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Aug 28

Philips Hue review: programmable lighting for sleep and alertness

Philips Hue Programmable Lighting for sleep and alertness.

Just 3 days ago I became aware that there’s a new kind of lightbulb on the market. For 200$, I got 3 programmable bulbs, and have already updated one of my apps to use this technology. Check out this article to find out why I think Philips Hue is the way of the future, and how having such bulbs can benefit your sleep.

You can order Philips Hue 3rd Generation from Amazon here

Not all lighting is created equal.

philips hue lightbulb compared to standard

Philips Hue remote controlled bulb (top) compared to standard 60w frosted incandescent bulb (bottom)

Hundreds of millions of people in the developed world have trouble sleeping every day for the majority of their lives. Why? At least in part because our bodies still control our sleep using primordial mechanisms that are based on light. You see, at night, there are no natural sources of bright blue light, and this is why human eyes contain a special photopigment, called Melanopsin. When blue light (420-480 nanometer wavelength) hits our retina, cells in our eyes that contain Melanopsin get excited. These cells signal our brain that it is daytime, time to hunt, gather and evade predators. The brain suppresses production of sleep related hormone Melatonin, reducing our drive for sleep.  This mechanism has helped humans adjust and sleep soundly amongst changing seasons and different daylight duration over the course of the year.

But life in the modern western society is full of light at all times of the day or night. For generations, our lightbulbs sucked- their chief advantages were being cheap and/or energy efficient. Just a year ago, in 2012, the American Medical Association recognized and started to promote awareness that light at night is harmful to your sleep and health:

Recognizes that exposure to excessive light at night, including extended use of various electronic media, can disrupt sleep or exacerbate sleep disorders, especially in children and adolescents. This effect can be minimized by using dim red lighting in the nighttime bedroom environment.

What does sleep disruption feel like? Let me refresh your memory:

  • Decreased drive to sleep – after light exposure at night, you may not feel sleepy and go to sleep hours later than usual
  • Poor quality of sleep – it’s harder to fall asleep and stay asleep
  • Various transient symptoms, like Type2 diabetes or anxiety may manifest themselves following circadian rhythm disruptions

By reducing your exposure to blue light in the 420-480 nanometer range you can improve your sleep – feel sleepy earlier in the evening, fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.

What Philips Hue programmable lighting can do for your sleep.

Philips Hue is a new kind of a adjustable LED lightbulb – it’s color (hue), and brightness can be controlled remotely, using an iPhone. The bulb has similar dimensions to standard lightbulbs, fits in the same socket, and draws only 8.5 watt of current. The lamp boasts up to 15000 hours lifetime.

Most importantly, the bulb can be adjusted to reduce blue light late in the evening and increase it during the day, helping you sleep and concentrate better.

  • Less blue at night for better sleep
  • More blue during the day for concentration
  • Dim and turn off lights on a timer
  • Create a schedule to maintain your bedtime routine

While Melanopsin in the human eye most strongly responds to blue light, bright light of other frequencies can have strong effect on sleep as well, therefore the recommendation is to use dim red or orange light in your bedroom. While orange takes some getting used to, it is a lot easier to operate in an orange-lit room than in a red one.

A new App ecosystem.

The Philips Hue app lets you contol the color and brightness of your lights remotely.

The Philips Hue app lets you contol the color and brightness of your lights remotely.

As an iPhone developer, I’m delighted to find out that the app comes with a very comprehensive API and a demo project created for iPhone. While the stock Hue app has mixed reviews on the app store, the API seems really powerful and was easy to work with. Within 3 hours, I had my Blue Light Therapy app adapted to use the Hue bulbs – bulbs not only shine blue light, but also change color in response to user tapping the screen. At 600 Lumens, 3 bulbs is more than enough to compete with many portable lightboxes. If you are interested, check out the app on the app store.

The ease of use of the API makes me believe that we are about to experience a host of apps that use the technology – from artificial sunsets, to smarter alarm clocks, to apps intended to increase your concentration.

 

How does one measure blue light spectrum

Household lights spectrum check. Right side of each image is filtered using BluBlocker glasses

Household lights spectrum check. Right side of each image is filtered using BluBlocker glasses

Human eye is bad at detecting the colors that light is made of – while we can say that some light is “cooler” or “warmer”, it is far from being able to say what is the intensity of individual wavelengths, or if they are present or absent. However, a digital camera, like that of an iPhone can easily see spectrum, if a transparent piece of DVD is fitted above it. Here’s a comparison of the “old and cheap” lights that are available on the market:

  • Halogen bulbs have a lot of blue and cyan
  • Incandescent bulbs have full spectrum, from blue to red, with more red than blue
  • Compact fluorescent have distinct bands of color, with quite a lot blue

Now I was able to test the Philips Hue bulb set to different color light:

White light, as expected produced all wavelengths – the halos in the image below indicate what light wavelengths are present in the bulb’s output. True blue-cyan on the left is light in the 420-480 nanometer range. The moral of the story is: white light from Hue is just as harmful to your sleep, as any other bulb on the market

White light from Philips Hue contains all colors, from Blue to cyan to green to yellow to red

White light from Philips Hue contains all colors, from Blue to cyan to green to yellow to red

 

 

Next, I attempted to shift the color to magenta to see what LEDs are used to produce the effect. As expected, elimination of Green and yellow produces a distinctly colored light, which while looks spectacular is still not the best for sleep.

Magenta/Purple still contains a large amount of blue light

Magenta/Purple still contains a large amount of blue light

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, I turned the dial all the way to Red/Orange and as expected, the blue light disappeared from the camera’s output. There was a little bit of purple, which excites the eyes far less than blue.

Orange light is least harmful light you can see before bed.

 

You can order Philips Hue 3rd Generation from Amazon here

Orange light from Philips hue has least amount of blue

Orange light from Philips hue has least amount of blue

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