I’ve always been drawn to light. Every morning, I naturally wake up to music, and I begin winding down with it in the evening. Dark interiors, dismal weather, and short winter days are not my favorites. So when I relocated from sunny and Mediterranean Lebanon to overcast Paris approximately a year ago, I knew I was in for a rude awakening. But I did have one gadget in the package that I thought might help me improve my sleeping and waking patterns: Philips Hue lights.
Technically, everything I’m going to discuss can be done with a variety of other smart lights, and it may be easier or more configurable on other platforms. So, why the name Hue? Simply said, I already had the hub and the lights, so I utilized them. Because of its power-on behavior setting and non-Wi-Fi connectivity, I purchased them a few years back when developing my smart house. (I lived in a neighborhood with frequent power outages and sluggish network access.)
Returning to my problem with natural light in Paris, my biggest concern was my inability to adjust to shorter winter days and long summer days. When those fears became a reality, I promptly put up my Hue lights to address them. This is how.
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Waking Up On Dark Winter Mornings
I’m used to waking up between 7 and 8 a.m., having some water, and getting ready for the day. There will be no alarm, no endless snooze cycles, and no coffee. By November, it was evident that this was no longer an option. I was waking up groggier and less refreshed; both my body and mind were underperforming. I was even shocked a few times by my husband’s 8:30 a.m. alarm. The reason for this is that dawn time gradually advances until it reaches roughly 8:40 AM on the winter equinox in Paris. So, if it’s still dark outside at 8 a.m., how am I expected to wake up to natural light?
Enter the sunrise mode on smart lights, or as Hue likes to call it, the “Wake up with light” automation. I set it up with our bedroom light and chose it to fade in from 8 AM to 8:30 AM. While this was efficient at waking me up, it did so a little brutally (I was often up by 8:05 or 8:10 AM) with lights that were too bright and got brighter as the thirty minutes of fading progressed.
In search of more granular options, I delved into the Hue Labs area and discovered the Personal wake-up formula, which is considerably more adjustable. This gave me the option of selecting the scene I wanted to wake up to (natural-to-warm light is excellent), the maximum brightness I wanted the bulb to attain (70 percent is more than enough for me), and the time of the fade-in. I’m not sure why, but I found that a shorter 15-minute fade length was preferable to a longer 30-minute one.
And with that easy step, the bedroom light came on at 8 a.m. every morning, then gradually increased in intensity for 15 minutes to reach 70 percent. And every weekday morning between 8:00 and 8:15 a.m., I awoke. Magic. The grogginess did not fully go, but it was greatly decreased when compared to pre-Hue wake-up days.
Like clockwork, the bedroom light comes on at 8 AM and I naturally wake up as it fades to 70% brightness.
Now to be clear, this isn’t a solution for everyone. My never-a-morning-person husband who sleeps next to me in the same bed and needs multiple alarms and reminders to get out of bed didn’t see the same magical results, but he did stir and start waking up by 8:15 AM almost every day. Before we turned on the routine, he would still be steadfastly asleep by then.
On Brilliant Summer Evenings, Winding Down
In the summer, the scenario is just the reverse. Days are longer than I’m used to, and I’m sometimes astonished to glance at the clock and discover that it’s nearly 10 p.m. while it’s still light outside. Sunset in Paris occurs two hours later on average than it did in Lebanon. I can’t possibly go to bed at 11 p.m., let alone at midnight when my body is still fully aware and not yet ready to relax.
Hue offers a regular “Go to sleep” automation, but once again, it wasn’t customizable enough for me. I wanted more control over my lights and multiple stages of winding down. I also had to make sure that this would only trigger when the lights are already on instead of firing off every day, regardless of whether or not we were home or the lights were off. For that, I dug into Hue Labs again and found the Time-based light formula.
This one is far more complex than the normal sleep automation. It enables me to split the day into five halves, each with a different scene. When the lights in my living room are turned on — and only when they are turned on — they automatically transition between the scenes at the five predetermined periods. They’re white and at 70% in the morning. They are set to maximum brightness throughout the day because here is where my desk and office are. They return to a 70 percent white landscape after work. At 60%, they change to a calm and pleasant hue around 8:30 PM. Finally, around 11:30 p.m., they fade down to 30% brightness. The fade time is adjustable, so the change does not seem abrupt.
As the living room lights automatically switch to a warm color at 30% brightness, I start relaxing and getting sleepy.
The last 30 percent warm scenario is the one that works for me. It soothes me and signals to my body that it’s time to sleep. Although it worked the first night, I’ve discovered that it’s not as reliable as the wake-up ritual since sometimes I’m still too energized or I’m watching a fascinating TV show and can’t resist the desire to binge one more episode, but that’s on me. Anyway, it has a greater success rate than relying on the outside light and leaving the house lights on full brightness in having me get up and go to bed about midnight.