LED lightbulbs that promise to help you sleep

Or if you're not tired, there's an LED with a party mode

Published: December 12, 2014 08:00 AM

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Lightbulbs used to be boring. Light on. Light off. Dimming was about as high tech as they got. But the LEDs pictured above have the potential to be much more, thanks to semiconductor chips and electronic circuitry. Some can alter the color of the light they shine, and others are claimed to help adjust your energy levels and mood. Consumer Reports put their unique claims through some tests, checked with sleep and lighting experts, and looked at how good they are as standard bulbs. Just like other electronics-based products, LED prices are falling as demand and performance increase.

Sleep like an astronaut

Definity Digital Awake & Alert LED

The Definity Digital Good Night LED and the Definity Digital Awake & Alert LED are used to help astronauts sleep or remain alert in space, claims Lighting Science, their manufacturer. Lighting Science LEDs were used in NASA ground-based studies, and the manufacturer helped to develop the LED lighting system scheduled for installation in the International Space Station in 2016, according to NASA’s Smith Johnston, M.D. But NASA won’t say which LEDs it actually uses in space.

For terrestrials, the Good Night LED is promised to help you sleep because it emits less blue light than other LEDs. The amount of blue light is key here: Any light can suppress melatonin, the hormone that facilitates sleep, but human eyes are especially sensitive to blue.

As LEDs become commonplace, it helps to know that they give off more blue light than other types of bulbs, such as CFLs and incandescents, says Terry McGowan, director of engineering for the American Lighting Association, a trade group. CFLs emit some blue light and incandescents emit little, he adds. Consumer Reports found that the Good Night LED does have significantly lower blue-light levels than other LEDs.

Definity Digital Good Night LED

And while you’re prepping yourself for dreamland, be sure to minimize your exposure to all sources of blue light, our health experts say. That includes powering off smart phones, TVs, and other electronics with a bright screen a few hours before turning in.

When you’re not trying to sleep, the Definity Digital Good Night—which can substitute for a 60-watt incandescent—casts a bright, warm light that the manufacturer claims will last 25,000 hours, or about 23 years when on for 3 hours per day.

Trying to wake up? The Awake & Alert LED, on the other hand, is claimed to have elevated levels of blue light, which our tests confirmed. The 65-watt BR30 replacement LED was almost as bright as stated but gave off a light that was a bit more bluish white than the box stated. Bluish light can be unflattering.

At $70 each, the price of these bulbs is certainly out of this world.

Drift off gradually

Saffron Drift Light LED

Saffron’s Drift Light LED, $30, is claimed to promote healthy sleep because its 37-minute auto-dimming feature helps your body gradually shift from light to dark. In “midnight mode” our tests found that it dimmed completely over 37 minutes. What’s so special about 37? The company says that’s the average duration of a sunset. It replaces a 40-watt general-purpose incandescent, so it’s not very bright to begin with. Our tests found that it wasn’t even as bright as claimed in “daylight mode,” and it cast a white light. Claimed life is 30,000 hours. Evidence is lacking on the benefits of gradually dimming lights in preparation for sleep, according to the researchers we interviewed. They also questioned the magic of 37 minutes because the length of twilight varies by latitude.

LEDs to dance to

Lifx LED

Few lightbulbs come with as good a backstory as the Lifx. It was created by a former rock drummer/electrician/app developer. Phil Bosua pitched the idea for his bulb in a video on crowdfunding site Kickstarter in 2012. Funders pledged $1.3 million in six days. Fast-forward to today, and Lifx color-changing LEDs, which connect to a Wi-Fi network and can be controlled by a smart phone, are for sale.

We installed the smart-phone app, set up the bulbs with a Wi-Fi network, and put Lifx through its paces. We easily changed the light to any color we wanted and played with some effects—the light flickered like a candle in candle mode, and the lava light cycled through intense colors. The website says that more features are coming via free app updates. But at $99 per bulb, it’s an expensive way to light a house or even a room—and let’s face it, not every day is a party. It costs even more per bulb than the Philips Hue “smart” lightbulb system, which includes three bulbs and a controller for $190. Hue can do many of the same things, but its bulbs were only as bright as a 40-watt bulb in our past tests.

Oh, the Lifx is a lightbulb, too. It’s dimmable, almost as bright as a 75-watt incandescent, and casts light like a floodlight. It defaults to bright white when first turned on but can be adjusted to the warm tones that it claims. Lifx claims it uses 9 to 18 watts, depending on the setting, and lasts 40,000 hours. Lifx says that it can also be connected to a Nest Thermostat. When the Nest switches to “away mode,” the Lifx bulb or bulbs turn on and off to create a lived-in look. You can still use a light switch to turn on the bulb, but what fun is that?

Long-lasting LEDs

LEDs usually don’t burn out; they dim over time. The claimed life you see on the box is an estimate of when brightness will decrease by 30 percent. Some LEDs are supposed to be bright enough to be useful for almost 23 years when on 3 hours per day. But save your receipts. Energy Star LEDs must have at least a three-year warranty, and we’ve seen five- and 10-year warranties, too.

Full lightbulb Ratings and recommendations

—Kimberly Janeway

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