Why Creative People Prefer Warmer Lighting



We’ve all felt it—a creative block. That empty humming in our brains where words or concepts should be. Personally, I’ve tried almost everything, short of banging my head against the wall to shake some inspiration and creativity into my noggin. Then, I tried something that I probably should have done in the first place. 


Table of contents

    1. What Does Science Say About Creativity?
    2. Creativity and Lighting
    3. Color Temperature Explained
    4. Creativity and Circadian Rhythm
    5. Balance Circadian Rhythms Using Color Temperature
    6. The Benefits of Warm Color Temperatures
    7. Why This Matters
    8. Other Tips for Overcoming Creative Blocks


    What Does Science Say About Creativity? 


    It’s not magic, although sometimes it feels like it when we jolt awake at 2AM with the best idea for a script or interior design project we’ve ever had. According to Paul Seli, an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, there is a transitional state between wakefulness and sleep called hypnagogia. This, he states, is where he feels that his brain is the most creative, and he even created a device to shock him awake, just as he enters “hypnagogia” (We’ll come back to this concept later). 

    Adam Green, a cognitive neuroscientist at Georgetown University and founder of the Society for the Neuroscience of Creativity has also found evidence that an area called the frontopolar cortex, in the brain’s frontal lobes, is associated with creative thinking. He and his colleges suggest that stimulating that area seems to boost creative abilities and can be done so by exposing the brain to certain stimuli.  

    But before I lose you with big words and neuroscience, the point is, the human brain is weird. There is so much about it that scientists are still studying when it comes to creativity and countless ways in which we can help to stimulate that process to reach that “lightbulb moment.” 



    Creativity and Lighting  

    Science suggests that our brains function at their most creative levels when they are exposed to fresh air and warm, golden sunshine. Unfortunately, we can’t always take our brainstorming sessions outdoors, and even if we could, the weather doesn’t remain consistent enough to utilize warm sunshine when we need it most.  

    This is where the Color Temperature of your creative spaces come into play. Considering general color theory and the functions of LED lighting, science has determined the three best colors to stimulate creativity: Yellow, Orange, and Green.  

    "Potentially the most creatively stimulating property in existence according to science"

     **Potentially the most creatively stimulating property in existence according to science.


    Color Temperature Explained 

    Color temperature describes the color of light emitted by a light source measured on the Kelvin Scale. Most commercial and residential spaces stick to color temperatures between 2200 Kelvin and 6000 Kelvin. The lower the number, the warmer the light. As an example, lights listed at 27K are marketed as “Soft White” and anything lower is labeled “Amber Glow”. These lights give off warm, orange and yellow tones, which are two out of the three best colors for creative spaces, according to color theory.  

    Inversely, higher numbers on the Kelvin scale give off a more brilliant white light, which are sometimes labeled Daylight Deluxe or Brilliant White. Cooler whites are popular in office buildings, schools, and retail spaces, and are said to increase productivity and focus.  



    Creativity and Circadian Rhythm 

    Circadian rhythms have been recognized since the early 1800s, and in humans, they are controlled by an internal “master clock” called the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN) that is located in the brain’s hypothalamus. The SCN receives light cues from the environment in order to regulate sleep/wake cycles, body temperature, hormone production and other biological processes. 

    The first form of artificial light that humans mastered was fire, and since then, we have been adjusting light sources that affect our circadian rhythms. However, with new LED technology, we can now have our lights adapt to the time of day based on light hues and color temperatures.  


    Balance Circadian Rhythms Using Color Temperature 


    Let's jump back for a moment to Dr. Paul Seli and his use of hypnagogia in expanding human creativity. When you look at his research through the lens of our natural sleep and waking cycles, two times of day play a valuable role: dawn and dusk. Seli explains that our natural circadian rhythms play an important role in our creativity as well.  

    The warm colors of a sunrise and sunset stimulate the brain, enhancing creativity and productivity levels. These are the times when the human body’s natural tiredness starts to occur, and according to Seli, these were also the times in which he felt the feeling of hypnagogia more deeply, without falling asleep.  




    The Benefits of Warm Color Temperatures 

    Warm light is vital to our natural cycles, so using a 27-3K color temperature in your space is proven to lead to a more stimulating creative process. 

    There was once a study done by the National Library of Medicine that tested a ton of cognitive functions and mood changes based on color temperature and the RGB+ color spectrums. Across the board, the tests yielded the same results: 

    • Extended exposure to bright white light (6-7K) led to burn out, feelings of depression, and headaches. 
    • Cool light (Around 4K) held strong as the CCT with the least amount of fatigue noted. 
    • Warm lighting (27K) reduced overall feelings of anxiety.  
    • Exposure to red lights (below 2K) increased anxiety almost immediately, regardless of the task assigned to the subjects. 
    • Subjects in the warmer light (27-3K) noted that this was more “stimulating” and scored higher on creative written prompts. 
    • Subjects under cooler light (4-5K) expressed better focus and scored higher on mathematics exams. 



    What This Means 


    This was just one of a handful of studies involving color temperature and brain function, but they all carry similar results. The one thing that they all seem to prove the most is the basic fact that, yes, color temperature does affect the way that our brains work.  

    As demonstrated in the NLM study that I mentioned above, these studies weren’t exclusively focused on creativity like Seli’s tests were. Some also touched on focus, productivity, and even happiness.  

    For example, the Natural Institute of Health studied cool light versus warm light in relation to focus and precision.  Color temperatures that range from 5-6K were shown to have increased speed and stimulation in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which led to higher overall test scores in timed math and history exams.  

    Colder CCTs also lower melatonin, which is created in our glands and is what helps put us to sleep. This lower level of melatonin keeps people alert in the same way coffee does, whereas a warmer light will help someone to feel more relaxed.  



    Other Tips for Overcoming Creative Blocks 

    While science says we can use different color temperatures to obtain different results in our brain function, I’m not saying that switching out all your bulbs is the entire solution. You can try to utilize smart bulbs that switch RGB+ colors to mimic the warmer lights for a creative and relaxing environment, or a brighter cool light for a valuable study session. 

    Some companies also offer color selectable lights, like these 6-inch slim ceiling lights from Sunco Lighting, that can allow you to choose the best color temperature for your spaces.  

    Other ways, outside of lighting that you can help to revitalize your creativity include: 

    • Taking a walk outdoors. Fresh air and natural sunlight can help to stimulate brain function. 
    • Meditate. Deep breathing and slowing down is a great way to reset your headspace. 
    • Drink some water and have a snack. Occasionally, the crash we feel in the middle of the day that can lead to creative burn out can be attributed to low blood sugar or dehydration.  
    • Find inspiration online. Pinterest is a great place to scavenge for ideas and concepts.  

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