How Does Light Color Affect Your Brain During Work? [Science Backed]

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Modern simple office with trestle desk

Each morning you start out on track to achieve an empty e-mail inbox, completing your to-do list and staying ahead of the curve on your daily goals.

Then, sometimes in the form of a daydream about an unrelated task, a news article that persuades you to jump down a rabbit hole, or the cat sits on your keyboard, the sidetrack monster steps in and you’ve lost your flow.

And so it was in search for something to help us improve concentration that we found ourselves wondering whether a simple trick of light, being exposed to cool light in particular, could lend itself to curbing distraction.

From our research the answer is yes, cool light can be used to prevent distraction and remain focused in the workplace and here’s how you can apply this hack to your own office.  

How does light affect the brain when working?

There is widespread acceptance that light and lighting has a direct association with worker performance and along with other factors contribute to productivity levels.

A little background information here goes a long way to help explain just why considering light temperature as well as light colour is important to get the most out of our efforts.

The temperature of light is measured in Kelvin (K), a unit derived from the colour an object emits as it gradually increases in temperature.

At the lower end of the Kelvin scale are warm colours from the start of the colour spectrum. Think orange and yellow hues from a newly started wood fuelled fire.

The highest colour temperatures on the other hand reflect the appearance of an object that has been heated until it is white hot, so has cool tones from the blue-violet end of the colour spectrum.

The Kelvin scale is useful to understand as ultimately it helps us relate to how light is directly correlated with melatonin, the hormone found naturally in our bodies that regulates our sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm.

The presence of light decreases melatonin production and signals to our bodies that it’s time to wake up. During daylight hours the level of melatonin in our bloodstream is greatly reduced as the pineal gland remains inactive.

Not until we are present in a dimly lit environment once more does the pineal gland reactivate and once more release melatonin into the blood stream.

Warm light vs cool light

So what kind of exposure to light do you need in order to use it to help you work better?

Well, the answer to that question depends on what kind of setting you wish to create within your home office.

For example, warm lighting creates a sense of comfort and relaxation, which are ideal if your home office is designed to be a place of calm relaxation. Perhaps you wish to create a cozy writers studio where you can lose yourself in a wave of creativity.

Or perhaps you absolutely need to be alert and fully engaged to quickly pick up on any mistakes during a data heavy task such as programming. For this scenario cool lighting would definitely help reduce fatigue inducing melatonin levels to their lowest levels.

If you find yourself shopping for light bulbs in the future look out for a Kelvin (K) rating value on the packaging or product description.

Light colour temperature can be rated anywhere in a scale of between 1,000 – 10,000K. Typically warm light is classed as having a Kelvin of between 2,000 – 3,000K whereas blue white light that mimics daylight is over 6,500K.

Should I use warm light or cool light in the home office?

Light can affect our innate biological processes, and here’s how we can use that to our advantage whilst working…

  1. Ideally, position your desk or work surface so that you’re exposed to natural light. This doesn’t need to be right up against a window sill but at least within a room that is flooded with bright light for as long as possible during working hours.
  2. If natural light is proving difficult to come by, if for example you smartly occupy an otherwise unused space such as a corridor or storage room, it is possible to reduce fatigue and increase with artificial lighting. Blue-enriched light bulbs that mimic cool colour tones were found to result in workers reporting they were happier, more alert and feeling less sleepy during working hours.
  3. If you’re unsure what colour temperatures you are being exposed to it is possible to use the White Balance Color Temp App for Android phones, or the Lumu Light Meter for iPhones to check if you are working in warm or cool light.
  4. Not really a design tip but more a good habit to practice. Head outside to be exposed to uninhibited natural light during lunch breaks whenever you can.

Bonus Tip!! If you find yourself working into the wee hours and want to wind down, adjust your night light settings on your monitor to reduce the colour temperature of your screen and invite sleep to take you away.

Chris Dosser

Chris Dosser

Co-Founder of Eden Indoors

Enjoys sharing solutions to problems encountered whilst building and improving his own home office over the past 8 years. Environmental graduate with a love for biophilic design at home and houseplants. Obsessive about making information easier to understand and simpler to digest.

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