visible in the dark, so it could be a viable alternative to white light or pure darkness if you’re working late on a project.

Benefits of Colored Lighting

We are not telling anyone to ditch their well-loved LEDs. In fact, there can be plenty of benefits to wakefulness-inducing lights. As we mentioned earlier, green can be a helpful way of boosting alertness for late-night work, and blue can have a calming effect while also helping to keep you awake. In addition, a soft pink or orange might offer a soft way to wake up in the morning, boosting your alertness without assaulting you with a harsh glare. 

Final Thoughts

For many, no light is the best light. If this sounds like you, we recommend investing in blackout curtains and sleep masks. But if you feel that lighting helps you sleep, we have some of the best answers for you. Warm colors, in general, win out over cool ones. Blue is especially likely to keep you up, while red is especially likely to help you sleep. Things get a little bit muddier when consulting all the other colors, but as evidenced earlier, sometimes leaving things up to your own personal discretion is best!

FAQs

Exposure to green light may negatively impact your sleep. However, there are conflicting researches on the impact of green light on sleep. A 1991 study claims that green light hinders sleep, while a 2016 study finds it otherwise.

Purple colour can be too stimulating and affects melatonin production. So it’s best to avoid pink lights if you’re eyeing a restful sleep.

The current research and evidence indicate that red light might be the most conducive and relaxing color for sleep. Red light induces calmness, helps you relax and may help you sleep better. Red light may allow your sleep cycle to transition naturally from evening to sleep time.

Your best bet would be a red led light. It’s the least disruptive among all wavelengths when it comes to sleep. At the same time, some research indicates that the low color temperature of red light can have a soothing effect on the body.

Michelle Foley

Michelle Foley

Michelle Foley is a Yale student with deep interests in cognitive science, English, and the visual Arts. As an avid psychology enthusiast, she is highly interested in learning about the effects of sleep quality on our behaviors, moods, and health. She is passionate about equitable access to education, much of which includes the provision of quality sleep environments to students and other young people so they have the opportunity to show up in their classes and lives as their best and healthiest selves.

She was raised in the United States by a father who possesses a lifelong and near-militaristic focus on getting his nightly nine-plus hours, and now she strives for the same so she can happily paint and explore nature in her free time. In fact, a lot of her artwork is sleep-themed, featuring reclining figures and dreaming characters. She hopes to further explore rest-related topics in her future art and writing.

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