Lighting Tips for Studying and Reading

Lighting Tips that are Easy on the Eye

Lighting - by David Neubert - updated on 8/8/2014

In most parts of the country, August is a time to start thinking about going back to school. In order for students to maximize the time spent with their noses in books or staring at computer screens, it's important to consider some simple lighting tips to avoid the fatigue and eye strain that can often occur with ineffective lighting for studying or reading.

Desk Lamp Lighting 

Besides being more energy-efficient, durable and longer-lasting, most desk lamps are now recommended to use LED or CFL bulbs because of their superior light quality. This is because they are available in a range of color temperatures to meet individual needs or preferences. For example, for a starker and clearer light, which is better on the eyes for studying, a bulb in the brighter (cooler) white to natural daylight range of 4000K (degrees Kelvin) to 6500K is optimal.

3 other things to consider in a desk lamp are:

  • Flexibility can be established with a movable base or arm that can be adjusted to the exact preferred position.
  • Dimmability is good for adapting to different activities. For example, a hands-on project might require more light output to perform detailed operations, whereas a lower light output might be more suitable for quiet reading time. With LED bulbs, it's important to have the right dimmer for the right bulb.
  • Eliminating glare can be accomplished by choosing a lamp with a built-in glare filter, or finding one with a wide light area that creates a consistent brightness with minimal shadows.

Finally, when staring at a computer, it's important to consider the brightness level (lumens) of the lamp versus what is being cast by the monitor. Usually, a bulb that is 40W or 60W equivalent, or around 500 lumens, is ideal for this use, since this will likely not be as bright as the monitor, minimizing glares and straining eyes.

Reading in Bed

The most typical bedside reading lamp is one that sits on a nearby nightstand. This allows light to be cast on one specific side of the bed without disturbing anyone else who might be in the room. For these lamps, it's preferable to use bulbs that provide omnidirectional light output that can be screwed into a typical fixture, accompanied by a lampshade, to avoid harshness and glares.

A space-saving option to consider is a mounted lamp, either on the wall or on the headboard. Ideally, these will be flexible, able to be adjusted to shine in the precise direction of the book or magazine being read. This is a versatile option, capable of lighting a book one night and a needle, yarn, and sweater the next, shifting the beam angle to adapt to a body's positioning in bed. Specialized bulb sizes might be best for these types of lamps.

Another specifically-directed lighting option to try is using recessed fixtures in the ceiling right above the bed. This is an ideal way to precisely highlight the reading material without illuminating the rest of the room. MR16s are a good choice for light bulbs to use in this application, as they will project a narrow spotlight that can be aimed at the optimal beam angle.

Overall, dimmers are a good option, as well as making sure light switches are accessible and near the bed. Although many people usually prefer softer, warmer tones in the 2700K – 3000K range in the bedroom, it's okay to consider something a little higher (brighter white) for a reading light, creating a greater contrast for the words on the page and making reading easier on the eyes. Regardless, lumens should be at least 500 or higher, for any type of reading, making sure the light is bright enough to avoid straining.