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Best Color Light for Sleep According to a Sleep Doctor

The best color light for sleep is darkness, or red light if needed. Get sunlight in the morning and day, and avoid blue light in the evening for better sleep.
Published
2023-04-28
Updated
24 MINS
Written by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
Reviewed by
Chester Wu, MD, Rise Science Medical Reviewer
Our Editorial Standards
We bring sleep research out of the lab and into your life. Every post begins with peer-reviewed studies — not third-party sources — to make sure we only share advice that can be defended to a room full of sleep scientists.
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Updated Regularly
We regularly update our articles to explain the latest research and shifts in scientific consensus in a simple and actionable way.
Woman sleeping in dark room which is the color light best for sleep

Most of us switch on the lights during the day and turn them off at night. But for the best sleep possible — and therefore maximum energy, productivity, and health — you need to think about light a bit more than that. 

The right color light can wake you up in the morning, keep you alert throughout the day, and promote sleepiness come bedtime. But the wrong colors can have the opposite effect: prolonging morning grogginess and leaving you wide awake in bed at night. And beyond color, the timing of light is vital, too. 

Sound complicated? It doesn’t have to be. Below, we’ll dive into the best and worst color lights for sleep and when exactly you should get it. Plus, we’ll share how the RISE app can guide you through the ideal timing of light exposure each day for better sleep each night. 

Advice from a sleep doctor:

“Light is a powerful tool for improving your sleep. Get out in sunlight first thing in the morning and throughout the day, and then make your evenings and nights as dark as possible. This will keep your circadian rhythm in check and help you fall asleep at night.”

Rise Science Medical Reviewer Dr. Chester Wu

What Color Light is Best for Sleep?

Good sleep starts first thing in the morning, and the best color light for sleep changes throughout the day. 

This is all down to your circadian rhythm, your body’s roughly 24-hour internal clock. Your circadian rhythm is controlled by the outside world’s light-dark cycle (amongst other things, but light is the most powerful), and it can be shifted or reinforced by viewing the right light at the right times. 

That’s because we have receptors in our eyes called ganglion cells. These cells communicate with our brain, telling it what time of day or night it is and whether it should be feeling alert or sleepy. 

More research needs to be done, and light affects us all differently, but we’ve rounded up the key science you need to know about the best color light and when to view it. 

Let’s start at night and then work our way through the day. 

At Night

RISE app screenshot showing environment check reminder
The RISE app can remind you to check your sleep environment before bed.

Best color light: No light at all. 

Why: In simple terms, darkness signals to your circadian rhythm that it’s nighttime and time to sleep. 

A few hours before bedtime, the pineal gland in your brain starts producing the sleep hormone melatonin. But light exposure suppresses the production of melatonin, which can push back your circadian rhythm and make it harder to drift off.  

Getting bright light at night between roughly 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. — perhaps from late-night screen or TV time — can also decrease dopamine levels (the feel-good hormone), lowering your mood and increasing feelings of anxiety and depression. 

You don’t just need darkness before bed, though. Once you’re asleep, you need darkness throughout the night. Research from 2022 suggests light exposure during sleep can lead to health issues, including cardiometabolic disease. 

Just one night of moderate light exposure — defined as 100 lux here — resulted in an increased nighttime heart rate, decreased heart rate variability (a sign of heart health), and increased next-morning insulin resistance compared to sleeping in a dimly lit room — less than three lux. 

For reference, daylight is about 10,000 lux, an overcast day would be about 1,000 lux,  and twilight is about 11 lux. Nighttime, with no artificial light, would be zero to one lux.

Comparing environmental light intensity

Another study from 2022 found outdoor artificial lighting at night is linked to an increased risk of diabetes. And yet more research on artificial outdoor light found it was associated with shorter sleep durations and increased daytime sleepiness. 

Another small study found sleeping with the lights on can lead to more light sleep, less deep sleep, and waking up more often throughout the night. We’ve covered more about the dangers of sleeping with the lights on here.

Research from 2022 states, “the sleep environment should be as dark as possible.” It says the maximum ambient melanopic EDI is 1 lux. 

Heads-up: Melanopic EDI stands for melanopic equivalent daylight illuminance and it’s a measure of how the receptors in your eyes will respond to a spectrum and intensity of light. 

Most of us can’t measure melanopic EDI at home, but this gives you an idea of how dark you want your nights to be — very dark.

If you wake up in the night and need to use the bathroom or check on kids, keep the lights as low as possible. The research above states keeping light at night to a maximum of 10 lux if you need to get up and move around.

But while there’s plenty of science behind darkness at night, it may all come down to personal preference. One study looked at sleeping in red, orange, yellow, green, blue, navy, and violet light and found participants fell asleep faster when sleeping in their preferred color light. 

The preferred colors also activated participants’ parasympathetic nervous systems the most. This is your body’s rest-and-digest mode. So, if you have to sleep with a light on, opt for your favorite color. 

How:
  • Invest in blackout curtains to block outside light sources like street lamps.
  • Use an eye mask.
  • Remove or tape over any electronics that emit light in your bedroom.
  • Use a low-powered red night light or keep the lights as low as possible if you need to get up in the middle of the night.
  • RISE can remind you to check your sleep environment and make it as dark as possible each night.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their check environment habit reminder.

In the Morning 

Best color light: Sunlight.

Why: Getting natural blue light, ideally from the sun, in the morning resets your circadian rhythm for the day. Bright light tells the pineal gland to stop producing melatonin. It also triggers cortisol production, which helps you feel awake and alert. 

Sunlight in the morning can enhance the amplitude of your circadian rhythm, or make it stronger, meaning you’ll have an easier time keeping your sleep cycle in check and feeling sleepy come bedtime.

One study found getting high levels of light in the mornings is linked to reduced sleep onset latency, or reduced time to fall asleep, especially in winter.  

And another study found those who got later first exposure to more than 10 lux of light had more awakenings when they next went to sleep. 

Bonus tip: While we usually recommend getting natural blue light from the sun, research shows red light may help to reduce sleep inertia — that groggy feeling you get right after waking up. 

How:
  • Make a walk or getting outside part of your morning routine. Aim for at least 10 minutes of light as soon as possible after waking up or 15 to 20 minutes if it's overcast or you’re getting light through a window.
  • Skip the sunglasses, but don’t look directly at the sun. Contacts and glasses won’t block sunlight, though, don’t worry.
  • If you’re up before the sun or can’t get outside, try a 10,000 lux light therapy box instead. Place the lamp 16 to 24 inches from you, no more than 45 degrees from your eyes, and soak up the light for 20 to 30 minutes.
  • RISE can tell you when exactly to get morning light based on your own circadian rhythm.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their get bright light reminder.

During the Day 

Best color light: Sunlight.

Why: The 2022 research we mentioned above states you should get at least 250 lux during the day, ideally from natural sunlight. That means even an overcast day can give you enough natural light exposure. Artificial white light can be used if you can’t get outside, though. 

Getting light during the day may decrease how sensitive you are to light at night. One study found dim light exposure made participants more sensitive to light at night. Their melatonin levels were more suppressed, which could result in trouble sleeping.

How much light exposure do you need during the day exactly? One study exposed participants to 100, 300, 900, and 2700 lux of light between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. Then, they were exposed to 300 lux between 1 a.m. and 2:30 a.m., and their melatonin levels were measured. 

When participants got 900 lux or 2,700 lux, their nighttime melatonin didn’t decrease. But when they only got dim light exposure during the day (100 and 300 lux), nighttime melatonin was reduced. 

More research needs to be done to find the ideal amount of daylight needed during the day, but one of our science advisors, Dr. Jamie Zeitzer, Co-Director of the Center for Sleep & Circadian Sciences at Stanford University, says an hour or two may be all it takes. 

Research from 2021 found UK participants spent an average of 2.5 hours outside in daylight. Each additional hour outside was linked to lower odds of low mood, lifetime major depressive disorder, and antidepressant usage. 

And each hour of daylight time was associated with greater ease of getting up in the morning, less frequent tiredness, and fewer insomnia symptoms. 

Sleep is harder to get as we age and less light reaches our retinas with age, too. So, older people may benefit from spending more time outside during the day.

While the sun is best, indoor lighting is also powerful. Bright overhead lighting when indoors can boost dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine, and cortisol, which can help you feel alert and focused. 

Getting natural light exposure in the late afternoon and evening can also be another signal to your circadian rhythm that the day has progressed and the time to sleep is getting closer. The sun will have more yellow and orange light at this time compared to the blue light it has in the morning.

How:
  • Prioritize getting natural sunlight during the day. Take your workout outside, go for a walk on your lunch break, and work near a window.
  • If it’s overcast, spend more time outside than usual — cloud cover is about a tenth the brightness of clear skies.
  • Use bright overhead lighting until the mid-afternoon then dim the lights towards the late afternoon, and get out for some natural sun in the late afternoon or early evening, if possible.

In the Evening

RISE app screenshot showing you when to get and avoid bright light
The RISE app can tell you when to get and avoid bright light.

Best color light: Dim light. No blue light. Maybe red light. 

Why: Research suggests that at least three hours before bed your light levels should be at a maximum of 10 lux. Light — especially blue light from phones, laptops, or bright overhead lighting — can suppress melatonin production, push back your circadian rhythm, and make it harder to drift off.

A 2020 study found longer exposure to blue light from screens in the evenings can lead to long sleep latency on workdays and more sleep inertia.

It’s not just blue light that can keep you up, though. Green light may also reduce melatonin, and research in mice suggests violet light may also keep you awake. But more research needs to be done. 

While blue light can keep you up, red light may be able to help you fall asleep. But that’s not just a lightbulb tinted red, it’s the red light wavelength. 

Any kind of light can change the timing of our circadian rhythms, but the photosensitive cells in our eyes may be less sensitive to red wavelengths of light than blue wavelengths of light.

More research needs to be done, but one small study gave participants 30 minutes of red light therapy every night for 14 nights. Another group had no light therapy. At the end of the experiment, those who had been getting red light had higher melatonin levels and better sleep quality (although there’s no set definition for sleep quality).

Research from 2020 found red light can help shift workers feel alert during night shifts without disrupting their melatonin levels, which could make it harder to sleep once their shift is over. 

Research also suggests that low-color-temperature light (3000 Kelvin in this study) can lower central nervous system activity more than high-color-temperature light (5000 Kelvin), which would be ideal before bed. The lower the temperature, the warmer and softer the light given from a light bulb. 

You can buy lightbulbs that give off yellow light or amber light. While there’s not much research into how these affect your sleep and circadian rhythm, the warm light does create a calming atmosphere, which can help you relax and wind down for sleep. So, yellow or amber lighting may be better than the bright lighting you’d use during the day.

If you have a late chronotype — you’re a night owl with a natural tendency to go to sleep and wake up later — you may be even more sensitive to evening light exposure, which can push your sleep cycle even later into the night. 

One study found that when late chronotypes were only exposed to natural light — so zero artificial evening light — their circadian rhythms shifted to look closer to those of early chronotypes, or morning people.  

Research from 2022 in fruit flies suggests blue light exposure before bed may be more damaging to older people, so it’s even more important to watch our evening light exposure as we age. 

How:
  • Start being aware of, and cutting down on, how much blue light you’re getting about four hours before bed. Consider dimmer switches, so you can slowly wind down the lights in your home as it gets later in the day, or use cool temperature light bulbs, especially in your bedroom.
  • Switch to floor and table lamps in the evening rather than bright overhead lighting.
  • About 90 minutes before bed, put on blue-light blocking glasses. But remember, wearing blue-light blocking glasses doesn’t make up for bad sleep habits. Wear them, but keep up good sleep hygiene (more on this soon).
  • Avoid blue light from devices or plan your screen time wisely. Consider red light.
  • RISE can tell you exactly when to put on blue-light blocking glasses and avoid bright light based on your circadian rhythm each day.

We’ve covered more on screen time and how it affects sleep as well as more about blue light and blue-light blocking glasses benefits here.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their avoid bright light reminder and here to set up their wear blue-light blocking glasses reminder.

When You Need to Shift Your Sleep Schedule 

The light you get — both color and timing — can help when you need to shift your sleep schedule. 

You might be shifting it if you’re traveling to another time zone, working on rotating shifts, it’s daylight saving time, or perhaps your sleep schedule is at odds with your job or personal life demands. 

In general, blue light in the morning can help to shift your circadian rhythm earlier and blue light in the evening can push it back. 

Avoid looking at light when you should be sleeping. This may not always be possible, but you could wear sunglasses if you’re traveling home from a night shift during the day, for example. 

We’ve covered more advice for specific situations here: 

When You Need to Pull an All-Nighter  

For maximum health, wellness, and energy, you should be meeting your sleep need each night (the genetically determined amount of sleep you need) and keeping a consistent sleep schedule. But we know that’s not always possible. 

Maybe you’re cramming for exams, up all night with kids, or you work nights and missed out on daytime sleep. 

Whatever’s disrupting your shut-eye, light can help you feel more energy to get through the next day, and get your sleep schedule back on track the next night. 

Here’s what to do: 

  • Try red light at night to protect melatonin: Research shows red light can help you stay alert without disrupting your future melatonin secretion as much as blue light will. Invest in a red light lamp for when you need to be up at night.
  • Use medium-intensity light to reduce sleepiness: A 2021 meta-analysis found medium-intensity light exposure for a short duration of time helped reduce sleepiness at night. This is usually a bad thing, but there may be times when you need to stay alert through the night. More research needs to be done to find the ideal timings.
  • Use high-intensity light to shift your circadian rhythm: The same meta-analysis above found high-intensity light was better for shifting the entire circadian rhythm. This is useful if you’re a shift worker on rotating shifts. Avoid high-intensity light if it’s a one-off sleepless night for you as you don’t want to mess up the next night’s sleep too much.

We’ve covered more on how to stay awake after an all-nighter here. 

RISE can work out your unique sleep need. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to view their sleep need.

What Color is the Worst for Sleep?

Here’s a round-up of what we covered. The worst colors for sleep are: 

  • Blue light: Suppresses melatonin production and pushes back your circadian rhythm, making it harder to fall asleep.
  • Green light and violet light: May disrupt sleep, but more research is needed. 
  • Any light at night: Can keep you up and be harmful to your health.
  • No light or dim light in the morning and during the day: Doesn’t reset your circadian rhythm for the day, making it harder to maintain a sleep-wake cycle and fall asleep at night.

When Should You Get and Avoid Light for Sleep?

RISE app screenshot showing you when to wear orange glasses
The RISE app can tell you when to put on blue-light blocking glasses.

For the best sleep, you don’t just need to get the right color light, you need to get this light at the right time. 

Here’s a reminder of when to get light for the best sleep: 

  • Get sunlight in the morning
  • Get sunlight throughout the day 
  • Minimize light in the evenings, especially blue light about 90 minutes before bed
  • Avoid light as much as you can at night  
  • Red light might be best in the evenings 
  • Green and violet light may negatively impact your sleep, but more research is needed

For a sleep doctor’s take on the matter, we turned to our ​sleep advisor and medical reviewer, Dr. Chester Wu. 

“Light is a powerful tool for improving your sleep. Get out in sunlight first thing in the morning and throughout the day, and then make your evenings and nights as dark as possible. This will keep your circadian rhythm in check and help you fall asleep at night.”  Rise Science Medical Reviewer Dr. Chester Wu

To take the guesswork out of it, RISE uses your inferred light exposure and local weather from your IP address to tell you when and how long you should get light exposure for. 

What’s the Best Color Bedroom for Sleep?

Whether you’re redecorating your bedroom walls or choosing a new duvet cover, the colors you choose in your bedroom may impact your sleep and overall well-being. 

While research shows colors can affect our mood, mental performance, and behavior, there’s not a lot of research into color psychology when it comes to the best bedroom colors for sleep. 

It probably won’t have as big of an impact as science-backed light recommendations — like getting morning sunlight or avoiding evening blue light — but bedroom color choice may still have an effect. The right bedroom colors may help us feel calm and relaxed, and that will help us drift off at night. 

What does science have to say? Well, the research we have on the topic has a few problems. It often uses self-reported data, only compares a few specific color options for short periods of time, compares colors in lab conditions or on computer screens (not in the real world), and has conflicting results. 

And that’s not even to mention that colors are perceived differently by different people and differently as we age. There can even be differences in color perception between genders, so it’s hard to draw conclusions on which colors are the most relaxing or best for sleep. 

Here’s one piece of research we do have. One study looking at colors in university students’ halls of residence found the preferred color was blue, followed by green, violet, orange, yellow, and red. 

But these were the colors the students lived in, not ones they freely chose. These colors were also measured for studying and mood, rather than sleep specifically. 

Blue was linked to a calm mood and better studying, so may be best for a bedroom. But we recommend keeping your bedroom for sleeping (i.e. avoiding working or studying in there, if possible), so you shouldn’t worry too much about the best wall colors for focus or alertness. 

One finding that could be useful? Most students preferred a white ceiling, perhaps because it made the room feel lighter. 

Another study asked participants to look at digital images of living rooms with either warm or cool colors. The results showed warm colors were seen as exciting and stimulating, whereas cool colors were seen as spacious and restful. 

Beyond color, don’t forget to think about saturation and brightness. Research from 2017 tested different hues with varying levels of saturation and brightness. It found more saturated and brighter colors were linked to higher arousal. Blue was linked to the least arousal, followed by green and then red. 

Finally, achromatic colors lead to a short-term decrease in heart rate, whereas chromatic colors increased heart rate.

The final verdict: The best color bedroom for sleep is any color you like and any color that relaxes you. 

Many get feelings of calmness from the color blue or other muted shades. Softer shades, neutral colors, and colors with cool undertones may be more relaxing. 

You’re probably better off going for lighter shades of your favorite color. For example, sage green may have more of a calming effect than bright green colors. But there’s not much science behind this and it may be personal preference. 

Try not to panic about paint colors and interior design choices. Remember, once you turn off the light and put on your eye mask, you won’t see the color of your bedroom anyway. 

Instead, focus on sleep hygiene habits that do have science behind them to help you get the shut-eye you need. More on what to do soon. 

What’s the Worst Color Bedroom for Sleep?

Just like with the best color bedrooms for sleep, there isn’t much research into the worst bedroom colors. And the research we have, again, has a few problems, so we can’t draw any solid answers from it. 

Our best advice is to avoid any colors you don’t like or any that would make you feel alert, anxious, or any negative emotions. 

Avoid stimulating colors, many say these are bright colors or the color red. Instead, go for relaxing colors that are sleep-inducing, many say these are shades of blue. 

Avoid paint with a glossy finish as this can be too reflective. Research shows this can cause anxiety. Instead, choose flat paint. 

But as there’s not much science behind it, it all comes down to personal preference. Perhaps light blue bedrooms and pastels are calming colors for you, but light orange colors energize you. All-white walls might be soothing to some, but remind others of their office. 

The final verdict: The worst color bedroom for sleep is any color you don’t like or any color that makes you feel alert.  

How to Get Better Sleep?

RISE app screenshot showing you when to have your last big meal
The RISE app can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits.

Light is important for a good night’s sleep, but it’s not the only thing you need to think of. Getting your light exposure right (both the color and timing) is just one part of good sleep hygiene, the set of behaviors you can do each day to help you fall and stay asleep.

Here’s what else to do for good sleep hygiene: 

  • Avoid caffeine, large meals, intense exercise, and alcohol too late in the day: All four can keep you up or wake you up during the night. Check RISE for when to avoid each one daily based on your circadian rhythm. 
  • Do a calming bedtime routine: When you dim the lights and put on blue-light blocking glasses, try doing a relaxing activity like reading, listening to music, journaling, or doing yoga before bed. This will help slow your body and mind down for restful sleep.
  • Keep your bedroom cool, and quiet: Your bedroom should be dark, but temperature and noise make a difference, too. Aim for 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit and wear earplugs. Can’t sleep in silence? We’ve covered the best sleep sounds and whether white noise can help you sleep here. 

The RISE app can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits each day and tell you the ideal time to do each one to make them more effective. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications.

Lights Out for the Best Night’s Sleep 

The best color light for sleep isn’t just one color. It involves different color lights at different times throughout the day. Aim to get sunlight first thing in the morning and throughout the day, and then minimize light (especially blue light) in the evenings. And as for your nights? They should be as dark as possible. 

Red light looks promising in the evenings, and green and violet light may keep you awake (alongside blue), but more research is needed. 

The RISE app can make getting your light right easier. RISE can tell you when you should be getting and avoiding bright light and when to put on your blue-light blocking glasses, all based on your individual circadian rhythm. 

This will help you fall asleep come bedtime and get the sleep you need to feel your best. 

FAQs

Best light color for sleep

The best color light for sleep is darkness. If you need light at night, red may be best. Get sunlight in the morning and during the day to reset your circadian rhythm and help you feel sleepy at bedtime. And avoid light, especially blue light, in the evenings, as this makes it harder to fall asleep. Green and violet light may also be bad for your sleep, but more research is needed.

What color is best for a night light?

The best color for a night light is red light as it suppresses your melatonin levels (the sleep hormone) less than blue light. Green light and violet light may disrupt sleep, but more research is needed. Ideally, you’d sleep in complete darkness, however.

What color light is most relaxing?

More research needs to be done to find out which color light is most relaxing. Research shows people find their preferred color light the most relaxing. Red light is also seen as relaxing as it mimics the sunset and is less disruptive to your sleep.

Best color light to wake up to?

The best color light to wake up to would be natural sunlight. Getting sunlight as soon as possible after waking up can reset your circadian rhythm for the day, helping you feel alert and feel sleepy later that night. Blue light from a light therapy box can also work. There’s also some research showing red light in the morning can help to reduce sleep inertia, or grogginess.

What bedroom color is most relaxing?

The bedroom color that is most relaxing is whichever color you prefer. There’s not a lot of research into how bedroom colors affect our sleep. Blue is seen as calming and relaxing, and cool colors in general are seen as spacious and restful.

What shade of blue is best for sleeping?

More research needs to be done to find what shade of blue is best for sleeping. A lot of it comes down to personal preference, so pick your favorite shade. In general, cool colors are seen as spacious and restful and soft shades are relaxing.

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