Students spend countless hours in classrooms, many of which lack natural light. The type of artificial light in the classroom can mean the difference between a productive, comfortable, feel-good environment and one that impedes learning, focus and enjoyment.
There’s much more to lighting than brightness (intensity). Yes, students need enough light to see by, but in addition to light level, the color temperature of artificial light — whether it’s orange-white, like early-morning sunlight, or blueish-white, like brilliant afternoon sunlight — matters, too, affecting mood and alertness and even influencing circadian rhythms, which dictate when we’re sleepy and when we’re wide awake.
LED lights earn high marks as affordable, long-lasting alternatives to glaring, flickering fluorescent lights, which can strain the eyes. LEDs offer uniform, pleasing illumination. LEDs with tunable color temperatures, also known as tunable white LEDs, provide even more benefits.
What is tunable white light?
Tunable white lights let you adjust the light’s correlated color temperature (CCT). CCT, measured in degrees Kelvin, indicates how “warm” (orange) or “cool” (blue) the color is. Warm CCT light starts at about 2,700 K. The coolest light ranges to about 6,500 K.
Tunable white LEDs can be “tuned” to provide the optimal CCT for different tasks. The right CCT, combined with the right intensity, can promote focus, foster collaboration, and make a space more inviting.
How Lighting Influences Learning
Research suggests that classroom lighting can influence learning for the better or the worse. Traditional fluorescent lights may influence it for the worse. Tunable LED lights, on the other hand, can contribute to an environment that’s conducive to learning.
The coolest (bluest) white light promotes focus and alertness and is ideal for test taking and problem solving. A light that’s slightly less blue is ideal for reading. Yellowish light in the middle of the color temperature spectrum supports collaboration, and orange-white light fosters relaxation.
How Tunable White Light Influences Sleep
Tunable LEDs can help students feel more awake in the morning and prompt better sleep at night. The key is adequate exposure to higher-Kelvin blue light. This light suppresses melatonin, a hormone that induces sleep. A study from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Lighting Research Center found that office workers exposed to circadian-effective light (light effective for the circadian system) fell asleep faster at night and slept better. Similarly, youngsters who spend most of the school day indoors can benefit from the effects of blue light during the day.
Any teacher can attest that students who come to class in the morning well rested have a much better chance of absorbing and remembering new information.
Research from around the globe is beginning to shed light on the benefits of optimal lighting for students in the classroom. See the infographic below for details on how CCT light may improve the classroom learning experience.