The Warm White 3k LED lamp is a revered color temperature. With all the comfort and warmth of a cozy campfire, it’s the comfort lighting we crave and ask for, specifically in our office work environment. Plus, everyone looks healthier basking under the glow of warm LEDs. And it’s important how we are perceived by others, right? Beauty over substance?
Let me risk banishment and go out on a limb by suggesting that a color temperature higher in the kelvin range — moving away from 3,000k and closer to 6,000k — is a better lighting solution for the workplace.
I'll go a step furtherand that for our bodies, 3k is like high fructose corn syrup — an artificial enhancer that messes with our body's natural rhythms.
When natural light dictated our days
Travel with me back to a time when there was no artificial lighting like Warm White — or high fructose corn syrup in our food. We had the sun in the day and the moon at night; we hunted and gathered our food for survival. In other words, we ate and slept when our bodies needed to replenish.
Without going all science guy on you, this simple way of living worked because we respected our Circadian Rhythm —physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle. Those changes are triggered by the light in our environment. In fact, within the last 12 years, we discovered that photo receptors in our eyes cue our body to be awake or asleep, all based on our perception of the lighting we encounter.
Back in the hunter-gather days, that meant our body came to rely on a 2,000k sun in the morning, peaking at 5,600k around noon, then dropping down to 2,000k lighting by sunset. But in the 21st century, we encounter entirely different lighting patterns, thanks to the artificial light we rely on during the day.
Nap or a snack, anyone?
Today, we typically rise in the morning to lower, warmer kelvin temps, then arrive at work – often to a space illuminated all day with warmer 3,000k lamps, rather than cooler 4,500k to 5,600k. Working under Warm White, we constantly fight our body’s natural desire to relax. We leave the office tired, craving time away — maybe at home relaxing under those warmer color temperatures again. However, we may not sleep well at night, because when our bodies started to relax early in the day, we fought off that midday urge to take a nap. Our bodies are thrown off kilter, and the cycle begins anew each day.
Likewise, high fructose corn syrup has been found to be a highly addictive food additive. It’s a processed (artificial) substance that our body doesn’t know how to process. Further, studies have shown that it can disrupt our appetite, causing us to remain hungry even after consuming the many products it is found in — from soda to cookies.
Warm White lighting and High Fructose Corn Syrup both disrupt our natural rhythms, causing us to crave replenishment at the wrong times, be it sleep or a snack.
Granted, the thought of an office lit with 6,000k lamps seems extreme, and we know it would not be as aesthetically pleasing to the eye. But with time to re-adapt to a cooler light source, we might come to appreciate the benefits of whiter, crisper light — the same way our body rewards us when we purge high fructose corn syrup from our diet and reward ourselves with natural organic food. Higher 6,000k lighting has been shown to provide an easier, more productive work environment. Workers are more alert, more engaged, able to read small print, and understand details better. Another benefit is that the perceived light level and clarity of finer details requires lower actual foot-candle levels than a 3,000k solution. Less mud, more white.
With a switch to a higher kelvin lamp, maybe we shed the urge to have that mid afternoon nap? Make fewer mistakes made in our work product? Turn in at night ready to engage real sleep after a productive day?
Programmable LED’s will soon give lighting designers the opportunity to program office lighting to closer mimic the correlated kelvin of the sun as it rises, passes over, then sets during the course of the day. This strategy would carry over into more complicated spaces, like schools and hospitals. As the tools become available, our lighting solutions need to get closer to meeting our body’s lighting needs — and move away from the high fructose corn syrup approach.