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Don’t lose sleep over bedroom lighting design

Whether you’re tackling a child’s bedroom, guest room or master suite, bedroom lighting design can make or break the space. A poor lighting scheme can also be the difference between finding Zen and losing sleep.

We talked with Bryant Bilal, PE, marketing manager at Eaton’s Lighting Division, about finding the right style and creating the perfect bedroom lighting design.

Why does bedroom lighting design require a different approach from other areas of the home?

BB: The bedroom is the most intimate space in the home. Compared to kitchens and living rooms, where you are lighting for guests but also need task lighting, bedrooms are intensely personal. A properly lit bedroom will often have more general downlighting than other rooms, but this space is also an opportunity to add flair and personal style with surface fixtures, desk or table lamps, or accent lighting.

What are some common bedroom lighting mistakes?

BB: It's important to understand how to space recessed lighting, yet improper spacing is one of the most frequent mistakes I see. Since bedrooms are often smaller than common areas, it’s easy to be tempted to leave too much space between fixtures.

Personal style matters, but off-the-wall choices can make it hard to sell the home later. Even though fixtures are fairly easy to change, some can make it difficult for prospective buyers to envision the space as their own. In addition, harsh or obtrusive lighting should always be avoided.

The bedroom is also bursting with opportunities to save money by 1) installing LED lamps in place of incandescent bulbs and 2) using lighting controls. Dimmers are a great, easy way to save money and create a more pleasing experience as owners start to wind down closer to bedtime.

Is circadian rhythm an important part of bedroom lighting design?

BB: Absolutely. The concept of circadian rhythm applies in every room of the home, but it’s especially important in the bedroom.

Bedroom lighting should be warm, approximately 2700K to 3000K. Cooler colors can make it difficult for occupants to wind down at bedtime; for the sake of comparison, the nightshift mode on current iPhones ranges from about 2200K to 2700K.

Before LEDs became common, we had incandescent bulbs on dimmers – a next-best alternative for actually changing the color of light.

Modern LED technology gave us color tuned and white tuned lights. Now, we can produce almost any LED color to create the perfect light for the time of day and desired mood or effect.

For example, in my bedroom, I’m able to select warm lighting, around 2200K or 2700K, before bedtime and first thing in the morning. Conversely, I’m able to use brighter lighting in the middle of the afternoon or if I want to read or watch TV.

What are proper ways to layer lighting in the bedroom?

BB: Layered lighting is an important component of any lighting design. Start by determining the amount of natural light in the space; then, identify downlight spacing. Multiply the number of spacings by the ceiling height to determine the number of fixtures needed for full coverage.

Example: (1.2-ft. spacing) x (8-ft. ceiling) = (9.6-ft. max spacing)

Spacing fixtures too closely together causes overlapping light distribution. The light will mix, and most people are unlikely to notice a difference, but this approach wastes lumens. Following the basic guidelines reduces waste.

Do you recommend a specific color temperature or wattage for bedrooms?

BB: I never recommend a specific color temperature due to differences in personal preference. Most people like warmer colors, e.g., 2700K or 3000K, in the morning and evening. But standard color temperature should be about the same for children’s, adult and guest bedrooms.

With that said, lighting technology allows us to do other fun things that appeal to particular audiences. For example, RGB LED lighting can be a nice touch in kids’ rooms, where the resulting color saturation accentuates interesting or vibrant colors on the walls and other areas.

How should a bedroom’s size affect lighting choices?

BB: Small rooms have less real estate and a higher risk of oversaturation. Large bedrooms provide more opportunities to layer general and accent lighting and use multiple sources.

Does ceiling height affect lighting design?

BB: Ceiling height is actually more critical than room size, as it helps determine the ideal lumen range. Here are some examples:

  • 8- to 10-foot ceilings: 65W equivalent
  • 10- to 12-foot ceiling: 70- to 90W equivalent
  • 12-foot or higher (e.g., vaulted) ceiling: 100W+ equivalent

The higher the ceiling, the more the light will be dispersed, thus the more light needed for full coverage.

What is the best way to light a walk-in closet?

BB: If the closet is fairly large, consider including task lighting or accent lighting. Also consider painting the walls in a neutral color to more closely imitate the way clothing and other objects appear in natural light. While some people may prefer cooler color temperatures in these rooms, controllable lighting is even better. For example, I have a dimmer in my closet, which comes in handy when I’m getting ready for work at 6 a.m. and my wife is still sleeping.

How are lighting controls changing the way we light bedrooms?

BB: Lighting controls create a lot of possibilities that become even more valuable in bedrooms shared by two people. Many partners start and end their day at different times. LED lighting that is compatible with controls creates versatility; now, we can produce different lighting schemes on each side of the bed. Completely controllable fixtures help create a space that suits the TV watcher or the avid reader, the night owl or the early riser.

A home with traditional, recessed housings limits our ability to do some of these things. For example, the owner might have a single switch that controls all of the lights. In this situation, it can be helpful to add desk lamps and table lamps that create additional layers of lighting. But wireless controlled fixtures are really the gold standard today, because they cater to individual needs by enabling individual control.

The bedroom might be the most important room in the home. After all, it’s not only where we rest and recharge; it’s where we spend most of our time. Smart lighting design can help transform a bedroom into a happy, healthy haven for restoration and human connection.