How Cheap Light Bulbs Let Me Sleep Soundly

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Feng Yu /

Having trouble sleeping? Installing some cheap light bulbs might be just the trick you need to blissfully escape to dreamland.

I’ve dealt with insomnia since my teens, buying many purported sleep aids and trying many lifestyle tweaks along the way. That’s why I ditched “cool” fluorescent light bulbs for “warm” LED bulbs last year.

It pained my inner miser to buy new light bulbs to replace the bulbs that came with my apartment. Ultimately, though, I knew that even a small improvement in my quality of sleep was well worth the cost of a handful of light bulbs.

Along with a sunrise-simulating alarm clock — I own the Philips Wake-up Light HF3510 — extra-warm light bulbs are probably the only sleep gadgets I’ve bought that I would recommend.

Melatonin vs. blue light

It’s not a coincidence that both involve warm light. The color hue of artificial lights can affect our brain’s production of the hormone melatonin, which in turn affects our biological clocks. Many studies have detailed and supported this over the years.

Nighttime melatonin levels signal your body that it’s time for sleep, helping to regulate your circadian rhythm. But blue light suppresses melatonin, effectively manipulating your biological clock in a way that jeopardizes your quality of sleep.

That’s why you’ve probably been hearing for years that you should be wary of screen time before bedtime. Phones, tablets and computer screens are known to emit a lot of cool blue light inches from our eyeballs.

Dr. Lisa Ostrin, a researcher and assistant professor in the University of Houston’s College of Optometry, asked participants in one study to wear special glasses that blocked blue light for the three hours before their bedtime. Their nighttime melatonin levels jumped by 58 percent. Ostrin concluded:

“The most important takeaway is that blue light at night-time really does decrease sleep quality.”

You can buy your own special blue-light-blocking glasses to wear in the evening or install free apps like f.lux and Twilight to reduce the amount of blue light emitted by your screens. I shelled out for Gunnar glasses and use both of those apps.

They all helped me sleep better, and I still use them. But changing my lighting made a much bigger difference in easing me to sleep come bedtime.

The ‘color’ of your lighting

Little did I know back in high school that the Kelvin temperature scale I learned about in chemistry class would come in handy one day. I forgot what the scale even had to do with chemistry, but I’ve since read all about its connection to modern-day light bulbs.

All you really need to know is twofold:

  1. Kelvin is a measurement of color temperature. It’s abbreviated as “K.” At one end of the Kelvin spectrum is warm light, and at the opposite end is cool light. This is where things can get a little confusing. The U.S. Department of Energy explains, “Confusingly, higher Kelvin temperatures (3,600–5,500 K) are what we consider cool and lower color temperatures (2,700–3,000 K) are considered warm.”
  2. Federal law generally requires a light bulb’s Kelvin to be listed on the product label. You’ll find it in section called “Lighting Facts,” which resembles the “Nutrition Facts” section of food labels.

The Department of Energy says a color temperature of 2,700–3,600 K is generally recommended for most indoor general and task lighting applications. The bulbs I now swear by for evening lighting are mostly 2,200 K.

Better sleep on the cheap

When the clock strikes 8 p.m., I turn off all the overhead lights in my home. They have cooler and brighter bulbs. So, I instead turn on lamps and other fixtures in which I’ve installed especially warm bulbs that are also a little dimmer.

It really does help cue my body that bedtime is nearing, helping me mentally wind down before getting into bed. That in turn helps me fall asleep faster.

There are special light bulbs designed to help induce sleep, but “special” seems to mean little more than “expensive” — as in $20 or more per bulb. If you understand Kelvins, you can find warm bulbs for a fraction of that. My search led me online because I couldn’t find bulbs warmer than 2,700 K in my local home improvement stores or big-box stores.

I ended up at I was unfamiliar with it, but the company has been selling bulbs since the 1990s, according to its website. It manufactures its own brand of bulbs, called Precision Lighting and Transformers, or PLT. It’s effectively a generic light bulb brand, and it includes LED bulbs. The 2,000-2,200 K bulbs I’ve bought from the company cost $2.44 to $5.99 apiece — considerably less than similar products from brand names like Philips.

For more sound sleeping tips, check out:

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