4 lighting mistakes in your home that are making you more stressed - 'they make or break a space', say designers

Lighting has a huge impact on how we feel in our homes. Avoid these common mistakes if you want to ease stress

A bedside lamp in a neutral bedroom
(Image credit: Oni Studio. Design: JT Grupa)

We have a good idea by now that our environment, and especially our homes, can have an undeniable impact on how we feel. In recent years we’ve learned to pay more attention to our personal spaces and treat them as sanctuaries where we can recharge and relax. We’re looking for calm in our homes unlike ever before, and we want to make sure that our design choices are getting us there. 

Lighting is one design element that can make or break a relaxing scheme. Be it your bedroom or living room lighting, if done right it can help us relax or energize us, but if used incorrectly the science shows that it can actually induce stress by interfering with our sleep-wake cycle. 

If you want to make your home into a stress-free sanctuary conducive to calm, it's vital you get your lighting right since this small detail can really make or break a space. To find out more, I spoke to experts who told me about how light can affect our well-being, and these are the four common mistakes they urge us to avoid. 

How can light make us feel stressed?

The root of stress typically comes from work or other external factors, but your home should be a place that calms you. With the wrong ambient lighting, however, that won't come as easily. 

'Light has a vital role in the function of our nervous and endocrine systems and, as a result, in how we feel day to day,' explains psychotherapist Dr. Jo Gee. 'A 2011 study of lighting in the home found that there was a significant link between depression and inadequate home lighting. Further studies have proven how proper daytime illumination in the home can even prevent depression and low mood.' 

Luckily, there's a lot you can do to avoid lighting-induced stress in your home by simply being mindful of how you use your lights, where you use them, and what their temperature and color are - and, of course, avoiding some common lighting pitfalls. 

Lighting mistakes that cause stress in your home

Lighting is often an afterthought. While it's purpose is primarily practical, it's important you consider how your lighting placement, brightness, and general habits impact the way you feel day to day. Here are four common problems designers urge you to avoid. 

1. Turning on ‘the big lights’ in the evening

A ceiling light in a living room

(Image credit: Anna Stathaki. Design: Indie & Co)

The first and most common mistake is using the overhead lights when we don’t actually need them. Bright overhead lights or spotlights are great when we need to perform tasks where visibility is key, however, most of the time, we don’t really need them. 

Keeping ‘the big lights’ on, especially in the evening when our body is naturally slowing down and getting ready for rest, can become a cause of stress. ‘One mistake you could be making is having high-intensity living room lighting or bedroom lighting turned on in the evening,’ says Theresa Schnorbach, Sleep Scientist at Emma - The Sleep Company. 

The expert doesn’t only refer to traditional lighting, but also decorations, too, so take note before turning all those Christmas lights on! ‘While decorating your room with dozens of fairy lights may look beautiful, bright light disrupts the production of melatonin (a hormone that regulates our sleep-wake cycle), making it harder for you to fall asleep and more likely to wake in the night, which can lead to stress,’ she explains. 

To overcome this, Theresa recommends turning off or dimming bright lights a good few hours before you go to bed to help prepare your body for rest, especially if they're cool-toned. The best solution is to have multiple low-level light sources and lamps for a more relaxing lighting environment. 

2. Choosing the wrong color light 

A bedroom with layered lighting

(Image credit: Run For The Hills)

We're all aware that colors can impact how we feel, and that doesn’t just go for the color of your walls, or accessories. ‘Another mistake you could be making is with the color of your lighting,’ warns Theresa. ‘Color-changing LED lights are very popular but, just as some colors can have a positive impact, so too can some light have a negative effect. Light at the cold end of the spectrum (white-blue) suppresses the production of melatonin and interferes with our ability to de-stress.'

It’s therefore important to be aware of how light color impacts you when choosing the right light for your home, especially in the bedroom. A cool, white light is fine in a task area, but apart from that, a warmer color is preferred. ‘One study found red light therapy exposure actually increased melatonin levels,’ Theresa goes on to explain. Use red or amber-hued lights at home in the evening time (these are also the best color lighting for sleep), and warm daylight bulbs to help you feel awake and energized in the morning. It's best to always avoid cool, blue color lights that can be stressful and unnecessarily harsh, creating a feeling of agitation. 

3. Mismatching light temperatures

bedroom in dark grey walls and red light bulbs

(Image credit: Original BTC)

You most likely haven't thought about this, but you should match the light temperatures of your bulbs in the same room to avoid any clashes that make the room feel unbalanced. 

'Using bulbs with varying color temperatures together in one room risks creating an inconsistent ambiance and can cause subliminal stress,' explains light expert at ValueLights Marlena Kaminska. 'Installing a cool-toned ceiling light bulb in a room full of warm accent lighting, for example, will significantly disrupt the coziness of your space and can feel confusing.'

If you have an open-plan kitchen where you have your cool task lighting in the kitchen area and more ambient lighting in the living space, try to avoid keeping them on at the same time, or introduce a screen to separate the distinct living spaces. 

4. Lighting that doesn't support the room's function

a kitchen island with LED lighting underneath

(Image credit: Bakes & Kropp)

Each room in your home has a different function and this is normally supported by the furniture and accessories present. The bedroom is for sleeping and therefore you'll have a bed in there while the kitchen is for cooking and it's where you'll have your cooking appliance, but it doesn't stop there. In order to create a calming environment and send a clear message to your brain when you enter the space, the lighting you pick in each room needs to tell the same story. 

'While kitchen lighting needs to be bright enough to ensure precision and enhance safety, this is less important when we move into the living room,' explains Marlena. 'Here, create a space for relaxation and socialization by creating a warm, ambient lighting zone. Having lighting which matches the requirements of each room fosters a sense of balance between you and your home, inviting in a positive energy which will instantly make you feel calmer.'

Avoid these four common lighting errors if you want your home to be a calming sanctuary that nourishes your soul. They may be simple changes, but they could have a bigger impact than you ever imagined.

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Raluca Racasan
News writer

Raluca is Digital News Writer for Livingetc.com and passionate about all things interior and living beautifully. Coming from a background writing and styling shoots for fashion magazines such as Marie Claire Raluca’s love for design started at a very young age when her family’s favourite weekend activity was moving the furniture around the house ‘for fun’. Always happiest in creative environments in her spare time she loves designing mindful spaces and doing colour consultations. She finds the best inspiration in art, nature, and the way we live, and thinks that a home should serve our mental and emotional wellbeing as well as our lifestyle.