At 8 p.m., the windows of Willard Residential College form a colorful mosaic of purple, blue and green squares. Tinting every visible surface of a room, these strong colored lights create every imaginable ambiance, ranging from an angsty red to a La La Land indigo. The appliances responsible for creating these atmospheres are LED strip and string lights, advertised as “essentials” and “must-haves” by Dormify, New York Magazine and practically every college vlogger on YouTube.
Lighting affects moods. People tend to feel energetic when it’s sunny out and more lethargic when it’s cloudy, said Gwen Grossman, principal of GGLD Lighting Design in Chicago. Northwestern University Recreation even offers white light therapy services in SPAC, which according to their website helps treat Seasonal Affective Disorder, a condition associated with reduced sunlight in the fall and winter.
As we recover from the storms and polar vortexes of winter, many of us are in need of a change in environment. Here’s a guide to simple, affordable ways to revitalize your dorm or apartment through lighting.
1. Temperature matters.
When lighting mimics the sun, it helps us maintain a healthy circadian rhythm, the natural process that manages our sleep cycle. Color temperature, which is an indicator of the look and feel of light, is crucial in creating suitable lighting environments. In order to adjust to day and night, different temperature bulbs are useful for different times of day. This doesn’t mean switching out your bulbs every few hours. Instead, know which time of day each light source will be used for, and pick your bulbs accordingly.
Light temperature, measured in Kelvin, has a wide spectrum. 1,800 K mimics candlelight, while 5,600-6,000 K is very cold and blue, says Grossman. A typical residential lamp is around 2,700 K, and a typical office lamp is 3,500 K. According to University College London’s Slade School of Fine Arts, daylight has a temperature of 5,000-6,500 K. This would mean that a cooler temperature bulb would provide clarity during the day, whereas you would opt for a softer, warmer light during the nighttime, says lighting designer Kiersten Hoiland of Hoiland Studios.
For the best lighting climate, Hoiland recommends you to “splurge a little on a better quality bulb and then get slightly cheaper, from Home Goods or something, actual fixtures.”
2. Separating work and play
Dorm rooms and student apartment bedrooms come with one, sometimes two windows. Aside from positioning your desk next to natural light sources, Grossman suggests using a cool overhead light and a desk lamp to create an effective work environment. Hoiland says that in college, she had a desk lamp with a cooler color temperature and one upwards-facing light to fill the space with ambient light.
Hoiland also suggests having dimmer, warmer environments for relaxation time. She recommends bulbs which are around 2,700 K. Color rendering, which reveals how well subtle variations in color shades are revealed, is another factor to consider. A bulb with a high (90% and above) Color Rendering Index will help make skin tones look more alive and less grayed out. Hoiland says dimming the ambient light source down to a low level for 30-60 minutes before bed helps the body unwind and prepare for sleep.
3. Aim lights at vertical surfaces
Want to brighten up your space without buying new appliances? Aim your lights at your colorful wall art or brightly colored spaces and cabinets to better illuminate your space.
According to Hoiland, we perceive light more so on vertical surfaces rather than horizontal surfaces. You’re not going to experience the effects of lighting on the ground until you stand directly under it, Hoiland says. It’s like being onstage; only the person standing under the spotlight is illuminated, and everything else is dark.
4. Invest in versatile colored lights.
Weinberg fourth-year Michael Ma hung three separate string lights to give his tiny apartment bedroom a warm, cozy feel. He installed one set of small white lantern lights framing his window, one set of white string lights wrapped around a metal circle statue and one set of colored lights in a dark green wine bottle.
These colored string lights are no secret to college students, but multifunctional color-changing bulbs are less popular. Grossman recommends the Phillips brand Hue White & Color Ambiance bulb, which is a smart bulb you can manipulate the color of through apps on your phone. At $49.99 from Best Buy, the Hue bulb can be an investment bulb, but it’s an easy way to adjust your home lighting to different occasions; Grossman said that for Halloween, she set her Hue bulb to an orange color.
5. Don’t forget about blue light
Light from your electronic devices is also light, and it’s damaging to your sleep cycle. In a study comparing the effects of 6.5 hours of blue light exposure to green light of similar brightness, Harvard researchers found that blue light suppresses melatonin (the hormone that influences our circadian rhythms) for twice as long.
Hoiland says that avoiding screen time for at least half an hour before bed helps her sleep better. Simple ways to reduce exposure include wearing blue-light reducing glasses and turning on night mode on your phone.
Lighting, although crucial to helping us perform our day-to-day functions, rarely gets the recognition it deserves. In addition to helping us create more pleasant physical spaces, proper lighting can be beneficial to our overall health and sleep cycles.