There are a number of factors to take into consideration when deciding on the best kind of lighting for reading. Although more and more individuals are deciding to gather information about the world we live in by means other than reading a book, a significant part of the world’s population continues to read traditional, printed material in the form of books, magazines, etc.
The younger reader experiences fewer problems with poor illumination while reading. For example, some research concludes that we need only half the light at age 30 to have adequate reading illumination as compared to what we need at age 60 to read the same material. Age 40 seems to be the beginning of diminishing eyesight for most. The older we get, the more we are prone to eyestrain, blurring vision and headaches as a result of inadequate lighting while reading.
So, the first and primary consideration is selecting a fixture that will provide the right amount of illumination.
The rooms in your home where you do most of your reading should have lighting that illuminates the area in a general way that makes the room feel attractive and inviting. Where possible, combine general light with directed or task lighting. The lighting selected for reading should be considered supplemental and an addition to the general lighting used in the room.
A number of writers on this subject offer a variety of suggestions and options with respect to the type of lighting fixtures to use for reading. I am a strong believer in the use of what is called full spectrum lighting. This type of lighting is also known as natural lighting and was originally used for providing simulated natural sunlight to help with the growth of indoor plants. This natural lighting is easy on the eyes, brings out the true colors of what it illuminates, and relieves eyestrain.
The most common type of full spectrum light is the incandescent bulb, although full spectrum lights are also available as fluorescent fixtures. Several years ago, these natural lighting fixtures were hard to find and fairly expensive when compared to more conventional lighting sources, but they are currently available in nearly all home centers and in many grocery and discount department stores.
The life expectancy of natural light fixtures is comparable to that of traditional light fixtures and well worth the extra few dollars.
The best type of directed lighting unit to buy for purposes of reading are by and far the gooseneck lamp. While a table lamp may be more attractive, it has the disadvantages of not being able to direct the light to where it is needed and in general is not adjustable. Lighting manufacturers have gotten savvy to the need for designing and manufacturing stylish and attractive gooseneck lamps and you can find one to meet your own particular decorating tastes with very little trouble.
Directed or task lighting provided by a gooseneck lamp should be positioned behind your reading chair or couch. The lamp should be positioned behind you according to whether you are left or right handed to avoid overshadowing as you read. Right-handed individuals should position the lamp behind their left shoulder while left-handed persons should do the opposite. If you have a mixture of “handedness” in your home, everyone should be advised about this positioning.
Using a white of lightly colored shade will help with the illumination of the material while darker colored shades absorb rather than reflect the illumination.
Glare is another major consideration when using a reading light. With a gooseneck lamp, position the bottom of the shade at eye level to avoid glare. The gooseneck lamp makes it easy to adjust the height of the light source depending on the size of the person using it.
Indirect lighting has become popular over the years and provides a concealed light source, which diffuses the light and eliminates glare, which can be a real problem in causing eyestrain and a number of other vision-related problems.
Installing dimmer switches will allow you to regulate the intensity of the light generated and serves the purpose of making one fixture useable for both older and younger readers.
For the serious reader, a light stand can be a real boon. The stand can be positioned to keep the material at the best distance and angle for optimum reading as well as helping keep it in focus and reduce the strain of holding a book while you are reading. Reading stands are particularly useful for the older reader and those with medical conditions that make it more difficult to hold a book steady for any length of time.
Let common sense and an awareness of your particular comfort level be an important guide in setting up your areas for reading. If you find some of my suggestions just don’t seem to work for you, try to discover why and make adjustments accordingly.
A lot of people find it restful and relaxing to read before or as a prelude to falling asleep. There are some special considerations to keep in mind if you are one of these people.
Many sleeping areas use overhead lighting fixtures as their primary source of illumination. First, overhead lighting in the bedroom usually doesn’t provide enough brightness to read comfortably and second, overhead lighting provides too much overall room lighting for anyone getting ready to go to sleep. This is a particular problem if you are sharing a room with someone who is not a “snooze-reader”.
Here are some other ways to light the sleeping area for the reader. Use a small table lamp positioned on your side of the bed making sure that the shade is low enough to avoid glare, use lamps that are attached to a mechanism that can be swung into just the right position over the reader (a variation on the gooseneck lamp), use a floor lamp with three-way bulbs to decrease the intensity of the illumination and finally, position a fixture on the wall directly above the reader that will cast only enough light to illuminate the book or other reading material.
If you don’t sleep alone, your goal is to keep the non-reader in the dark while you are reading. Some strange individuals (self-included) sleep soundly with the lights on or off. If this doesn’t cause a problem for your partner, consider whatever lighting works best and even consider a timer that can be reached easily if it shuts the lights off as you are just getting to the part of the book that reveals whodunit.
A few individuals find portable book lights handy. These LED light sources never burn out and generally last up to 20 hours on a set of batteries.
While not a complete or comprehensive guide to lighting for reading, I hope that this brief overview will provide you with some basics to consider.