What is the right light for reading?

13 December 2021

If you’re anything like me there tends to be three main places I tend to read: at the beach, in bed at night or at work. Three quite contrasting locations with considerably different lighting. Of course, reading at the beach is generally a breeze, but reading at night on particular can come with some difficulty and unwanted eye strain. So what is the right light for reading to help make reading a pleasurable and squint free experience?

One option is to turn on the overhead light. While I can now see, perhaps almost too much. Often, too much light can trick the brain into staying awake. This means you will be reading for far longer than planned. Great for your literature journey, but not good for work tomorrow morning. The best and most simple solution is to turn on the lamp next to the bed. The rest of the room is now dark, yet you may still struggle due to the white light reflecting from the book causing the eyes to strain to stay focused on the words. When reading at night, there seems to be a sweet spot for light, and it’s sometimes a struggle to achieve.

Physiologically your eyes are made up of multiple muscles which means that they need breaks and with overuse can get tired. At the point where visibility meets comfortability is the sweet spot. Visibility on one hand comes from a smaller light with a smaller bulb near the reading location. The reason for a small bulb is to reduce the distance of light spread throughout a room. This makes it easier to remain focused on the pages without your eyes darting around the room subconsciously. The light should be pointed directly at the pages. Glare is also another cause of eye strain. Ensuring you angling the light until you find the least glare is another must.

Comfortability however comes from the brightness (Lumens) and colour temperature of the light being used. For a reading lamp, a relatively low lumen is desired. About 400 lumens will give enough light to see the reading material without causing excessive strain on the eyes. The eye’s need for more light to read by increases 1 percent a year. When you’re 10, you can read by 40 watts or hardly any light. By the time you’re 60, you need around 100 watts. As brightness is measured in Lumens, the following will help you choose a bulb with the wattage (or equivalent wattage) that will ensure you have the right light for reading.

  • 40 Watts: Look for at least 450 Lumens
  • 60 Watts: Look for at least 800 Lumens
  • 75 Watts: Look for at least 1,100 Lumens
  • 100 Watts: Look for at least 1,600 Lumens

Temperature is usually referred to as either cool or warm and is measured in kelvin (K). Cool light will be a blue-ish, white hue, whereas warm light will be a soft orange or yellow hue. Warm temperatures tend to yield less eye strain making them the better option for reading. Below 3000K is an ideal level for a comfortable reading light. You may have noticed that some book pages even have a slightly darker colour instead of the normal white. This is specifically designed to helps reduce the cool light being reflected into your eyes.

That being said, keep in mind that too much light or glare can be just as bad as too little light. When light glares from highly reflective surfaces, it’s fatiguing and especially disturbing for older people with cataracts and retina problems. So if bright light gives you grief, use a shaded lamp rather than a desk lamp to cut glare and moderate light to ensure you get the right light for reading. If the light isn’t comfortable, your eyes will show signs of fatigue, like burning, redness, brow-ache, headache, or squinting. Everybody’s eyes are different, so spend some time to find which lamp works best for you and hopefully these tips can help point you in the right direction.

Have any other lighting questions? Our PERL Electricians along with our lighting supply partners are experts in designing the best lighting solution for you whether it be a simple reading light or extensive lighting throughout your home or business.

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